Skip to main content
Read page text

Page Text

1 London Bridge Street

London SE1 9GF Telephone: 020 7782 5000 Find us on Facebook and

Twitter: @TheTLS

The historical gallery of loveable rogues and forgivable criminals would have a special area for con men (and it seems, in the vast majority of cases, to be the occupation of males). Since the meanderings of Odysseus, we have admired those who live by their wits, who make their gains through cleverness alone. Sure there may be victims, there may be collateral damage and loss, but success through sleight of mind is hard entirely to condemn.

Eric Iannelli this week delves into the question more deeply: “what exactly is it that we find so compelling about con artists, even if their hustles are variations on a timeworn theme and their success depends entirely on things ending badly for someone?” There is illicit thrill at work here; even the terminology is cool and clipped: the con, “the bunco, the gyp, the sting”. And the story that follows tends to have classic elements: “mystery, suspense, oversized personalities, moral (and indeed mortal) conflict, adventure, romance”.

Iannelli tells us a number of tall tales. Like that of Edgar Laplante, the man from Rhode Island, who passed himself off “on an international stage as a heroic First World War veteran, a gifted linguist fluent in dozens of languages, a famous Olympic athlete and an Indian chief with blood ties to French royalty and an ancestral claim to massive tracts of land rich in natural resources”. But not all of the villains are so heroic: there’s John Meehan, out to land a rich divorcée, who is “a late-middle-aged, opiate-addicted nurse anaesthetist with a long and nasty history of domestic abuse, insurance fraud, spiteful litigiousness, theft and jail time”.

It has been well observed that the email of the species is more deadly than the mail, and an entire culture of nostalgia has grown around the real, paper-and-ink letter, especially in comparison to its vulgar, arriviste and o’erhasty electronic cousin. Frances Wilson examines the distinction with an amused and sceptical eye. Letters are secure (they cannot be hacked), the product of more poise (it is hard to send them off unthinkingly) and visual: “real letters now look like pictures”. They come on colourful paper (“thick cream”, “thin blue”, “mushroom-coloured”, “a shade of pale lime”), and with all those non-uniform squiggles: “it is equally startling to see handwriting again, and to recall what a lovely thing a good hand – like that of Abraham Lincoln – can be”.

My handwriting, I must confess, looks as if it comes from someone in the spasms of unseemly demise. But we can all, as TLS readers, love any artefact celebrating the written word: “I write a love letter”, said Flaubert, “to write, and not because I love”. He remained unmarried.



3 Eric J. Iannelli

Tom Tivnan

Paul Willetts King Con. David Howard Chasing Phil. Dirty John – Season One (Netflix). Abby Ellin Duped. Henry Macrory Ultimate Folly. Maria Konnikova The Confidence Game Tim Moore Another Fine Mess – Across Trumpland in a Ford Model T


Diversity in philosophy, Kafka’s ape, Clearances, etc


7 Mark Thompson

Alfred Hayes The Girl on the Via Flaminia. In Love. My Face for the World To See



10 Phil Baker

12 Frances Wilson

Alberto Manguel

Mark Dery Born To Be Posthumous – The eccentric life and mysterious genius of Edward Gorey

Caroline Atkins What a Hazard a Letter Is. Simon Sebag Montefiore Written in History. In Their Own Words Christine Nelson, editor The Magic of Handwriting


14 Elaine Showalter

Mia Levitin

Rebecca Traister Good and Mad. Soraya Chemaly Rage Becomes Her Caroline Criado Perez Invisible Women

BIOGRAPHY & HISTORY 16 Maren Meinhardt

Rosemary Goring, editor Scotland, Her Story


18 Marina Benjamin

Ian Sansom

Nina Edwards Darkness – A cultural history James Geary Wit’s End. Gyles Brandreth Messing About in Quotes


Libby Purves


23 Ulinka Rublack

D. R. Thorpe, editor Who’s In, Who’s Out Jennifer Rees and Robert J. Strange, editors Voices from the Blue

Clare Hunter Threads of Life. Kassia St Clair The Golden Thread


24 Kate Bingham

The Billionaires


25 Zinovy Zinik

Russian for sausage – Translating ‘Oliver Twist’


26 Peter Read

Colin Grant Sheena Joughin Lucy Dallas

Antonin Artaud Drawing Writing (Cabinet Gallery) Capernaum (Various cinemas) Lucinda Coxon Alys, Always (Bridge Theatre) The Lost Words – Spell Songs (Southbank Centre)





29 Kathryn Maris

Kit Maude Josh Gabert-Doyon Valeria Luiselli

33 Phillip Lopate

Kristen Roupenian You Know You Want This Marcelo Cohen Melodrome; Translated by Chris Andrews Michael Rosen, editor Workers’ Tales Auto fiction – An exclusive extract from The Lost Children Archive

Janet Malcolm Nobody’s Looking At You – Essays

34 Francis Wheen

Alan Rusbridger Breaking News. Michael Schudson Why Journalism Still Matters. Matthew Pressman On Press. Marvin Kalb Enemy of the People

36 Sudhir Hazareesingh Julius S. Scott The Common Wind – Afro-American currents in the age of the Haitian Revolution



38 Deborah Vietor-Engländer

Natalie Zacek

Anat Feinberg Wieder im Rampenlicht. Richard Dove Foreign Parts Bernth Lindfors The Theatrical Career of Samuel Morgan Smith

39 Madison Mainwaring Wendy Lesser Jerome Robbins – A life in dance







40 Russell Davies

42 Lachlan Mackinnon

Graeme Richardson

44 Rowan Williams


48 George Berridge

Kathryn Hughes

49 David Martin




52 J. C.

Gary Giddins Bing Crosby

Jeremy Noel-Tod, editor The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem. Matthew Sweeney King of a Rainy Country Vahni Capildeo Venus as a Bear

Alain Corbin A History of Silence

Elizabeth F. Evans Threshold Modernism, etc

Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall Hungover Bee Wilson The Way We Eat Now

Sam Brewitt-Taylor Christian Radicalism in the Church of England and the Invention of the British Sixties, 1957–1970

Gore Vidal on writers’ television appearances (TLS November 25, 1965)

This week’s contributors, Crossword

Another poetry revival, Single-name writers, A new prize

Cover picture © Darren Smith; p3 © Washington State University Libraries; p7 Courtesy of Josephine Hayes Dean; p12 © Archivio Giovannetti/effigie/Writer Pictures; pp16 & 17 © G. P. Lewis/IWM via Getty Images; p18 © Solvin Zankl/Alamy; p20 © Look and Learn/Bridgeman Images; p21(top) © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford; p21(bottom) © AJSH Photography/Alamy; p23 © Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images; p26 Courtesy Bibliothèque Nationale de France and Cabinet, London; p27 © Boo Pictures/Sony/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock; p28 (top) © Helen Maybanks; p28 (bottom) © Jackie Morris; p29 © Dean Graham/Bridgeman Images; p31 © Jim West/Alamy; p33 © Robert Harrison/Alamy; p34 © PJ Crook/Bridgeman Images; p36 © Bridgeman Images; p41 © The Protected Art Archive/ Alamy; p42 © Photo12/Alamy; p42 © Coyau licensed under Wikimedia Commons; p48 © JBN-ART/Alamy The Times Literary Supplement (ISSN 0307661, USPS 021-626) is published weekly except a double issue in August and December by The Times Literary Supplement Limited, London UK, and distributed in the USA by OCS America Inc., 195 Anderson Avenue, Moonachie, NJ 07074-1621. Periodical postage paid at Moonachie NJ and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: please send address corrections to TLS, PO Box 3000, Denville, NJ 07834, USA

TLS MARCH 1 5 2 0 1 9

Skip to main content