Non-Fiction

Lorca The Gay Imagination

Lorca: the Gay Imagination     (1986) 

I had long been fascinated by Lorca’s passionate surrealist poem-sequence, El poeta en Nueva York, begun in 1929, which baffled so many of its first readers. I believed that in its apparent confusions lay the key to Lorca’s whole oeuvre, both to the stranger elements in such popular earlier work as the Romancero gitano and to the dark, tormented plays that gave him, especially after his brutal murder by fascists in 1936, his world-fame. In fact the sequence reflects the breakdown the poet had in his New York stay as a result of  reviewing his own sexuality. Lorca’s homosexual life - denied by both his family and later by the Franco government which tried to make of Lorca a non-ideological national poet - stands at the very heart of his work and is, sometimes obliquely, sometimes more directly, present in it all. My book was the first to explore and stand up for this important aspect of the great poet, and I did research for it in the changing Spain of the post-Franco democracy.

The Still Moment: Eudora Welty; Portrait of a Writer  (1994)

I travelled extensively in the American South for almost a year because, fascinated by a region which had preserved so much traditional English culture and yet was so obstinately itself, I wanted to interview its writers in situ. How did they explain the paradox that they had developed a literature remarkable for humane insights in a society which had too often shocked and horrified the world with its inhumanity – conspicuously where race relations were concerned. Of all the writers I read and met none impressed me so much as Eudora Welty, at once a visionary and an acute observer of human behaviour, a novelist and a short-story teller of depth and compassion who always preserved a sense of humour and a belief in the saving virtues of art. In 1985-86 I held a visiting professorship in her home-town of Jackson, Mississippi, and this book draws on the many conversations I had with her about her work.

The Still Moment Eudora Welty Portrait of a Writer
Imagined Corners

Imagined Corners: Exploring the World’s First Atlas (2003)

For the humanist the Plantin-Moretus House in Antwerp is one of the world’s holy places. The great printer Christophe Plantin was inextricably connected with the production of the world’s first atlas, the Theatrum orbis terrarum (Theatre of the countries of the world), the brain-child of geographer and map-maker Abraham Ortelius. Plantin, Ortelius and their close friend Mercator – whose own atlas was indeed to supersede Ortelius’ – were men of immense wisdom, intellectual integrity and mutual devotion, and their achievements belong emphatically to the arts of peace, to the cause of which all three men, and Ortelius outstandingly, were dedicated. But they lived and worked in harshly divided world, the Netherlands altogether and their beloved, artistically productive Antwerp in particular constantly thwarted by Spain’s imperialistic hold on power.