lives of houses

‘Moving House’, in Lives of Houses, ed. by Kate Kennedy and Hermione Lee, Princeton University Press, 2020.

When I moved house, I found myself shaken by the strangeness of objects pulled out from their habitual moorings, the physical effort required to collapse rooms into taped cartons, and the imaginative effort, the sheer invention, involved in making up the life of a new home. I wanted to ask some of those who have thought most intensely about belonging, and belongings, how they responded to these episodes of upheaval when the still-point goes spinning. This essay considers the social history of house-moving, and the particular experiences of William Cowper, Charles Lamb, and John Clare.

ivon hitchens

‘Hitchens’ Places’ in Ivon Hitchens: Space through Colour, Pallant House Gallery, 2019.

See also Art UK feature on Hitchens, ‘A Painter’s Sense of Place’, with text excerpted from the essay above and images of the many Hitchens paintings to be found in UK public collections.

‘Place works unpredictably on people, and people who love places can respond in the most unpredictable ways of all. Hitchens' chosen spots tended to be hidden, but what he made in them, and made of them, were paintings of utmost exuberance.’

landscape now

‘Landscape Now: Conversation Piece’, British Art Studies, 10, November 2018.

British Art Studies is published by the Paul Mellon Centre and the Yale Centre for British Art, and it’s freely available online. Issue 10 emerged partly from the Landscape Now conference (London, 2017) which asked how art historians today are approaching the rich, alluring, contested history of landscape art. For the journal, I wrote an essay of ‘provocation’ and invited responses from ten people engaged in different ways with art and landscape.


Ely Cathedral, by Dennis Creffield, 1988.

Easter Lily, by Dennis Creffield, 1998.

My essay on the art of Dennis Creffield (1931-2018) introduces the catalogue of a retrospective exhibition at his gallery, Waterhouse & Dodd, 47 Albermarle Street, London. 

"He drew himself as Nelson, he pitched himself into the sea-storms inhabited by Turner, he dreamt and prayed his way into the Annunciation and Nativity. His infants are already wise and he paints Shakespeare and Blake as if, with all their wisdom, they are embryonic."

'Barney Norris and his Places', programme essay for Nightfall at the Bridge Theatre, London. 

‘The Marsh and the Visitor’, in Ground Work, ed. Tim Dee, Jonathan Cape, 2018.  

‘Tacita Dean: Observances’, catalogue essay in Tacita Dean: Landscape, Portrait, Still Life, Royal Academy of Arts, 2018.


An interview with Francis Spufford, RSL Review, Autumn 2017.

'A Turning Leaf'Tate Etc., September 2017. 


Thomas Gainsborough, Wooded Landscape with a Peasant Resting, c. 1747, Tate. 

'Squint', commissioned by the International Literature Showcase and Writers' Centre Norwich. 

Landmarks and the Weather. For the Landmark Trust blog and newsletter I thought about ancient buildings responding to changing light and air. 

 wardenabbey exterior 450x321






  Warden Abbey, Bedfordshire


Springlines, Little Toller, 2017: I contributed a memory of a Sussex pond to this book about hidden water in the landscape, with poems by Clare Best and paintings by Mary Anne Aytoun-Ellis.


‘William Cowper’s Letters’, Slightly Foxed, Spring 2017.


Introduction to In Pursuit of Spring by Edward Thomas, Little Toller Nature Classics, 2016. 

in pursuit of spring

The Morville Hours, by Katherine Swift, a re-reading for Slightly Foxed, Summer 2016.

‘Fine Weather for Writing’, on traditions of seasonal creativity, The Author, Summer 2016.

‘Virginia Woolf in 1916’, Centenary Programme, Charleston Trust, 2016.

I recommended Pulborough Brooks in a Guardian travel feature on favourite places, July 2016.


'Kenneth Rowntree: A Strange Simplicity'. My introduction to the catalogue Kenneth Rowntree: A Centenary Exhibition. The show began at the Fry Art Gallery and toured to Pallant House Gallery in summer 2015. You can read the catalogue online here – and enjoy the reproductions of Rowntree's works.

Woolf in Winter. The published version of my Virginia Woolf Birthday Lecture, delivered at Senate House in London in January 2015. The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain have made a lovely small book of it, with an ice blue cover. Details of how to purchase a copy for £4 are available from the Virginia Woolf Society website


'Drip, drip, drip'. A lead article in The Guardian, 15 February 2014, on the topical subject of rain in literature.


A Crisis of Brilliance is currently on show at Dulwich Picture Gallery (until September 2013) and looks at the work of six artists who studied together at the Slade and were just setting out on their careers when the Great War changed everything. There’s a beautiful and provocative catalogue, with essays by the exhibition’s curator David Boyd Haycock, art historian Frances Spalding, and my own essay ‘We are making a new world: Art, Youth, and War’.

crisis of brilliance

I chose William Cowper as ‘My Hero’ in the Guardian, 2 February 2013.

In my view we should hear a lot more about this great poet of nature, faith, and homeliness. It’s well worth a visit to his house at Olney, where you can see Cowper’s summerhouse and stockings as well as the fabled sofa that prompted his poem The Task.


I enjoyed choosing a favourite book illustration for the Guardian, December 2012. Eventually I plumped for Hogarth’s illustrations to Tristram Shandy.

I've written forewords to two wonderful books, both responding to the history of particular places. Jonathan Newdick's Out of Time? is the culmination of a project in which Newdick studied the barns, stables and outhouses to be found within a few miles of his home in Petworth, Sussex. The book reproduces his exquisitely crafted, stylish and sometimes witty drawings of these forgotten buildings in their landscapes, and includes Newdick's reflections on the past and future of rural places.

redundant stable

Redundant Stable near Petworth, Jonathan Newdick, 2012

Toller Fratrum by Judith Stainton (Little Toller Books, 2012) tells the history of a Dorset parish which was once home to the Knights Templar. Beautifully produced by Little Toller Books (a small publishing house which has done much to revive interest in the classics of nature-writing and local history), the book includes photographs of the mesmerising Norman carvings in the church of St Basil.

toller fratum


'Sutherland's Metamorphoses', an essay in Modern Art Oxford's catalogue Graham Sutherland: An Unfinished World. The exhibition is curated by Turner-shortlisted artist George Shaw and runs until 18 March.

'Wandering with Clouds: Literary Weather from Milton to Wordsworth', in Where We Fell To Earth: Writing for Peter Conrad, edited by Michael Dobson and James Woodall, 2011, pp. 322-336.This was a privately published tribute to mark Peter Conrad's retirement from Christ Church. Copies can be ordered here.

'A subject for all seasons: Painting the Charleston Barns', feature article in the Charleston Trust magazine Canvas, Autumn 2011. The barns at Charleston are soon to undergo major refurbishment to provide new education and exhibition spaces. My essay marks this turning-point by looking back at some of the many paintings of the barns by Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry.

Introduction to the catalogue for Poster King: Edward McKnight Kauffer, a major new exhibition at the Estorick Collection in London.

Pass, Measure, and Mark: reflections on our ways of marking time. An essay commissioned by Rachel Seaton for the Toast Travels website. The essay responds to themes in the TOAST Autumn/Winter collection.

'The Ground Beneath Our Feet', an essay on the rise of local history, New Statesman, 7 April 2011.

'The Road South', introductory essay in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition John Piper in Kent and Sussex, Mascalls Gallery March 2011. You can get a copy here.

kent and sussex


'Top of the Crops', my feature on cabbages in art (!), Guardian 1 December 2010.


'Virginia Woolf Underground' in Woolf and the City, ed by Elizabeth Evans and Sarah Cornish, Clemson Digital Press, 2010. (Yes this really is about Woolf and the London Underground)


'Seaside Ceremonies: Coastal Rites in Twentieth-Century Art' in Modernism on Sea, ed by Alexandra Harris and Lara Feigel (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009)

'The Antimacassar Restored: Victorian Taste in the 1920s and '30s', in Strange Sisters, ed by Francesca Orestano and Francesca Frigerio (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009)

'Common Readers in Wartime', Virginia Woolf Bulletin, 31, 2009 (Julia Briggs Memorial Prize 2009)

Contributions to The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. by Dinah Birch (Oxford University Press, 2009)

'Almost fashionable Again: John Sell Cotman and the Second World War' in From Self to Shelf: The Artist Under Construction, ed by Sally Bayley and William May (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007)