Stuart Jeffries

Stuart Jeffries is a former Guardian journalist and author of Mrs Slocombe’s Pussy and Grand Hotel Abyss.

Are we all becoming hermits now?

Long before Covid, wi-fi and Deliveroo, Badger in The Wind in the Willows showed us how to live beyond the manifold fatuities of this gimcrack world. Cosily tucked into his burrow with a roaring fire and well-stocked cellar, he was unbothered by importunate weasels and other denizens of the Wild Wood. He padded his underground

The firebrand preacher who put Martin Luther in the shade

‘Now tell us, you miserable wretched sack of maggots,’ wrote Thomas Müntzer, sounding like the love child of Owen Jones and Ian Paisley, ‘who made you into a prince over the people whom God redeemed with his own precious blood?’ The question Müntzer posed Count Albrecht of Mansfeld was, you’d think, rhetorical. Like his contemporary

Has Germany finally shaken off its dark past?

In 1982, a board game appeared in West Germany. If you landed on square B9 you were sent to a refugee camp in Hesse where you became ill from loneliness, unfamiliar food and not being allowed to work. Worse still, you had to miss a go and spend the free time thinking about ‘how you

Has VR finally come of age?

A heavily made-up Iranian woman in bra and knickers is dancing seductively before me. We’re in some vast warehouse, and she’s swaying barefoot. But then I look around. All the other men here are in military uniforms and leaning against walls or sitting at desks, smoking and looking at her impassively. I slowly realise we

What should we make of the esoteric philosophy Traditionalism?

Last August a bomb tore through a Toyota Land Cruiser outside Moscow killing its 29-year-old driver. Darya Dugina, a pro-war TV pundit, had been returning from a conservative literary festival where her father, an ultra-nationalist ideologue, had been giving a talk on tradition and history. Quite possibly he was the intended target. Alexander Dugin was

The philosophical puzzles of the British Socrates

Imagine your donkey and mine graze in the same field. One day I conceive a dislike for my donkey and shoot it: on examining the victim, though, I realise with horror I’ve shot your donkey. Or imagine a slightly different scenario. As before, I draw a bead, but just as I pull the trigger, my

A look inside Britain’s only art gallery in jail

The centrepiece of the exhibition at Britain’s only contemporary art gallery in a prison is an installation, consisting of two broken, stained armchairs. They’ve been placed face-to-face, as if for a therapy session. Elsewhere there are silkscreen prints and paintings. This outbuilding-cum-art studio and gallery is where prisoners are also taught dry-point etching – surprising

Henry Avery, the pirate king of Madagascar

On 7 September 1695, the 25-ship Grand Mughal fleet was returning through the Red Sea after its annual pilgrimage to Mecca when it was attacked by five pirate ships.  In the ensuing battle, the pirates’ leader, an Englishman variously known as Henry Avery, Henry Every, the King of Pirates and Long Ben, seized precious jewels

In praise of Birmingham, Britain’s maligned second city

During my gap year in 1981, I worked on the 24th floor of Birmingham’s Alpha Tower for the Regional Manpower Intelligence Unit. The city below, with its express ways racing past the Venetian Gothic of Joseph Chamberlain’s house and the Roman Revival of the town hall, were the realisation of the city planner Herbert Manzoni’s

Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning art scene

A little more than a century ago, a charismatic British army captain called T.E. Lawrence and fearsome Bedouin warriors swept through the sublime canyons around the desert city of Al-’Ula where I stroll today. They blew up the Hejaz railway, built to transport hajjis from Damascus towards Mecca but repurposed during the first world war

The tyranny of the visual

In 1450, the Duke of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro, became monocular after losing vision in his right eye following a jousting accident. In order to improve the peripheral vision of his left eye, he had surgeons cut off the bridge of his nose. In Piero della Francesca’s 1472 portrait, the Duke is depicted in profile,

How the Beano shaped art

Superman and the Beano are both 83 years old. The American superhero first pulled on his tights for Action Comics No. 1 in June 1938. The following month, roughly 443,000 copies were sold of the Beano’s first issue, featuring Pansy Potter (the Strongman’s Daughter), Big Fat Joe, Wee Peem (He’s a Proper Scream) and, my

What really went on at Britain’s Bikini Atoll?

Nearly a century ago, some Chinese water deer swam the River Ore to Orford Ness. They had escaped from the ornamental deer park at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire and, perhaps through ancestral homing instinct, headed as far east as possible without falling into the North Sea. They climbed unsteadily on to this strange shingle spit