A Berkshire Boyhood: Neither celebrity-gawk, “misery memoir,” nor confessional melodrama, A Berkshire Boyhood is more reminiscent of such memoirs as Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, and Emily Fox Gordon’s Are You Happy? In fact A Berkshire Boyhood will strike readers as a parallel universe to Gordon’s book, her own story of growing up in Williamstown, Massachusetts, as a privileged faculty brat and young girl in the 1950s. Berkshire Boyhood is a boy’s story of growing up from working class roots in that same place and time. It explores family troubles arising out of the wounds and separations of World War II, ethnic religiosity, and adolescent sexuality (1950s variety). Its deeper appeal comes from our curiosity about the 1950s and the Boomer generation, from fraught relations between that generation and their parents, who fought WWII, from our interest in the influence of landscape on human development, and from a vision of post-war years as a decade seething with the anger and dissent of an incipient counterculture that would explode in the sixties.
J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851), the greatest British landscape painter and one of the most revolutionary influences on Western art since the eighteenth century, left upon his death a rich and varied legacy to Britain’s National Gallery, including more than 19,000 sketch studies containing considerable erotica. When John Ruskin, Turner’s greatest supporter at the time, discovered the erotic works, he, with the help of National Gallery Keeper Ralph Wornum, burned most of the material they found offensive. The Turner Erotica follows narrator William James Stillman (the young American artist, Consul to Rome and Crete, friend of Ruskin, and acquaintance of Turner) as he pursues a dangerous quest across Britain, Europe, and New England to discover and save the few remaining studies that through theft and betrayal escaped Ruskin’s outraged fire. In his quest, Stillman enlists the help of Pre-Raphaelite William Rossetti, the liberated American painter Allegra Fullerton, and Sir Richard Burton (the greatest linguist, swordsman, pistol-shot, and covert agent for the British government in the 19th century). Stillman’s obsession with the surviving erotic studies arises out of their potential value to British art history and his deep sense that the studies contain a secret clue to the master’s celebrated body of public work.