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Episode 39: Idle Moments: Literary Loafers through the Ages and Pages

In the spirit of Plato’s Symposium, the Slightly Foxed team enter into lively dialogue with two distinguished magazine editors, Tom Hodgkinson of the Idler and Harry Mount of the Oldie, and learn lessons from notable loafers in literature. We begin with Doctor Johnson, an icon of indolence who wrote an essay called ‘The Idler’ and liked time to ponder; this lazy lexicographer claimed his dictionary would take three years to write when in fact it would take nine . . .

The wisdom-loving philosophers of Ancient Greece made a case for carving out leisure time, while the anchorite Julian of Norwich favoured a life of seclusion in which ‘all shall be well’. At the age of thirty-eight Michel de Montaigne retired to a grand book-filled chateau to test out ideas in essays, while George Orwell wrote book reviews in hungover misery. Izaak Walton found contemplation in The Compleat Angler and Jerome K. Jerome found humour in Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, while the autodidactic Mitford sisters sought wild freedom.

We enjoy a leisurely spell with loungers in fiction, visiting Lady Bertram and her pug in Mansfield Park, taking to Lady Diana Cooper’s bed in A Handful of Dust, retreating to Aunt Ada Doom’s room in Cold Comfort Farm, settling into the quiet comfort of Mycroft Holmes’s Diogenes Club and meeting Thomas Love Peacock’s Honourable Mr Listless along the way. And, to finish, there are the usual wide-ranging reading recommendations for when you have an idle moment.

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Show Notes

Please find links to books, articles, and further reading listed below. The digits in brackets following each listing refer to the minute and second they are mentioned. (Episode duration: 46 minutes; 56 seconds)

Books Mentioned

We may be able to get hold of second-hand copies of the out-of-print titles listed below. Please get in touch with Jess in the Slightly Foxed office for more information.

– Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler (9:49)

– Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays (11:48)

– Sarah Bakewell, How to Live (13:05)

– Plato, Symposium (17:51)

– Janina Ramirez, Julian of Norwich (18:58)

– Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust (26:53)

– Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (28:21)

– Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat; Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow is out of print (29:44)

– Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy will be available in a new edition in July 2022 (32:29)

– Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm (34:41)

– Geoffrey Willans, The Lost Diaries of Nigel Molesworth is out of print (39:51)

– Gamel Woolsey, Death’s Other Kingdom (40:40)

– Thomas Love Peacock, Nightmare Abbey (42:29)

– David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything (43:28)

– Jane Smiley, The Strays of Paris (46:56)

Related Slightly Foxed Articles

‘Study to be quiet’, Ken Haigh on Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler, Issue 54 (9:49)

The Great Self-Examiner, Anthony Wells on the essays of Michel de Montaigne, Issue 69 (11:48)

Poste-Freudian Therapy, Michele Hanson on Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm, Issue 10 (34:41)

Peacock’s Progress, J. W. M. Thompson on Thomas Love Peacock, Headlong Hall; Crotchet Castle, Issue 5 (42:29)

Other Links

The Idler magazine

The Oldie magazine

Opening music: Preludio from Violin Partita No.3 in E Major by Bach

The Slightly Foxed Podcast is hosted by Philippa Lamb and produced by Podcastable

Comments & Reviews

Leave a comment

  1. foundfoundfound says:

    Lots of fun, this episode. Surprised Harold Skimpole ([based on] Leigh Hunt) didn’t feature. (‘Give me my peach, my cup of coffee, and my claret; I am content.’)

  2. Bridget Patterson says:

    A great episode. I studied Montaigne as my ‘special subject’ for my French degree. He may have had his tower but found idleness difficult: My thoughts fall asleep if I make them sit down, he said, going on to explain that his mind would not budge unless his legs move it!

  3. Ian Pye says:

    The ultimate idle characters must be those of J. P. Donleavy.

  4. Leo Gooch says:

    Lovely episode, thanks. Shouldn’t Bertie Wooster have been included?

  5. John Burge says:

    An excellent episode. And let’s not forget that, in ‘Barchester Towers’, one of Wilfred Thorne’s favourite authors was Montaigne, and that he (Mr Thorne, that is, not Montaigne) possessed a complete set of ‘The Idler’.

  6. Helen Nicholl says:

    I do love your podcasts – but then, I love everything about you, dear Slightly Foxed!

  7. Linda Burgess says:

    I have recently discovered your podcast and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. And from the bottom of the world, in New Zealand.

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