Cliveden gets ready to rock again

JC literary editor Gerald Jacobs previews a literary festival that has established itself among the best in a short time


Can you identify this person? While on leave from the Foreign Service, he spent 21 months crossing Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal. Educated at Eton and Balliol College Oxford, he went on to Harvard as a fellow and later a professor. He has written four books, one of which, The Marches, describes a walk through Cumbria and the Borders with his father.

Know who it is? No, I didn’t either before reading all the above, and more: he claims to have stayed in 500 village houses on that Iran-to-Nepal trek!

The mystery person is former Tory leadership hopeful turned rebel, Rory Stewart. But it is the book-writing that’s pertinent here, because he is due to be in conversation with Simon Sebag Montefiore next weekend at the 2019 Cliveden Literary Festival.

Stewart does not stand out as the star turn at Cliveden but his multi-faceted CV is somehow symbolic of a literary festival now in its third year. From the start, two years ago, it has delivered a magnificent mélange of contributors and debates encompassing writers of fiction and non-fiction, academics, politicians, journalists, jesters and… another word beginning with “J” that is frequently applicable across any or all of the above categories.

Yes, Jewish men and women of letters feature prominently at Cliveden, in 2019 just as they did in 2017 and 2018. So much so, that it sometimes feels like Jewish Book Week transplanted for two days into the glorious, inside-and-outside setting of what is probably Britain’s most famous, historic — and notorious — country house and estate.

Among this year’s crop of Jewish jotters are Emily Maitlis, described in the programme as “our most thrilling political broadcaster”; Howard Jacobson, speaking about his latest novel and, in a separate session, discussing the novelist’s craft with other leading practitioners; and Alain de Botton giving his observations on empathy and other “essential tools of life”.

JC and Times columnist David Aaronovitch is participating in panels on our currently parlous politics and the despicable output of conspiracy theorisers. And, as well as speaking to Rory Stewart, the ubiquitous and entertaining Simon Sebag Montefiore will not only address his own work, but also appear with Brett Easton Ellis, while Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt will share his engagingly authoritative reflections on the greatest scribe of them all.

The Jewish flavour permeating much of the fare on offer at the Cliveden Literary Festival unashamedly emanates from its elegant and dynamic founder, Natalie Livingstone, Cliveden’s present-day first lady, who also always ensures there is a full and distinctive female presence in the programme.

This year, Livingstone herself will chair a session on “Heroine Chic” and, inter alia, Kathy Lette chairing Luciana Berger, Elif Shafak and Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a must-see event.

For tickets and information visit the Cliveden Literary Festival 2019 website or email them here

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