W hen reading for relaxation, Mark Girouard explains in the introduction to this highly diverting collection of essays, “I have often come across something that has especially intrigued or irritated me: a clue that I wanted to follow up, a point that others seem to have overlooked, a misidentification that I long to correct, a neglected work that I would like to publicise, and so on”. Enthusiasms is the result of these promptings and is rather like a bumper issue of Notes and Queries. Is Arundel, rather than Carisbrooke, the setting for Charlotte Mew’s poem “Ken”? Is Edward Lear’s Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo really modelled on Oscar Wilde? These “literary excursions”, as he calls them – away-days from Girouard’s career as one of our leading architectural historians – sometimes turn out to be wild goose chases, but they are nonetheless entertaining for that. “It would be wearisome to go in any detail into my work in libraries, on the computer and in the National Archives, my trawling through Post Office directories, wills and censuses”, he writes about his attempts to uncover the identity of “Walter”, the anonymous author of My Secret Life (c.1882–94); but we are drawn into his dogged pursuit, which leads him to the streets of Camberwell in South London. If, as he at first deduces, Walter’s family house was on the corner of De Crespigny Terrace and Love Lane, then it is possible that the author’s real name was Horner. This all sounds too good to be true, and indeed it is: the essay is subtitled “a hunt but no kill”.

more from Peter Parker at the TLS here.