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Multiple Kingdoms

Linda Colley: The origins of the British Empire, 19 July 2001

The Ideological Origins of the British Empire 
by David Armitage.
Cambridge, 239 pp., £35, September 2000, 0 521 59081 7
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... The history of England,’ Sir John Seeley declared in The Expansion of England (1883), ‘is not in England but in America and Asia.’ Like many aphorisms, this was at once consciously perverse and entirely apt. Seeley wrote as a fervid supporter of imperial federation, ‘Greater Britain’, but he was also taking issue, as in a preceding series of lectures delivered at Cambridge, with the introspection that characterised so much contemporary English historical writing ...

Last Farewells

Linda Colley, 22 June 1989

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution 
by Simon Schama.
Viking, 948 pp., £20, May 1989, 0 670 81012 6
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The Oxford History of the French Revolution 
by William Doyle.
Oxford, 466 pp., £17.50, May 1989, 0 19 822781 7
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The Shadow of the Guillotine: Britain and the French Revolution 
by David Bindman.
British Museum, 232 pp., £14.95, June 1989, 0 7141 1637 8
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... On display at the British Museum at present is one of the most brilliant propaganda campaigns ever launched. Something very different from the glossy philistinism of Saatchi and Saatchi (‘An ace café with some quite good marbles attached’ perhaps?); something more sinister and more powerful. Wander in and you can see wax models of the severed heads of Maximilien de Robespierre and Antoine Fouquier-Tinville, dabbled with painted blood and based – or so Madame Tussaud claimed – on the mutilated originals ...

Sire of the Poor

Linda Colley, 17 March 1988

Victorian Values and 20th-Century Condescension 
by Gertrude Himmelfarb.
Centre for Policy Studies, 15 pp., £2.20, August 1987, 1 870265 10 6
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Peel and the Victorians 
by Donald Read.
Blackwell, 330 pp., £27.50, August 1987, 0 631 15725 5
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Suicide in Victorian and Edwardian England 
by Olive Anderson.
Oxford, 475 pp., £40, July 1987, 9780198201014
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... More than fifty years have elapsed since G.M. Young published his splendidly suggestive survey of Victorian England, Portrait of an Age, and the confidence and command which enabled that book to be written seem to become ever more elusive. The exponential growth of the academic profession, and the sheer volume of relevant material and accumulated images, have ensured that our detailed knowledge about this period has advanced enormously since Young’s day ...

Strutting

Linda Colley, 21 September 1995

All the Sweets of Being: The Life of James Boswell 
by Roger Hutchinson.
Mainstream, 238 pp., £17.50, May 1995, 1 85158 702 0
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James Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’ 
edited by Marshall Waingrow.
Edinburgh, 518 pp., £75, March 1995, 0 7486 0471 5
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Johnson and Boswell: The Transit of Caledonia 
by Pat Rogers.
Oxford, 245 pp., £30, April 1995, 0 19 818259 7
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... There is a sinister painting by the 18th-century artist Francis Hayman of a couple frolicking on a seesaw. A youth soars triumphantly into the air, but his hold seems precarious. His female companion descends smilingly to the ground, only to tumble back into the lascivious arms of another man. Altogether an appropriately ambivalent emblem, one might think, for the vicissitudes that James Boswell would experience throughout his life, and the turbulence of his reputation since his death ...

Clashes and Collaborations

Linda Colley, 18 July 1996

Empire: The British Imperial Experience, from 1765 to the Present 
by Denis Judd.
HarperCollins, 517 pp., £25, March 1996, 9780002552370
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Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire 
edited by P.J. Marshall.
Cambridge, 400 pp., £24.95, March 1996, 0 521 43211 1
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Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France, c.1500-c.1800 
by Anthony Pagden.
Yale, 244 pp., £19.95, August 1995, 0 300 06415 2
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... How should historians write about empire? Or, if you prefer, the imperial enterprise? The task is made difficult in part because many people still find it easy to confuse academic concentration on this phenomenon with approval of it. To some on the Left for instance – especially in the United States – imaginatively reconstructing the ideas and actions of the imperial powers in the past can seem dangerously close to condoning racism, brutality and Eurocentricity in the present ...

Herstory

Linda Colley, 9 July 1992

The Republican Virago: The Life and Times of Catharine Macaulay 
by Bridget Hill.
Oxford, 263 pp., £30, March 1992, 0 19 812978 5
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... It tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all.’ So runs the bright but ingenuous Catherine Moreland’s famous dismissal of the relevance and attractiveness of history. Less well-known, but more revealing, however, is the comment that Jane Austen was careful to insert not just before but after these irreverent lines in Northanger Abbey ...

At least they paid their taxes

Linda Colley, 25 July 1991

Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorised Biography 
by Kitty Kelley.
Bantam, 532 pp., £16.99, April 1991, 0 593 02450 8
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... On the dust-jacket of this book is a photograph of its author. Kitty Kelley, formerly of Spokane, one-time Lilac Princess at school, millionaire biographer of Jacqueline Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra, looks not all that different from her current subject. There is the same bright, taut face which a good surgical lift always ensures, the same immaculately-dyed and coiffeured hair, the same fixed smile exhibiting the kind of teeth that only an American orthodontist can fix, the same chunky gold jewellery and expensive clothes overlaying a diet-starved body, and the same clawed, no longer young hands about which nothing can be done whatsoever ...

Identity Parade

Linda Colley, 25 February 1993

People and Places: Country House Donors and the National Trust 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 232 pp., £19.99, October 1992, 0 7195 5145 5
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The Making of the National Poet: Shakespeare, Adaptation and Authorship, 1660-1769 
by Michael Dobson.
Oxford, 266 pp., £30, October 1992, 0 19 811233 5
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Myths of the English 
edited by Roy Porter.
Polity, 280 pp., £39.50, October 1992, 0 7456 0844 2
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Fields of Vision: Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England and the United States 
by Stephen Daniels.
Polity, 257 pp., £39.50, November 1992, 0 7456 0450 1
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... I will never, come hell or high water, let our distinctive British identity be lost in a federal Europe.’ John Major’s ringing assurance to last year’s Conservative Party Conference is part of a long tradition whereby Britishness has been defined primarily by reference to a real or an imaginary Other. Understandably so, since defining this entity in its own terms has always been problematic and is fast becoming more so ...

Not Many Dead

Linda Colley, 10 September 1992

Riot, Risings and Revolution: Governance and Violence in 18th-Century England 
by Ian Gilmour.
Hutchinson, 504 pp., £25, May 1992, 0 09 175330 9
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... Ian Gilmour is a distinguished and highly intelligent example of a once rare species: he is a Conservative with a cause. Unfortunately for him, however – and perhaps for the rest of us as well – his cause is no longer that of the political party he has always espoused. The son of a baronet, he was born into Toryism in much the same way as Anthony Trollope’s Duke of Omnium was born to Whig Liberalism, passing through Eton, to Balliol, to marriage with a daughter of the Duke of Buccleuch, to the Bar, to safe Conservative seats in rural Norfolk and Buckinghamshire, and then on to cabinet rank, first as Secretary of Defence under Heath, and then as Lord Privy Seal and Deputy Foreign Secretary ...

Vengeful Susan

Linda Colley, 22 September 1994

Uncertain Unions: Marriage in England 1660-1753 
by Lawrence Stone.
Oxford, 295 pp., £16.95, September 1992, 0 19 820253 9
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Broken Lives: Separation and Divorce in England 1660-1857 
by Lawrence Stone.
Oxford, 373 pp., £16.95, June 1993, 0 19 820254 7
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... In 1990, Lawrence Stone published a book called Road to Divorce. Bold, original, pungent and wide-ranging, it was at one level an attempt to convey the vagaries and varieties of matrimony in England from Tudor times to the Marriage Act of 1753, and the extreme difficulty and distress involved in legally separating from a spouse before the passage of the Divorce Act in 1857 ...

Sweet Homes and Tolerant Houses

Linda Colley, 16 August 1990

A History of Private Life. Vol IV: From the Fires of Revolution to the Great War 
edited by Michelle Perrot, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
Harvard, 713 pp., £29.95, April 1990, 0 674 39978 1
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Women for Hire: Prostitution and Sexuality in France after 1850 
by Alain Corbin, translated by Alan Sheridan.
Harvard, 478 pp., £31.50, April 1990, 0 674 95543 9
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... The rise in the reputation of French history, not just in its own territory but throughout the Anglo-Saxon world as well, has been one of the most remarkable cultural developments since the Second World War. The reasons for its triumph are instructive, not least to historians of Britain, whose own discipline has so conspicuously declined in popularity over the same period of time ...

A Magazine of Wisdom

Linda Colley, 4 September 1997

Edmund Burke: A Life in Caricature 
by Nicholas Robinson.
Yale, 214 pp., £30, October 1996, 0 300 06801 8
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The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke. Vol. III: Party, Parliament and the American War 1774-80 
edited by Warren Elofson and John Woods.
Oxford, 713 pp., £75, September 1996, 0 19 822414 1
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Edmund Burke and India: Political Morality and Empire 
by Frederick Whelan.
Pittsburgh, 384 pp., £39.95, December 1996, 0 8229 3927 4
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... Edmund Burke is easily the most significant intellectual in politics these islands ever produced. Infinitely more profound and productive than his nearest 18th-century equivalent, Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, he was also far more prominent in national politics over a much longer span than John Milton or the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury in the 17th century, J ...

Stubble and Breath

Linda Colley: Mother Germaine, 15 July 1999

The Whole Woman 
by Germaine Greer.
Doubleday, 351 pp., £16.99, March 1999, 0 385 60015 1
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Germaine Greer: Untamed Shrew 
by Christine Wallace.
Cohen, 333 pp., £18.99, March 1999, 1 86066 120 3
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... It is now almost thirty years since the publication of The Female Eunuch, and like most women of my age and background, I remember buying a copy. In my case, it was the famous paperback version, the one with a metallic trunk of a woman on the cover, hanging mutilated from a wardrobe rail. In retrospect, you could argue this was a more apposite image than the artist intended ...

Things that are worth naming

Linda Colley, 21 November 1991

A Passion for Government: The Life of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough 
by Frances Harris.
Oxford, 421 pp., £25, September 1991, 0 19 820224 5
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... Among the illustrations in this book is a painting by John Closterman of the Marlborough family which hangs today in Blenheim Palace. On its right-hand side, as convention dictates, sits the head of the family, John Churchill, at the time of the painting, first Earl of Marlborough. On its extreme left, at a slightly lower level, stands his only surviving son and heir, the ten-year-old Lord Blandford ...

Let them cut grass

Linda Colley, 16 December 1993

The Downing Street Years 
by Margaret Thatcher.
HarperCollins, 914 pp., £25, October 1993, 0 00 255049 0
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... It was an extraordinarily long premiership – indeed the longest of the century by a considerable margin. In part, this was because the Opposition was divided, its members seemingly incapable of suppressing their personal disagreements and policy differences so as to co-ordinate and concentrate their attack. But the premier’s longevity was also due to a high degree of political professionalism and ruthless single-mindedness ...

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