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In Praise of Lolly

Linda Colley, 3 February 1983

The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialisation of 18th-Century England 
by Neil McKendrick, John Brewer and J.H. Plumb.
Europa, 355 pp., £18.50, July 1982, 0 905118 00 6
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... The American historian J. H. Hexter once complained that the myth of an assertive and ascendant middle class had distorted accounts of almost every century of English history. Yet for the 18th century – a period in which the myth had at least some substance in reality – the charm of the bourgeoisie has proved discreet, indeed has often been discounted ...

The point of it all

Linda Colley, 1 September 1988

The Duel in European History: Honour and the Reign of Aristocracy 
by V.G. Kiernan.
Oxford, 360 pp., £25, March 1988, 0 19 822566 0
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History, Classes and Nation-States: Selected Writings of Victor Kiernan 
edited by Harvey Kaye.
Blackwell, 284 pp., £27.50, June 1988, 0 7456 0424 2
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... In 1759 the future Viscount Townshend challenged the Earl of Leicester to a duel. But Leicester refused to fight. He was, he claimed, too old and too ill; he could not hit a barn door with a pistol, and had not handled a sword for twenty years. What does this incident tell us about patrician values? And who was more conscious of his rank: the brash challenger or the man confident enough to ignore him? Another example: in 1809 a duel occurred between two Secretaries of State, George Canning and Lord Castlereagh ...

North and South

Linda Colley, 2 August 2012

... The uneven rise of Scottish nationalism is deeply interesting: but not because it is hard to explain, or because it is the only domestic fracture that matters. It has long been accepted that neither the Union of Crowns of 1603, which saw the Scottish King James VI move south to London, nor the Treaty of Union of 1707 served to cancel out Scottish distinctiveness ...

Invader

Linda Colley, 9 July 1987

Richard Cobden: A Victorian Outsider 
by Wendy Hinde.
Yale, 379 pp., £14.95, April 1987, 0 300 03880 1
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Richard Cobden: Independent Radical 
by Nicholas Edsall.
Harvard, 479 pp., £23.95, February 1987, 0 674 76879 5
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... Richard Cobden is not a man for all seasons, but his life, career and values have been interpreted in widely different ways at different times. When he died in 1865, he was mourned by many as a secular saint. The majority remembered his leadership of one of the most triumphantly successful pressure groups in British history, the Anti-Corn Law League; and a minority honoured his uncompromising and frequently unpopular opposition to war: ‘seldom has hero rested, stained by so superb a fault ...

Downward Mobility

Linda Colley, 4 May 1989

The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians 
edited by John Cannon, R.H.C. Davis, William Doyle and Jack Greene.
Blackwell, 480 pp., £39.95, September 1988, 9780631147084
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Edward Gibbon, Luminous Historian, 1772-1794 
by Patricia Craddock.
Johns Hopkins, 432 pp., £19, February 1989, 0 8018 3720 0
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Gibbon: Making History 
by Roy Porter.
Palgrave, 187 pp., £14.95, February 1989, 0 312 02728 1
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Macaulay 
by Owen Dudley Edwards.
Trafalgar Square, 160 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 9780297794684
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Acton 
by Hugh Tulloch.
Trafalgar Square, 144 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 0 297 79470 1
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... We live in reactionary times. One indication of this is the growing trend among both politicians and academics to prescribe what historical study should be: how it should be organised and conducted, what it should be about, why it should be pursued at all. Such prescriptions can sometimes stem from genuine scholarly or cultural concern. But they can also betoken a dangerously closed mind ...

Napoleon’s Near Miss

Linda Colley, 18 April 1985

Napoleon: The Myth of the Saviour 
by Jean Tulard, translated by Teresa Waugh.
Weidenfeld, 470 pp., £14.95, June 1984, 0 297 78439 0
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Alexis: Tsar of All the Russias 
by Philip Longworth.
Secker, 319 pp., £15, June 1984, 0 436 25688 6
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... The English have never been unduly admiring of their own great men. All of Thomas Carlyle’s efforts failed to establish Oliver Cromwell securely in the Victorian pantheon. The names of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington summon up public houses rather than heroes. Winston Churchill in this century, like the Elder Pitt in the 18th and the Younger Pitt in the 19th, was buried with ceremony then swiftly consigned to history: which means that for the bulk of the population he became irrelevant ...

Counter-Factuals

Linda Colley, 1 November 1984

The Origins of Anglo-American Radicalism 
edited by Margaret Jacob and James Jacob.
Allen and Unwin, 333 pp., £18.50, February 1984, 0 04 909015 1
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Insurrection: The British Experience 1795-1803 
by Roger Wells.
Alan Sutton, 312 pp., £16, May 1983, 9780862990190
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Radicalism and Freethought in 19th-Century Britain 
by Joel Wiener.
Greenwood, 285 pp., $29.95, March 1983, 0 313 23532 5
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For King, Constitution and Country: The English Loyalists and the French Revolution 
by Robert Dozier.
Kentucky, 213 pp., £20.90, February 1984, 9780813114903
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... Just the place for a snark, the Bellman said. And with equal assurance, political activists from Tom Paine to Friedrich Engels and historians from Elie Halévy to Edward Thompson have hailed 18th and 19th-century Britain as just the place for a revolution. For superficially – though only superficially – the conditions seem to have been almost ideal ...

Why Darcy would not have married Elizabeth Bennet

Linda Colley: Women in Georgian England, 3 September 1998

The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Victorian England 
by Amanda Vickery.
Yale, 436 pp., £19.95, May 1998, 0 300 07531 6
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... The experience of reading this book is a paradoxical one. Innovative, expertly researched and luminous in style, it nonetheless seems at times almost eerily familiar. The reason for this quickly becomes evident. Those who know their Jane Austen well have been here before. There are echoes of the novels even in some of the characters we encounter in Amanda Vickery’s volume: the clergyman’s wife from a commercial background, for instance, who – very much in the manner of Mrs Elton – addresses her spouse as ‘Mr R ...

Elitism

Linda Colley, 3 December 1992

The Volcano Lover: A Romance 
by Susan Sontag.
Cape, 419 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 224 02912 6
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... Why did Susan Sontag write this book? Essayist and cultural critic, interpreter of Aids, cancer, the cinema, Fascism and pornography, recipient of Jonathan Miller’s burdensome accolade ‘probably the most intelligent woman in America’, why should she want to attempt a historical novel? It’s been a success of course. There have been the entries into the bestseller lists, the interviews and profiles in the right magazines, the respectful and often rapturous reviews ...

Stuck in Chicago

Linda Colley, 12 November 1987

Women 
by Naim Attallah.
Quartet, 1165 pp., £15, October 1987, 0 7043 2625 6
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... As I write this, the Liberal MP David Alton is about to introduce a Bill changing the upper time limit on legal abortions from 28 weeks to 18. If he succeeds, more women will be forced to give birth against their will, and more will be obliged to give birth to children already known to be severely handicapped. Whether he succeeds will be determined by a House of Commons where 13 out of every 16 MPs belong to the sex that does not get pregnant and does not, traditionally, take on the main responsibility of childcare ...

A Talented Past

Linda Colley, 23 April 1987

The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790-1820. Vol. I: Survey 
edited by R.G. Thorne.
Secker, 400 pp., £225, August 1986, 0 436 52101 6
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The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790-1820. Vol. II: Constituencies 
edited by R.G. Thorne.
Secker, 704 pp., £225, August 1986, 0 436 52101 6
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The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790-1820. Vol. III: Members A-F 
edited by R.G. Thorne.
Secker, 852 pp., £225, August 1986, 0 436 52101 6
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The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790-1820. Vol. IV: Members G-P 
edited by R.G. Thorne.
Secker, 908 pp., £225, August 1986, 0 436 52101 6
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The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790-1820. Vol. V: Members P-Z 
edited by R.G. Thorne.
Secker, 680 pp., £225, August 1986, 0 436 52101 6
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... This anatomy of the membership of the House of Commons is the sixth such work to issue from the History of Parliament Trust. Previous volumes in the series have covered the years 1509 to 1603, 1660 to 1690, and 1715 to 1790; and if the Treasury and private donors continue to be kind, the identity, interests and influence of MPs in this country will be chronicled from 1386 to 1832 and possibly (and desirably) up to the present century ...

Send them to Eton!

Linda Colley, 19 August 1993

The End of the House of Windsor: Birth of a British Republic 
by Stephen Haseler.
Tauris, 208 pp., £14.95, June 1993, 1 85043 735 1
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The Rise and Fall of the House of Windsor 
by A.N. Wilson.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 211 pp., £16.99, May 1993, 1 85619 354 3
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Royal Throne: The Future of the Monarchy 
by Elizabeth Longford.
Hodder, 189 pp., £16.99, April 1993, 0 340 58587 0
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Diana v. Charles 
by James Whitaker.
Signet, 237 pp., £14.99, May 1993, 0 670 85245 7
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The Tarnished Crown 
by Anthony Holden.
Bantam, 400 pp., £16.99, May 1993, 0 593 02472 9
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Inheritance: A Psychological History of the Royal Family 
by Dennis Friedman.
Sidgwick, 212 pp., £14.99, April 1993, 0 283 06124 3
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Raine and Johnnie: The Spencers and the Scandal of Althorp 
by Angela Levin.
Weidenfeld, 297 pp., £17.99, July 1993, 0 297 81325 0
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... The question is: what is the question? This summer has seen a bumper crop of books all ostensibly addressing the problems of the British monarchy. The blurbs have been in technicolour: ‘the most significant work ever written on the House of Windsor’, ‘explosive and electrifying’, ‘destined to ruffle a lot of feathers’, ‘sensational’, and ‘the best-kept publishing secret of the year ...

Diary

Linda Colley: Anita Hill v. Clarence Thomas, 19 December 1991

... To look at, Yale’s Law School resembles a small-scale version of the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, superimposed on a large mock-Tudor bowling alley. In fact, like most of the present-day Yale campus, it was built in the Thirties by poorly-paid Italian immigrants. Unlike the surrounding buildings, however, which are now beginning to show their real as distinct from their fake age, the Law School is in that pristine state of repair which betokens the support of serious money ...

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 ...

We are all Scots here

Linda Colley: Scotland and Empire, 12 December 2002

The Scottish Empire 
by Michael Fry.
Tuckwell/Birlinn, 580 pp., £16.99, November 2002, 9781841582597
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... How is empire to be understood in an age that takes nations and nationalism for granted? For those who were once invaded by empires which have since become defunct, this rarely seems a problem. For the majority of Indians in regard to the British Raj, as for one-time satellites of Soviet Russia, empire is simply the dark before the light, an episode of alien oppression now triumphantly shrugged off ...

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