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more Adventures with Britannia: Personalities, Politics and Culture
Wm. Roger Louis, ed.
London & New York: I.B. Tauris, 2003.
£12.95, $18.95, x-390 pages, ISBN 1860649157 (paperback).
Université de Rouen
Readers interested in British studies will no doubt be familiar
with the excellent volumes already published in the same University
of Texas series by I.B. Tauris, Adventures with Britannia: Personalities,
Politics and Culture in Britain (1995) and More Adventures
with Britannia: Personalities, Politics and Culture in Britain (1998).
The format is invariable: Professor William Roger Louis, who has
a metaphorical foot on each side of the Atlantic (Oxford and Austin),
invites distinguished historians, essayists and littérateurs
connected with British studies to come to lecture at the University
of Texas, and he later edits their papers in the form of a collection
on ‘Adventures with Britannia’. This new book covers
the lectures delivered from 1997 to 2002, sustaining the very high
standards achieved by its predecessors.
To anybody who has some knowledge of the current historiography
on twentieth-century Britain, the complete list of essays given
below will show that most of the authors have already written extensively
on their themes—indeed more than one is the authority
on his subject. The danger of course is that of déjà
lu, but many eschew that danger by speaking in the first person
and/or giving personal anecdotes not found in their more formal
publications. A case in point is that of Peter Marsh (author of
a superb biography of Joseph Chamberlain ), who tells us that
he was not enthusiastic when his publishers first suggested the
idea to him. Interestingly, the qualms which historians entertain
when writing biography are also examined (or at least alluded to)
by two other authors, Shula Marks and Ben Pimlott, while most writers
of biographical pieces, Max Egremont, Noel Annan (who was too ill
to deliver his lecture in person), Susan Pedersen, and Norman Rose,
make no mention of them. David Butler, the indefatigable analyst
of British General Elections, gives us a fascinating mix of autobiography
and psephology since 1945, with a pathetic disillusion about the
importance of election results—and therefore of his own work
(if much the same is to happen in the long run whichever party is
elected [decolonisation, joining the EEC, etc.] what is the use
of research on the subject?).
technique to avoid repetition is to choose to discuss a convergence
between two strands which the author has already exhaustively explored
before, but separately, as when K.O. Morgan concentrates on the
objective alliance between Lloyd George and Keir Hardie in the pro-Boer
movement which agitated the country at the turn of the century.
Some essays deliberately adopt a provocative register: Ferdinand
Mound very humourously puts forward the point of view of the post-1979
Right that a return to 1914 (or indeed before) is in order—even
perhaps in process—to curb the excesses of 1951 Britain (meaning
the Old Labour Welfare State). Larry Siedentop, for his part, modifies
the Freudian will to ‘kill the father’ into a gentle
debunking of his former Ph.D. supervisor. Other (mild) provocateurs
adopt an unusual angle of attack, with Bernard Porter having an
uphill task trying to persuade us that Elgar’s widely perceived
jingoism rests on misunderstandings—his wife is largely to
blame for his Imperialism, he suggests. Counterfactual history,
a recent ‘challenging’ genre, is theoretically represented
in Jose Harris’s intriguing title, but her essay is in fact
largely devoted to Hancock and the Civil History series.
second half of the book is dominated by essays on foreign and imperial
policy, with the two classic themes of Anglo-American relations
(Fred Leventhal) and post-war decolonisation, starting with Suez
(Keith Kyle)—a fiasco which has to do with both. Roland Oliver
gives a first-person account of his pioneering experience in African
History in the 1950s, with in a way Gerald Moore taking up the story
in the 1960s Creole world, while Jeffrey Cox provides the only significant
incursion into the nineteenth century in the book. Two essays are
closely connected with current affairs: Dan Jacobson’s attempt
to expose the real motivations of the Holocaust deniers finds an
echo in the recent progress of National Front activists at local
elections, while Adam Roberts’s lecture on Britain’s
(capital) role in the creation of the United Nations, delivered
in the spring of 2001, takes on a new dimension after the snub given
to that organisation by the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003.
in all, then, the book is of course a ‘mixed bag’—it
is in the nature of such collections, although one could perhaps
paraphrase C.D. Goodwin’s judgement on Bloomsbury:
of the remarkable accomplishments of the Bloomsbury group was the
ability of its members to work together for a common cause. Without
giving up their individuality or their right to dispute they usually
agreed on values […]
it is one of the highest quality, which clearly furthers the ‘common
cause’ of a better understanding of British society and adheres
to the ‘values’ of the best scholarly tradition, with
stimulating and often fascinating reading from beginning to end,
the more so as all essays are written by confirmed practitioners,
who never resort to that pseudo-modern jargon which only reveals
the paucity of the writer’s inspiration. This is agreeably
complemented by generally impeccable proof-reading, with two inexplicable
slips: ‘much to late’ (137) and ‘with a forward
by’ (200). The footnoting (inconvenient end notes after each
chapter, in fact) varies from the non-existent to the extremely
comprehensive, and owing to the wealth of very useful information
contained in the book, it is a pity that no space could be found
for a helpful index. There is of course no doubt that Still
more Adventures with Britannia should be in all British studies
• Louis, William Roger. ‘Introduction’.
• Porter, Bernard. ‘Pompous and circumstantial: Elgar
• Marsh, Peter. ‘Joseph Chamberlain: entrepreneur in
• Morgan, Kenneth O. ‘Britain’s Vietnam? Lloyd
George, Keir Hardie, and the importance of the “Pro-Boers”
• Marks, Shula. ‘Jan Smuts, Race, and the South African
• Egremont, Max. ‘Siegfried Sasson’s War’.
• Goodwin, Craufurd D. ‘Bloomsbury and the destructive
power of myth’.
• Annan, Noel. ‘Keynes and Bloomsbury’.
• Pedersen, Susan. ‘Women's stake in democracy: Eleanor
Rathbone's answer to Virginia Woolf’.
• Rose, Norman. ‘Harold Nicolson: A curious and colorful
• Pimlott, Ben ‘Is political Biography an Art?’
• Siedentop, Larry. ‘What are we to make of Isaiah Berlin?’
• Leventhal, Fred M. ‘The projection of Britain in America
before the Second World War’.
• Harris, Jose. ‘If Britain had been defeated by the
Nazis, how would History have been written?’.
• Roberts, Adam. ‘Britain and the creation of the United
• Butler, David. ‘British psephology, 1945-2001: Reflections
on the Nuffield Election Histories’.
• Kyle, Keith. ‘To Suez with tears’.
• Oliver, Roland. ‘The battle for African History’.
• Cox, Jeffrey. ‘Going native: Missionaries in India’.
• Moore, Gerald. ‘When Caliban crossed the Atlantic’.
• Jacobson, Dan. ‘David Irving and Holocaust denial’.
• Mount, Ferdinand. ‘Britain: return to the eighteenth
• [Louis, William Roger]. ‘British Studies at the University
of Texas, 1975-2002’.
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