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Still more Adventures with Britannia: Personalities, Politics and Culture in Britain
Wm. Roger Louis, ed.
London & New York: I.B. Tauris, 2003.
£12.95, $18.95, x-390 pages, ISBN 1860649157 (paperback).

Antoine Capet
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 [1994]), 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?).

Another 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.

The 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.

All 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:

One 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 […]

But 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 libraries.

The essays:
• Louis, William Roger. ‘Introduction’.
• Porter, Bernard. ‘Pompous and circumstantial: Elgar and Empire’.
• Marsh, Peter. ‘Joseph Chamberlain: entrepreneur in politics’.
• 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 War’.
• 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 life’.
• 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 Nations’.
• 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 century’.
• [Louis, William Roger]. ‘British Studies at the University of Texas, 1975-2002’.



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