Churchills Shadow: Confronting the Past in Modern Britain
Describing the contents does not mean summarizing the individual chapterswhose subjects are made sufficiently clear in the titlesbut in books of this nature (i.e. collections of essays) the question inevitably arises of the coherence of the whole. In itself, the title proper is misleading: In Churchills Shadow tends to suggest that the book covers the period since Churchills death (or at a pinch Churchills birth), but in fact the story begins in 1834. The book does not follow a strict chronological order, though broadly speaking we start with the burning of the Houses of Parliament in 1834 to end with the post-19474 world, the underlying theme being not so much one of decline from Imperial grandeur as one of dim perceptions of that decline and equally unsure responses to these perceptions, from the upper-class elite, but also from the educated middle classes. In this respect, the sub-title, Confronting the Past in modern Britain, is far more informative. But who is confronting the past in the essays? Modern British society, as a prima facie interpretation would indicate? Or the author, as a second-degree reading gradually suggests?
There is a saying that great film directors always make the same film in different guises, and this largely holds true for writers and historians, like David Cannadine, who seems to be ever faithful to the choices of his younger years, from his Ph.D. Thesis on Birmingham5 to his fascination for Francis Brett Young6, later developed into a multi-faceted exploration of class7, monarchy8, rank9, authority and their foundations, with all their contradictions and inevitable long-term decline10. In some way or other, the essays in In Churchills Shadow mostly pursue familiar threads11. Professor Cannadine asks the reviewer to be judgmentalan impossible task here: who would have the impudence to criticise this giant of British historical scholarship12? Those who enjoy or perhaps even admire his vast historical culture and his unpretentious style (no pseudo-scientific jargon here!13) full of witty asides14 will always ask for more of the same. Newcomers to his writings will find in this book a representative (but of course necessarily very small) selection of his general production, and no doubt most will be seduced.
At one stage in his essay On Reviewing and being Reviewed, David Cannadine has an anecdote on how he came to write of Eltons F.W. Maitland15 that Eltons Maitland bears a resemblance to Eltons Elton, and the paraphrase inevitably springs to mind: In Churchills Shadow of course bears a resemblance to In Cannadines Shadow but whereas he concluded of Eltons Elton that we have already had rather a lot of that, his faithful readers certainly cannot have too much of In Cannadines Shadow. They cannot wait until the next version of the essays appear.
On Reviewing and being reviewed. History Today
49-3 (1999): 31-33. Reprinted in Snowman, Daniel [Editor].
The Best of History Today. Stroud: Sutton, 2001: 457-465.
Ibid. 457, 459.
Cf. note 1 p.357. The original lecture was given in 1989.
During the first half of the twentieth century, the British
Empire was part of the indissoluble order of things, and it had emerged
triumphant from the wars with Germany, Italy and Japan in 1945. But
in the second half of the century, between Indian independence in
1947 and the return of Hong Kong to China exactly fifty years later,
it disappeared with astonishing rapidity and completeness (p.281).
The aristocracy and the towns in the nineteenth century:
A case-study of the Calthorpes and Birmingham, 1807-1910. D.Phil.,
University of Oxford, 1975.
Cf. This little World: The Value of the Novels of Francis
Brett Young as a Guide to the State of Midland society, 1870-1925.
Occasional publications, Worcestershire historical society, N°4.
Worcester: Worcestershire Historical Society, 1982.
Cf. Class in Britain. Yale University Press, 1998.
Cf. The last Hanoverian sovereign?: Victorian monarchy
in historical perspective, 1688-1988. In Beier, A.L.;
Cannadine, David & Rosenheim, James M. [Editors].
The First modern Society: Essays in English History in Honour
of Lawrence Stone. Cambridge: University Press, 1989: 127-165.
Cf. Lords and Landlords: The Aristocracy and the Towns,
1774-1967. Leicester: University Press, 1980 and his edited book,
Patricians, Power and Politics in nineteenth-century Towns.
Leicester: University Press, 1982. Also Chapter 3, The Nineteenth
Century: A Viable Hierarchical Society, of Class in Britain.
Cf. The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy.
Yale University Press, 1990 and Aspects of Aristocracy: Grandeur
and Decline in modern Britain. Yale University Press, 1994.
Even the piece on the National Trust, which does not seem to
have had a predecessor in Cannadines earlier published literature,
is made to rejoin the mainstream of his preoccupations through the
linking with the Invention of Tradition motif, already
explored in The context, performance and meaning of ritual:
the British monarchy and the invention of tradition, c.1820-1977.
In Hobsbawm, Eric & Ranger, Terence [Editors].
The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: University Press,
Especially if one bears in mind what he says of the reviews
of G.M. Trevelyans works: Most of them were critical,
negative and sometimes downright hostile, written by second-rate figures
who had seized their chance to belittle a historian of incomparably
greater abilities than they, before returning to the mediocre obscurity
from which they should never have emerged. On Reviewing
and being Reviewed, p.464.
Might there not be link with his tenderness for Noël Coward,
described as hostile to the so-called high-brows, the
artsy-craftsy and the intellectual do-gooders ? (p.268)
E.g. of Margaret Thatcher and the problem of arresting British
decline in 1979: In part, she was herself her own answer
(p.39) or of Noël Cowards position in 1945: he had
become a stranger in his own land, out of touch and out of date
cocooned in the drawing-room in what would soon become the era of
the council house (p.264).
Elton, G. R. F.W. Maitland. London: Weidenfeld &