Edward Barlow says goodbye

Tom Shippey

  • Adolescence and Youth in Early Modern England by Ilana Krausman Ben-Amos
    Yale, 335 pp, £25.00, April 1994, ISBN 0 300 05597 8

This book conspicuously fails to ask one question: what’s the difference? What’s the difference between that time and this time, between the experience of ‘adolescence and youth in Early Modern England’ and ‘adolescence and youth’ right now? It could be said that such a book has no need to consider this. It’s history, about that time, not sociology, which would be about this time. One could say that the problems of this time are hard enough to deal with on their own, and should not be brought in to confuse the delicate task of historical reconstruction. Yet the question keeps on being raised, partly by Ilana Ben-Amos’s habit of coming to a conclusion which looks, from its prominence in the argument, as if it is meant to be emphatic, but which by itself seems hardly worth saying. ‘Young people appear then to have been more promiscuous... than married adults.’ Even allowing for all kinds of cultural change, that seems always likely to have been (on average) true. So what is this book trying to tell us? That some things never change?

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