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D.G. Wright

D.G. Wright whose books include Democracy and Reform 1815-85 and Napoleon and Europe, is Principal Lecturer in history at Huddersfield Polytechnic.

Great Tradition

D.G. Wright, 20 October 1983

In the present embattled climate, with Thatcherite artillery trained on the crumbling ramparts of higher education, academics need to keep their powder dry and prepare for a prolonged siege. Although monetarist economists and cost accountants may feel reasonably safe, Norman Tebbit has recorded his dim view of effete scholars who study tribal customs on the Upper Volta, while Sir Keith Joseph’s hostility towards the social sciences has involved the once-mighty Social Science Research Council in acronymic self-torture. If the present Government’s narrow range of useful and acceptable disciplines means that anthropology and sociology seem destined for slow strangulation, then history, according to current rumours, is to be given a frontal lobotomy. Our present political masters apparently resent the work of professional historians in undermining the Anglocentric tradition on which British self-confidence was bashed for centuries. Basking in the afterglow of a landslide victory and fully aware of the potency of the Falklands factor, Tory politicians like Lord Hugh Thomas, the distinguished historian of Spain and Cuba, see the task of historians as the creation of a usable past which will confirm the version of history peddled in the popular press, furnish yet another justification of their claim to authority and boost the sagging morale of an embittered populace. We therefore face attempts by the New Right to revive the old patriotic Imperialist tradition, with students and school-children subjected to appropriately uplifting selections from British history, perhaps including our boys shinning up the Heights of Abraham, marching boldly from Kabul to Kandahar and yomping across Goose Green. Efforts will no doubt be made to convince bored and alienated youth that Mrs Thatcher’s Cabinet stands in direct line from liberty-loving Saxon monarchs, bold Elizabethan privateers, sober Puritan possessive individualists, earnest penny-pinching Victorian shopkeepers and those resolute chaps who, ignoring the fainthearts, went with the flag to Pretoria and defeated the General Strike.

Letter

Dead Silence

8 April 1993

In his perceptive review of Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism (LRB, 8 April), W.J.T. Mitchell endorses Said’s remark that Jane Austen ‘in Mansfield Park sublimates the agonies of Caribbean existence to a mere half-dozen passing references to Antigua’. She offers rather more. In Chapter 21, when Edmund Bertram chides Fanny Price for being too passive towards her Uncle Thomas...
Letter

Swanker

10 December 1987

SIR: I much enjoyed Ronald Bryden’s review of Kathleen Tynan’s biography of her gifted and tragic husband (LRB, 10 December 1987). But he is surely mistaken in his remarks on Kenneth Tynan’s behaviour at Oxford. It may well be that the 1944 Education Act ‘opened Britain’s older universities’ to ‘a generation of grammar-school children’. But Tynan went...
Letter

Uncle Clarence

5 June 1986

SIR: I much enjoyed Alan Bennett’s evocative essay on his Uncle Clarence until the final paragraph, where he writes, ‘Nobody could say now why these men died,’ and refers to the Second World War as ‘the one with a purpose’. Now I always thought that the purpose of the Great War on the Western Front was clear enough: to shift the German Army from French and Belgian soil...
Letter

Criminal Statistics

20 October 1983

SIR: The only significant point at issue between Mr Pearson (Letters, 1 December) and myself concerns his description in Hooligan of the Bristol riots: ‘when, after savage reprisals by the dragoons, 500 people were left dead during three days rioting in which prisoners were broken out from the lock-ups, buildings were burned, ransacked and looted and the Mansion House invaded’. While being...
Letter
SIR: In his extraordinarily pretentious review of Angela Carter’s book (LRB, 3 March), Tom Paulin exhorts her to develop her talent for documentary. Miss Carter’s description of Bradford prompts him to wax lyrical over ‘the new post-imperial sensibility singing its delighted sense of being free from all that pompous gruffness which goes with a concept of progress and national destiny.’...

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