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Hugh Tulloch

Hugh Tulloch lectures in history at the University of Bristol.

Clive’s Clio

Hugh Tulloch, 8 February 1990

The world’s great age begins anew, and we have all become Victorians again. Mrs Thatcher pursues strict economies with a single-mindedness Gladstone would have envied and calls us back to traditional values, while on television Mr A.N. Wilson approaches the eminent Victorians in a manner far different from that of Lytton Strachey seventy years ago. In 1918 Strachey intended to blow up, once and for all, the stale and inhibiting pieties of his parents and their generation. When the Oxford historian G.M. Young read Eminent Victorians he commented, ‘We’re in for a bad time,’ and set about planning an act of restitution which appeared in 1934 as Early Victorian England: Portrait of an Age, since which time the historical counter-revolution has come full circle.

Liking it and living it

Hugh Tulloch, 14 September 1989

In the Sixties J.H. Plumb euphorically announced the death of the ‘past’ – that comforting mythology conjured up to serve the present and make sense of things as they are – in the face of an advancing scholarship which was real ‘history’ and which depicted things as they actually were. The announcement was premature, and the distinction less clear-cut than Plumb assumed. Memory and the past weigh so heavily on each of us that their imaginary reassurances cannot be lightly disturbed, while the temptation for governments to appropriate and commandeer traditions for their own purposes is too tempting. The anniversaries of 1588, of 1688 and 1789 are constant reminders of this complicity of past and present, and the current celebration of ‘inevitable’ Thatcherism at the end of a rampantly ahistorical and whiggish decade, suggests that the historian, clustering as chronicler around the ascendant court, can also collaborate in the manufacture of fresh myths.’

Horrors and Cream

Hugh Tulloch, 21 August 1980

Dining at Hatchett’s restaurant in September 1903, Arthur Benson observed his image reflected endlessly and from a variety of angles in mirrors around the room. He was to fill 180 volumes with almost five million words in an attempt to scrutinise and sharpen that blurred mirror image. Diaries can, of course, appear an ambiguous genre: they aim at a natural flow of unself-consciousness, but the diarist cannot remain entirely unaware of the prospective reader peering over his shoulder. Aiming ostensibly at truth, they often succeed only in playing labyrinthine games. ‘Anyone,’ Benson says, ‘might think that they could get a good picture of my life from these pages; but it is not so.’ David Newsome, invited and challenged, has entered the labyrinth, drawing the rest of us with him into an implacable game initiated by the diarist. The mirrors and images multiply, with Newsome, the reviewer and the reader locked together in observation, and the self-gratification of the diarist continues posthumously. The obsessive voyeur is now, in turn, the object of the voyeuristic reader, though the diarist continues to set the rules and limits of the game. He can choose, if he so wishes, to stop at the brink of some suggestive enormity: ‘Saw a strange thing happen – a door opened – of which I must not say more.’ Or, just as a terrifyingly deformed portrait can be consigned to the attic, so can the diarist exert all his powers of literary subterfuge to hide the truth from his reader and from himself.

Downward Mobility

Linda Colley, 4 May 1989

We live in reactionary times. One indication of this is the growing trend among both politicians and academics to prescribe what historical study should be: how it should be organised and...

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