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Lawrence Stone

Lawrence Stone whose books include The Crisis of the Aristocracy 1558-1641, Family, Sex and Marriage 1540-1880, and Road to Divorce, England 1530-1987, reviewed in the last issue of the LRB, is an emeritus professor of history at Princeton.

What, how often and with whom?

Lawrence Stone, 3 August 1995

In the early Eighties, Western governments, notably those of America, Britain and France, were anxious to assess the probable rate of growth and pathways of infection of Aids. They sponsored extensive sex surveys in order to find out, for example, the number of sexual partners an average male had in his lifetime and how many used safe sex. The British survey was carried out by four women, primarily trained in medical statistics, epidemiology and health care. The American survey was carried out by four men, primarily trained in sociology. The purposes, methods and conclusions of the two surveys are much the same, although the British one is more directly focused on assessing risks of the spread of Aids and asks a rather different set of questions.

Body Parts

Lawrence Stone, 24 November 1994

All my lifetime, until very recently, conventional wisdom has had it that there was something very peculiar about the ‘Victorian’ era. Since about 1910, its values and practices have been subjected to an increasing barrage of criticism denouncing them as alien to the modern world and about as comprehensible as the culture of a wholly different civilisation. The defining characteristics were, it was said, a moral rigidity about sex itself, and sexuality in general. A fanatical prudery, satirised in the figure of Mrs Grundy, reigned supreme. This moralism and hostility to sensuality were particularly evident in attitudes to language and art, which were purged and purged again of all hint of sexual content. Museums put fig leaves on Classical nude statuary, Wedgwood put drapery over the nude figures on his pottery, while Dr Bowdler cleaned up Roman and Greek classics, along with Chaucer, Shakespeare and the Bible.

High-Spirited Barbarians

Lawrence Stone, 28 April 1994

Today, multi-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary and multi-cultural studies are all the rage. They are, however, far more often preached than practised, in both Britain and America. During the 20th century, the rigidity and strength of the barriers separating discipline from discipline have become ever more impregnable as the institutional departmental structure has grown more politically powerful within universities. As a result, the training offered in schools and universities has grown narrower as it has become more professional. The free spirit ranging across the disciplines in order to tackle new problems or to look at old ones in new ways is nowadays likely to pay a high price in career promotion and professional esteem. Forty years ago, I could write and get published a standard textbook about English medieval sculpture, without having attended a single course in art history. So scandalous an episode would be unthinkable today, when everyone is busy protecting his turf from raiders from outside.

Dukology

Lawrence Stone, 22 November 1990

For reasons which are obscure. 1989-90 seem to be the years in which mega-books of history, none them less than six hundred pages, have become best-sellers: for example, Simon Schama’s Citizens, Roy Foster’s Modern Ireland. Jonathan Spence’s Search for Modern China. And now here comes another one, 813 pages of it, which is virtually certain also to be a best-seller, at least in Britain. The general outlines of the decline and fall of the British landed establishment from 1880 to the present day have long been apparent. In status, its members have sunk from haughty idols, demanding and getting deferential respect, to tourist guides for the millions who yearly tramp through their houses. In political power, they used to control the countryside as Lords Lieutenant and JPs, formed a solid majority in the House of Commons, composed almost the entire body of the House of Lords, dominated the Cabinet, and virtually hogged the office of Prime Minister. Now they are politically marginalised, both in local government and in the two major parties at Westminster. In wealth, they used to own about 75 per cent of the land of England and Wales, and large areas of urban real estate; today, only a handful of old landed millionaires are left, and every decade they are obliged to sell off more capital assets.

Vengeful Susan

Linda Colley, 22 September 1994

In 1990, Lawrence Stone published a book called Road to Divorce. Bold, original, pungent and wide-ranging, it was at one level an attempt to convey the vagaries and varieties of matrimony in...

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Vomiting in the marital bed

Carolyn Steedman, 8 November 1990

During the protracted legal upheaval of the Reformation in England, the law of marriage remained as it was before. For Roman Catholic Europe, the Council of Trent in 1563 ushered in a new...

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Keepers

Andrew Scull, 29 September 1988

For nearly two centuries now, the treatment of the mad in Georgian England has been almost uniformly portrayed in the darkest hues. Nineteenth-century lunacy reformers pictured the preceding age...

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Room at the Top

Rosalind Mitchison, 15 November 1984

At some time in the 1730s Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, Midlothian, wrote down advice on the building of what he called ‘a family house’. This should consist of a central main block and...

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Rolling Stone

Peter Burke, 20 August 1981

In the late 1950s, when I went up to Oxford, one of the liveliest and most provocative lecturers in history was Lawrence Stone of Wadham. He was already a controversial figure who had, as we all...

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