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More Like a Mistress

Tom Crewe: Mr and Mrs Disraeli, 16 July 2015

Mr and Mrs Disraeli: A Strange Romance 
by Daisy Hay.
Chatto, 308 pp., £20, January 2015, 978 0 7011 8912 9
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... after winning a crucial censure vote in the Commons at three in the morning, the octogenarian Lord Palmerston ran up the stairs to the Ladies’ Gallery to embrace his wife, who had been present throughout. In 1867, after the successful passage of the Reform Act, Disraeli returned home, where Mary Anne was waiting up with a bottle of champagne and a ...

Aubade before Breakfast

Tom Crewe: Balfour and the Souls, 31 March 2016

Balfour’s World: Aristocracy and Political Culture at the Fin de Siècle 
by Nancy Ellenberger.
Boydell, 414 pp., £30, September 2015, 978 1 78327 037 8
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... talent for a dreamy sort of introspection: ‘You all sit and talk about each other’s souls,’ Lord Charles Beresford said. Their children, buoyant on champagne and self-belief, were the first to turn against them. ‘Their minds are almshouses [for] outworn notions and wrinkled phrases,’ Raymond Asquith, Margot’s stepson, sneered. ‘We do not hunt ...

A Cheat, a Sharper and a Swindler

Brian Young: Warren Hastings, 24 May 2001

Dawning of the Raj: The Life and Trials of Warren Hastings 
by Jeremy Bernstein.
Aurum, 319 pp., £19.99, March 2001, 1 85410 753 4
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... book with the timely observation that ‘Warren Hastings was our first Governor-General in India. Lord Mountbatten is to be the last.’ Two other fellows of All Souls, both lawyers, also had reason to be interested in Hastings at the time: Cyril Radcliffe served on the Boundary Commission for India, while the egregiously indolent John Sparrow would shortly ...

Balfour, Weizmann and the Creation of Israel

Charles Glass: Palestine, 7 June 2001

One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate 
by Tom Segev, translated by Haim Watzman.
Little, Brown, 612 pp., £25, January 2001, 0 316 64859 0
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Ploughing Sand: British Rule in Palestine 1917-48 
by Naomi Shepherd.
Murray, 290 pp., £12.99, September 2000, 0 7195 6322 4
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... is easy to exaggerate the international power of the Jews,’ the Foreign Office Under-Secretary Lord Robert Cecil said. Segev quotes a character in The Thirty-Nine Steps airing the common prejudice that ‘the Jew is everywhere . . . He’s the man who is ruling the world just now.’ Although Zionist leaders could turn these anti-semitic notions to their ...

English Butter

David Trotter, 9 October 1986

Englishness: Politics and Culture 1880-1920 
edited by Robert Colls and Philip Dodd.
Croom Helm, 378 pp., £25, June 1986, 0 7099 0849 0
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The Character Factory: Baden-Powell and the Origins of the Boy Scout Movement 
by Michael Rosenthal.
Collins, 335 pp., £15, August 1986, 0 00 217604 1
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Oxford and Empire: The Last Lost Cause? 
by Richard Symonds.
Macmillan, 366 pp., £29.50, July 1986, 0 333 40206 5
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... while the inexhaustible Russian masses pressed in on her most valued possession, India. ‘Now,’ Lord Salisbury said in 1898, ‘with the whole earth occupied and the movements of expansion continuing, she will have to fight to the death against successive rivals.’ Fighting to the death can’t have seemed a very attractive option, if you believed what ...

Rose’s Rex

David Cannadine, 15 September 1983

King George V 
by Kenneth Rose.
Weidenfeld, 514 pp., £12.95, July 1983, 0 297 78245 2
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... of Canada have an embossed red crown on his official stationery? When Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty, George successfully dissuaded him from calling a ship HMS Pitt, because the name was ‘neither euphonious nor dignified’, and the men might invent ‘nicknames of illconditioned words rhyming with it’. And opulence and privilege only ...

Triumphalism

John Campbell, 19 December 1985

The Kitchener Enigma 
by Trevor Royle.
Joseph, 436 pp., £15, September 1985, 0 7181 2385 9
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Kitchener: The Man behind the Legend 
by Philip Warner.
Hamish Hamilton, 247 pp., £12.95, August 1985, 0 241 11587 6
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... in having himself appointed second-in-command to Roberts in South Africa, Commander-in-Chief under Curzon in India (until their famous quarrel resulted in Curzon’s resignation) and the Governor-General of Egypt – from which stepping-stone he confidently expected to return to India as Viceroy. The often embarrassing ...

The Great War Revisited

Michael Howard, 23 April 1987

The Myriad Faces of War: Britain and the Great War 1914-1918 
by Trevor Wilson.
Polity, 864 pp., £35, September 1986, 9780745600932
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British Strategy and War Aims 1914-1916 
by David French.
Allen and Unwin, 274 pp., £25, September 1986, 0 04 942197 2
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The Old Lie: The Great War and the Public School Ethos 
by Peter Parker.
Constable, 319 pp., £15, March 1987, 0 09 466980 5
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... Arthur Marder and Stephen Roskill reduced all others to awe-struck silence. On domestic politics Lord Beaverbrook and his acolyte A.J.P. Taylor gave us plenty to be going on with, even before younger specialists like Cameron Hazlehurst began to dissect the minutiae of Cabinet crises. Arthur Marwick boldly opened up the whole question of war and social ...

Termagant

Ian Gilmour: The Cliveden Set, 19 October 2000

The Cliveden Set: Portrait of an Exclusive Fraternity 
by Norman Rose.
Cape, 277 pp., £20, August 2000, 0 224 06093 7
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... In twenty years,’ Lady Astor used to say of Philip Kerr, Lord Lothian, ‘I’ve never known Philip to be wrong on foreign politics.’ Though Lothian himself thought much the same, it is, in fact, harder to think of an occasion when he was right. As Sir Robert Vansittart, the strongly anti-Nazi head of the Foreign Office in the 1930s put it, ‘Lothian was an incurably superficial Johnny-Know-All ...

Refuge of the Aristocracy

Paul Smith: The British Empire, 21 June 2001

Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire 
by David Cannadine.
Allen Lane, 264 pp., £16.99, May 2001, 0 7139 9506 8
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... force. Robert Blake, in his Disraeli, quotes the Third Marquis of Salisbury, commenting in 1876 on Lord Lytton’s proposal to establish an Indian peerage: ‘Whether the Indian aristocracy themselves are very powerful may be doubted … but … their goodwill and co-operation, if we can obtain it, will at all events serve to hide to the eyes of our own people ...

Outside Swan and Edgar’s

Matthew Sweet: The life of Oscar Wilde, 5 February 1998

The Wilde Album 
by Merlin Holland.
Fourth Estate, 192 pp., £12.99, October 1997, 1 85702 782 5
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Cosmopolitan Criticism: Oscar Wilde’s Philosophy of Art 
by Julia Prewitt Brown.
Virginia, 157 pp., $30, September 1997, 9780813917283
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The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde 
edited by Peter Raby.
Cambridge, 307 pp., £37.50, October 1997, 9780521474719
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Wilde The Novel 
by Stefan Rudnicki.
Orion, 215 pp., £5.99, October 1997, 0 7528 1160 6
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Oscar Wilde 
by Frank Harris.
Robinson, 358 pp., £7.99, October 1997, 1 85487 126 9
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Moab is my Washpot 
by Stephen Fry.
Hutchinson, 343 pp., £16.99, October 1997, 0 09 180161 3
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Nothing … except My Genius 
by Oscar Wilde.
Penguin, 82 pp., £2.99, October 1997, 0 14 043693 6
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... with ‘a boy from Ireland suddenly surrounded by lots of posh people’. It makes you wonder why Lord and Lady Wilde paid those school fees. Merlin Holland’s essay on his grandfather in Peter Raby’s Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde illuminates these appropriations by charting a series of significant errors through multiple versions of Wilde’s ...

Bull

Bernard Wasserstein, 23 September 1993

Imperial Warrior: The Life and Times of Field-Marshal Viscount Allenby 1861-1936 
by Lawrence James.
Weidenfeld, 279 pp., £20, January 1993, 0 297 81152 5
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... Allenby to come home.’ Lloyd George took him by the arm and said, ‘You have waited five weeks, Lord Allenby, wait five minutes more.’ Fuming, Allenby waited – and got what he wanted. Allenby’s emancipatory decree, like others elsewhere, turned out to be a false dawn. The Egyptian fellahin noticed no substantial change in their lot. The opposition ...

Love in a Dark Time

Colm Tóibín: Oscar Wilde, 19 April 2001

The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde 
edited by Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis.
Fourth Estate, 1270 pp., £35, November 2000, 1 85702 781 7
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... most dangerous product of modern civilisation – still, as in Florence, accompanied by the young Lord Douglas, the two of them put on the Index in both London and Paris and, were one not so far away, the most compromising companions in the world’. Wilde, he wrote, was ‘charming, at the same time; unimaginable, and, above all, a very great personality ...

Double-Barrelled Dolts

Ferdinand Mount: Mosley’s Lost Deposit, 6 July 2006

Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism 
by Stephen Dorril.
Viking, 717 pp., £30, April 2006, 0 670 86999 6
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Hurrah for the Blackshirts! Fascists and Fascism between the Wars 
by Martin Pugh.
Pimlico, 387 pp., £8.99, March 2006, 1 84413 087 8
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... of women. Apart from dozens of other married women, he slept with his wife’s stepmother, Grace Curzon, her sister Irene and, after Cimmie’s death in 1933, her other sister, ‘Baba Blackshirt’ Metcalfe, who was married to the Prince of Wales’s equerry, ‘Fruity’ Metcalfe. Poor Fruity was a faithful member of the British Fascisti and had to ...

Sweet Sin

J.P. Stern, 5 August 1982

Marbot 
by Wolfgang Hildesheimer.
Suhrkamp, 326 pp., May 1981, 3 518 03205 4
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... of Northumberland. Andrew’s mother, Lady Catherine, born in 1781 in Dresden, was the daughter of Lord Claverton, who had retired to Redmond Manor (now the property of an Arab magnate), some seventy miles from Marbot Hall, after a lifetime spent in the diplomatic service in Germany, the Low Countries and Italy. The main influence on the boy came from ...

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