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It was all about the Russians

David French: The First Anglo-Afghan War

5 April 2012
The Dark Defile: Britain’s Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan 1838-42 
by Diana Preston.
Walker, 307 pp., £21, February 2012, 978 0 8027 7982 3
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... There is nothing novel about British forces being involved in Afghanistan. Britain was deeply concerned with Afghanistan from the early 19th century right up until the moment it relinquished its empire in India in 1947, and at times actively engaged in its affairs. Diana Preston’s book focuses on one particular episode, the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1838-42. She shows how the expansion of the tsarist ...
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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... to dissect the minutiae of Cabinet crises. Arthur Marwick boldly opened up the whole question of war and social change. Recently a number of younger historians – Kathleen Birk, Keith Neilson, and DavidFrench in his first book British Economic and Strategic Planning 1905-1915 – have begun to consider some of the key questions of finance and economics. But until now nobody has tried to put all ...

So long as you drub the foe

Geoffrey Best: Army-Society Relations

11 May 2006
Military Identities: The Regimental System, The British Army and The British People c.1870-2000 
by David French.
Oxford, 404 pp., £45, July 2005, 0 19 925803 1
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... populated places: among them, Meryton, where Lydia Bennet’s seducer, the gentlemanly-looking Mr Wickham, was a Militia officer. Such military zeal does not strike one as surprising, given that the French had been the popular enemy for ten years, that by 1803 the enemy was terrifyingly personified in Napoleon Bonaparte, and that Britain was still far from being a mainly urban and industrial country ...

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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... truth. It was not in Kitchener’s nature to explain his reasons. Such was his stature in the Cabinet in August 1914 that his colleagues were in no position to query them. The fact remains that, as DavidFrench recently wrote in British Economic and Strategic Planning, 1905-1915: ‘Within a few days of becoming Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener was responsible for one of the most complete ...

War within wars

Paul Addison

5 November 1992
War, Strategy and International Politics: Essays in Honour of Sir Michael Howard 
edited by Lawrence Freedman, Paul Hayes and Robert O’Neill.
Oxford, 322 pp., £35, July 1992, 0 19 822292 0
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... shattering.’ It is good to know that military historians still pursue their traditional goal of seeking out the skeletons in the cupboard. Rhodri Williams shows how British prejudice against their French allies led to the folly of the Battle of Loos in September 1915. DavidFrench, on the other hand, explains how the responsibility for another great disaster, the third Battle of Ypres, was ...

Six French​ Frizeurs

David​ A. Bell

10 December 1998
The Perfidy of Albion: French​ Perceptions of England during the French Revolution 
by Norman Hampson.
Macmillan, 210 pp., £40, June 1998, 0 333 73148 4
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Poisoning the Minds of the Lower Orders 
by Don Herzog.
Princeton, 472 pp., £18, September 1998, 0 691 04831 2
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... The moment in the 18th century when Anglo-French relations reached their lowest point was probably 29 May 1794 – 10 Prairial, Year II, as the French then styled it. On that day, the Jacobin Bertrand Barère delivered a typically long-winded and overheated speech to France’s National Convention on his favourite subject, English perfidy. He ...

Two Poems

Emile Nelligan, translated by Anne Carson

11 May 2006
... suicide grinding his blade, look there’s a good calm hanging tree – Priest, pray for me, it’s night in the city! Emile Nelligan was born on Christmas Eve 1879 in Montreal to an Irish father (David Nelligan) and a French-Canadian mother (Emilie-Amanda Hudon). Emile was a prize-winning student in his early years at school but surprised everyone by failing his final examinations at the Collège ...

One Does It Like This

David​ A. Bell: Talleyrand

16 November 2006
Napoleon’s Master: A Life of Prince Talleyrand 
by David​ Lawday.
Cape, 386 pp., £20, September 2006, 0 224 07366 4
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... within its ‘natural boundaries’, and even conspired with the country’s enemies to put it back there. The two most familiar images of the men express the contrast eloquently. First, there is David’s brilliant portrait of Napoleon on his rearing charger in the Alps, seemingly master of the wind, rocks and sky; second, Chateaubriand’s acid description of Talleyrand hobbling into the presence ...
20 February 1997
Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power 
by David​ Marr.
California, 602 pp., $50, October 1995, 0 520 07833 0
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... When the Allies gathered at Potsdam in July 1945 to organise the postwar world, it is unlikely that any of those taking part had ever heard of Vietnam. The actual name had been eliminated, the prewar French colonialists having divided the country into three, and on the surface, the postwar arrangements for that part of Indochina were clear: first, Chinese and British troops would enter and then the ...
31 October 1996
Adventures on the Freedom Road: The French​ Intellectuals in the 20th Century 
by Bernard-Henri Lévy, translated by Richard Veasey.
Harvill, 434 pp., £20, December 1995, 1 86046 035 6
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The Imaginary Jew 
by Alain Finkielkraut, translated by Kevin O’Neill and David​ Suchoff.
Nebraska, 230 pp., £23.95, August 1994, 0 8032 1987 3
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The Defeat of the Mind 
by Alain Finkielkraut, translated by Judith Friedlander.
Columbia, 165 pp., $15, May 1996, 0 231 08023 9
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... In lieu of Sartre and Raymond Aron, future historians of French intellectuals in the Eighties and Nineties may well be condemned to structuring their narratives around the post-Marx brothers of French intellectual life, Bernard-Henri Lévy and Alain Finkielkraut. This is not a case simply of contemporary thinkers being dwarfed by the giants of the past – the familiar lament about the decline of ...

Revolutionary Yoke

William Doyle: Le Nationalisme

27 June 2002
The Cult of the Nation in France: Inventing Nationalism 1680-1800 
by David​ A. Bell.
Harvard, 304 pp., £30.95, November 2001, 0 674 00447 7
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... or upstarts. The other was France. The process by which British patriotism became a resource of government rather than opposition was memorably analysed ten years ago by Linda Colley in Britons. David Bell, a colleague of Colley when she was writing that book, now offers a parallel analysis of the French case. It has often been claimed that the French Revolution invented nationalism. Bell goes ...

Funny Old Fame

Patrick Parrinder

10 January 1991
Things: A Story of the Sixties, 
by Georges Perec, translated by David​ Bellos and Andrew Leak.
Collins Harvill, 221 pp., £12.50, July 1990, 0 00 271038 2
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Parcours Peree 
edited by Mireille Ribière.
Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 162 pp., frs 125, July 1990, 2 7297 0365 9
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Women 
by Philippe Sollers, translated by Barbara Bray.
Columbia, 559 pp., $24.95, December 1990, 0 231 06546 9
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... Once upon a time, before the Channel Tunnel was built, there were two contemporary French novelists. Georges Perec died in 1982 at the age of 45, and nobody in England who was not a French specialist had ever heard of him. With Philippe Sollers it was different. Editor of the avant-garde theoretical journal Tel Quel, and associate of literary and psycho-analytic thinkers such as ...

Regeneration

David​ Garrioch: Making peasants into Frenchmen

3 November 2005
The Abbé Grégoire and the French​ Revolution: The Making of Modern Universalism 
by Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall.
California, 341 pp., £35.95, April 2005, 0 520 24180 0
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... What can be done with a people that produces 246 different cheeses? General De Gaulle’s remark may be apocryphal – France has far more than 246 cheeses – but it captures a central dilemma in French history. How could such a diverse collection of peoples be forged into a single nation? The question remains pertinent. Despite an apparent unity, regional differences and identities remain strong ...

A Few Pitiful Traitors

David​ Drake: The French​ Resistance

4 May 2016
Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French​ Resistance 
by Robert Gildea.
Faber, 593 pp., £20, September 2015, 978 0 571 28034 6
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Occupation Trilogy: ‘La Place de l’etoile’, ‘The Night Watch’, ‘Ring Roads’ 
by Patrick Modiano, translated by Caroline Hillier, Patricia Wolf and Frank Wynne.
Bloomsbury, 336 pp., £18.99, August 2015, 978 1 4088 6790 7
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... Two political forces​ dominated post-Liberation France: Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French and head of the provisional French government until January 1946; and the French Communist Party (PCF), at that point the biggest and most popular party in the country. As Robert Gildea explains in his perceptive new book, each constructed a myth about France’s behaviour during ...

He wouldn’t dare

David​ A. Bell: Bloodletting in Paris

9 May 2002
Blood in the City: Violence and Revelation in Paris 1789-1945 
by Richard D.E. Burton.
Cornell, 395 pp., £24.50, September 2001, 0 8014 3868 3
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... leave the reader with the impression of a culture devoted to the macabre. ‘It is,’ Burton writes, ‘the figure of a martyred, often decapitated human body, male and female, that dominates French history, literature and painting from the Terror to the Liberation.’ He is particularly concerned with the religious resonances of Parisian violence. Perpetrators and poets alike, he argues, saw ...

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