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Simply Doing It

Thomas Laqueur, 22 February 1996

The Facts of Life: The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain 1650-1950 
by Roy Porter and Lesley Hall.
Yale, 414 pp., £19.95, January 1995, 0 300 06221 4
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... That said, there is something persuasive about the analogy with dance. In the sense elaborated by Norbert Elias, the moderation of sexual behaviour, the rise of public modesty and of new standards of respectability constituted the civilising process just as did the contortions of the body demanded by ballet or the controlled steps of the minuet. The ...

Lamb’s Tails

Christopher Driver, 19 June 1986

All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present 
by Stephen Mennell.
Blackwell, 380 pp., £14.95, October 1985, 0 631 13244 9
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Curye on Inglysch: English Culinary Manuscripts of the 14th Century including ‘The Forme of Cury’ 
edited by Constance Hieatt and Sharon Butler.
Oxford, for the Early English Text Society, 224 pp., £6.50, April 1985, 0 19 722409 1
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The English Cookbook 
by Victor Gordon.
Cape, 304 pp., £12.50, November 1985, 0 224 02300 4
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... order these things somewhat better in the Council of Europe, where Stephen Mennell, a disciple of Norbert Elias, began work on All Manners of Food. The slow-baked book that has finally emerged reads like a series of essays on pertinent food topics in cultural history rather than a comprehensive account of what has been eaten, and why, in Britain ...


Margaret Anne Doody, 5 August 1993

The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in 18th-century Britain 
by G.J. Barker-Benfield.
Chicago, 520 pp., £39.95, October 1992, 0 226 03713 4
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Eighteenth-Century Sensibility and the Novel: The Senses in Social Context 
by Ann Jessie van Sant.
Cambridge, 143 pp., £27.95, January 1993, 0 521 40226 3
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Drunks, Whores and Idle Apprentices: Criminal Biographies of the 18th Century 
by Philip Rawlings.
Routledge, 222 pp., £40, October 1992, 0 415 05056 1
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Mother Clap’s Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830 
by Rictor Norton.
Gay Men’s Press, 302 pp., £12.95, September 1992, 0 85449 188 0
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... world, like Squire Western in Tom Jones and Captain Mirvan in Evelina. Barker-Benfield, guided by Norbert Elias, acutely notices changes in habits, manners and customs. Males were to acquire new sources of anxiety. In the new picture of the human being – which gave a high place to the sensitivity of the vibrating nerves and the fineness of particles ...

Un Dret Egal

David A. Bell: Political Sentiment, 15 November 2007

Inventing Human Rights: A History 
by Lynn Hunt.
Norton, 272 pp., £15.99, April 2007, 978 0 393 06095 9
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... novels to make her point, and rapidly sketches in a much broader cultural background. She draws on Norbert Elias, and his story of the ‘ever-rising threshold of shame about bodily functions’, to trace the rise of personal autonomy. She follows Charles Taylor, in his great philosophical history Sources of the Self, to elucidate the evolving ...

My Books

Ian Patterson, 4 July 2019

... CD player. A revolving bookcase on loan from the college library held more books (Frank Kermode, Norbert Elias, the New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics) and had more papers stacked on top of it. Once there had been a bed in the inner room, but it had been used as a place to store books for so long that in the end the housekeeper took it ...

Gesture as Language

David Trotter, 30 January 1992

A Cultural History of Gestures: From Antiquity to the Present 
edited by Jan Bremmer and Herman Roodenburg.
Polity, 220 pp., £35, December 1991, 0 7456 0786 1
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The New Oxford Book of 17th-Century Verse 
by Alastair Fowler.
Oxford, 830 pp., £25, November 1991, 0 19 214164 3
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... Peter Burke points out that the two historians who have done most to encourage this view are Norbert Elias and Michel Foucault. In The Civilising Process, first published in 1939, Elias argued that a rising European bourgeoisie sought to discipline itself by a complex regulation of bodily impulses and gestures ...

Things Keep Happening

Geoffrey Hawthorn: Histories of Histories, 20 November 2008

A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the 20th Century 
by John Burrow.
Allen Lane, 553 pp., £25, December 2007, 978 0 7139 9337 0
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What Was History? The Art of History in Early Modern Europe 
by Anthony Grafton.
Cambridge, 319 pp., £13.99, March 2007, 978 0 521 69714 9
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The Theft of History 
by Jack Goody.
Cambridge, 342 pp., £14.99, January 2007, 978 0 521 69105 5
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Thucydides and the Philosophical Origins of History 
by Darien Shanske.
Cambridge, 268 pp., £54, January 2007, 978 0 521 86411 4
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... on ‘science and civilisation’ in China and the West, Fernand Braudel on Europe’s economy, Norbert Elias on the emergence of civilised manners – have, in the very breadth of the comparisons they make, served to strengthen the prejudice that Europe was predestined to be superior in its economy, towns, institutions and learning, in its values of ...

Go away and learn

J.L. Nelson: Charlemagne’s Superstate, 15 April 2004

by Matthias Becher, translated by David Bachrach.
Yale, 170 pp., £16.95, September 2003, 0 300 09796 4
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... man’s sense of urgency, Charlemagne set about creating the kind of courtly society that Norbert Elias thought imaginable only in the early modern period and under quite other conditions. Charlemagne was determined to close the gap between ideal and reality across the empire, embarking on a great enterprise of social renewal. Nobles at ...

Crops, Towns, Government

James C. Scott: Ancestor Worship, 21 November 2013

The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? 
by Jared Diamond.
Penguin, 498 pp., £8.99, September 2013, 978 0 14 102448 6
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... that the state, by curtailing ‘private’ violence, reduces the total amount of violence. As Norbert Elias pointed out more than half a century ago in The Civilising Process, what the state does is to centralise and monopolise violence in its own hands, a fact that Diamond, coming as he does from a nation that has initiated several wars in recent ...

Republican King

Philippe Marlière: François Mitterrand, 17 April 2014

Mitterrand: A Study in Ambiguity 
by Philip Short.
Bodley Head, 692 pp., £30, November 2013, 978 1 84792 006 5
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... stars, intellectuals and journalists). The protocol was from the court of Louis XIV, as Norbert Elias described it: minutely orchestrated, with each guest carefully positioned in the web of etiquette. Those close to the ‘republican king’ were seated in the front rows. Others, less distinguished, sat behind. The president eventually entered ...


Robin Briggs: Saint-Simon and Louis XIV, 26 November 1998

Saint-Simon, ou le système de la cour 
by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie and Jean-François Fitou.
Fayard, 636 pp., frs 160, November 1997, 2 213 59994 7
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... simplifications it has proved remarkably hard to kill. Many of us have paid exaggerated respect to Norbert Elias’s The Court Society (published in 1969 but essentially dating from the Twenties), whose apparent sophistication only thinly masks a simplistic argument, with a good deal of anachronism thrown in. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie had begun to write ...

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