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V.G. Kiernan writes about the Marx sisters

V.G. Kiernan, 16 September 1982

The Daughters of Karl Marx: Family Correspondence 1866-98 
edited by Olga Meier, translated by Faith Evans.
Deutsch, 342 pp., £14.95, June 1982, 0 233 97337 0
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... In a fond description of her three daughters when the eldest was 19, Marx’s wife said that Laura’s eyes shone ‘with a continual fire of joy’. All three had a happy childhood, however materially pinched, like the ‘Little Women’ they sometimes compared themselves with. One was to die of cancer before reaching 40, the other two died by suicide ...
The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery 1776-1848 
by Robin Blackburn.
Verso, 560 pp., £27.95, April 1988, 0 86091 188 8
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Pro-Slavery: A History of the Defence of Slavery in America, 1701-1840 
by Larry Tise.
Georgia, 501 pp., $40, March 1988, 0 8203 0927 3
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Haiti’s Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean 
by Alfred Hunt.
Louisiana State, 196 pp., £23.75, March 1988, 9780807113288
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Thomas Paine 
by A.J. Ayer.
Secker, 195 pp., £12.95, March 1988, 0 436 02820 4
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Paine and Cobbett: The Transatlantic Connection 
by David Wilson.
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 218 pp., $27.95, April 1988, 0 7735 1013 3
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... Slavery has been ubiquitous in history, with innumerable forms and functions: something of the truth of human nature is revealed by this fact. Horace saw nothing wrong in it, though himself the son of a freed-man and sensitive about his origins. Debt-bondage has been very widespread in Asia; some Red Indian tribes kept slaves, and were glad to add negroes to their stock ...

V.G. Kiernan on treason

V.G. Kiernan, 25 June 1987

... Some drooping memories of Cambridge before the war have been revived of late by various writings. One is an autobiography, Reading from Left to Right, by a Canadian, Professor H.S. Ferns.1 Few socialists of the Marxist persuasion – practically the only sort of people I got to know at college – seem to write memoirs; most of them probably feel that there are always more useful things to be done ...

Scenes from Common Life

V.G. Kiernan, 1 November 1984

A Radical Reader: The Struggle for Change in England 1381-1914 
edited by Christopher Hampton.
Penguin, 624 pp., £7.95, January 1984, 0 14 022444 0
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Riots and Community Politics in England and Wales 1790-1810 
by John Bohstedt.
Harvard, 310 pp., £12.50, November 1983, 0 674 77120 6
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The World We have Lost – Further Explored 
by Peter Laslett.
Methuen, 353 pp., £12.95, December 1983, 0 416 35340 1
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... J.F.C. Harrison has recently told us ‘about the people who are usually left out of history’ – such people as the maid-of-all-work in 1909 whose duties kept her busy from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.* Christopher Hampton gives us, in an anonymous 15th-century poem, a lament over women’s perpetual drudgery. His extract from the early feminist Mary Astell, writing in 1721, acknowledges that by comparison with Eastern women, who ‘are born Slaves, and live Prisoners all their Lives’, Englishwomen have an easy servitude, but ‘Fetters of Gold are still Fetters ...

Diary

V.G. Kiernan: Leningrad Renamed, 24 October 1991

... Four years ago in November, when the 70th anniversary of the Revolution was being celebrated, I was in the procession moving slowly along the Nevsky Prospekt in Leningrad. Placards everywhere hailed perestroika; the atmosphere, as well as I could make out, was of good-humoured hopefulness, rather than vibrant enthusiasm. In the evening a multitude gathered to watch the fireworks over the river, close to the Winter Palace ...

Magic Circles

V.G. Kiernan, 4 May 1989

Jewish History: Essays in Honour of Chimen Abramsky 
edited by Ada Rapoport-Albert and Steven Zipperstein.
Peter Halban, 700 pp., £30, January 1989, 1 870015 19 3
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A History of Islamic Societies 
by Ira Lapidus.
Cambridge, 1002 pp., £35, July 1988, 0 521 22552 3
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... The fountainhead of the world’s two main families of religions was a small Near Eastern people, the Jewish. In the modern world Jews have been prominent among the creators of its arts and sciences and its politics. To define or delimit the history of this unique people is difficult, since for two millennia it has been scattered over the continents, always externally involved with alien, usually hostile neighbours, but in its inner life turned in on itself ...

Highland Hearts

V.G. Kiernan, 20 December 1990

On the Crofters’ Trail: In Search of the Clearance Highlanders 
by David Craig.
Cape, 358 pp., £14.99, October 1990, 0 224 02750 6
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... Just inside the fir-dusk a hollow oblong of stones now showed, brown and damp with that stupefied or browbeaten look of an abandoned croft-house ... Here was Unnimore.’ Here, too, was David Craig, groping through a wilderness in Morvern in search of a long-abandoned hamlet; his treasure-trove the remains of eight little houses, their stones covered with ‘whiskery grey lichens ...

Freaks of Empire

V.G. Kiernan, 16 July 1981

Revolutionary Empire: The Rise of the English-Speaking Empires from the 15th Century to the 1780s 
by Angus Calder.
Cape, 916 pp., £16.50, April 1981, 0 224 01452 8
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... Revolutionary empire’ is a bold term which may be taken in various senses. Like the Roman and Arab before it, but on a grander scale, the British Empire was a powerful force in drawing peoples out of their separate existences, pulling the world together into one jarring and explosive whole. Its expansion had transforming effects on Britain itself, and through it on Europe ...

Joan and Jill

V.G. Kiernan, 15 October 1981

Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism 
by Marina Warner.
Weidenfeld, 349 pp., £9.95, August 1981, 9780297776383
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... In 1870, Daumier drew a cartoon of soldiers filing past a monument of the fatherland, with the caption: ‘Ceux qui vont mourir te saluent.’ Wandering about quiet French churches, one always comes on a dusty tablet with a list of long-forgotten names, and the brief valediction: ‘Morts pour la France’. Close to it very often stands Joan of Arc, in armour, sword in hand, as if pointing young men to the battlefield, to die for France, or whatever France has fought its wars for ...

Lifting the Shadow

V.G. Kiernan, 15 April 1982

Death and the Enlightenment: Changing Attitudes to Death among Christians and Unbelievers in l8th-Century France 
by John McManners.
Oxford, 619 pp., £17.50, November 1981, 0 19 826440 2
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Mirrors of Mortality: Studies in the Social History of Death 
edited by Joachim Waley.
Europa, 252 pp., £19.50, October 1981, 0 905118 67 7
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... The common reader may feel inclined to lay the same embargo on his writers as the Duke in the Elizabethan tragedy on his courtiers. Great tact, and a sustained intellectual animation to balance the much that is repulsive in the theme, were needed to make a very long book about it as attractive, as well as instructive, as this one is. It is a study of birth as well as death, and among what it shows perishing, besides human victims deserving or undeserving of their fate, are gangrened beliefs and ossified customs, leaving room for a fresher air to blow in ...

Entanglements

V.G. Kiernan, 4 August 1983

The Working Class in Modern British History: Essays in Honour of Henry Pelling 
edited by Jay Winter.
Cambridge, 315 pp., £25, February 1983, 0 521 23444 1
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The Chartist Experience: Studies in Working-Class Radicalism and Culture, 1830-60 
edited by James Epstein and Dorothy Thompson.
Macmillan, 392 pp., £16, November 1982, 0 333 32971 6
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Bread, Knowledge and Freedom: A Study of 19th-Century Working Class Autobiography 
by David Vincent.
Methuen, 221 pp., £4.95, December 1982, 0 416 34670 7
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... Jay Winter’s introduction to the work in honour of Henry Pelling points to a shift that has been taking place in the writing of labour history – from concentration on militant strivings towards interest in the ordinary existence of working men and women. The first approach was pioneered by a number of Marxist scholars. Marxism has always been drawn to the more active phases of history, and its volcanic eruptions, the moments of revolution ...

Royal Mysteries

V.G. Kiernan, 10 January 1983

From Agadir to Armageddon: Anatomy of a Crisis 
by Geoffrey Barraclough.
Weidenfeld, 196 pp., £8.95, October 1982, 9780297781745
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... What is history, asks Dr Johnson, but ‘a record of wars, treasons and calamities?’ This may be too brusque a summary, but there is really not much history worth cultivating on its own account, or for the sake of keeping alive an industry made up of a swarm of academic grubbers each hidden inside his own molehill. It is only worthwhile if there is something to be learned from it ...

England rejects

V.G. Kiernan, 19 March 1987

The Fatal Shore: A History of the Transportation of Convicts to Australia, 1787-1868 
by Robert Hughes.
Collins Harvill, 688 pp., £15, January 1987, 0 00 217361 1
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Rights of Passage: Emigration to Australia in the 19th Century 
by Helen Woolcock.
Tavistock, 377 pp., £25, September 1986, 9780422602402
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... Robert Hughes has written a full-scale study, often nightmarish yet objective and well-balanced, of something second only to the slave trade as a blot on Britain’s record in the world – something that was at the same time the birth of a nation. It was ‘the largest forced exile of citizens at the behest of a European government in pre-modern history’; we may compare it with the uprootings of peoples by Assyrian or Mongol conquerors ...

Oppressors

V.G. Kiernan, 18 September 1986

What’s happening to India: Punjab, Ethnic Conflict, Mrs Gandhi’s Death and the Test for Federalism 
by Robin Jeffrey.
Macmillan, 249 pp., £25, June 1986, 0 333 40440 8
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Lions of the Punjab: Culture in the Making 
by Richard Fox.
California, 259 pp., £25.50, January 1986, 0 520 05491 1
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... In the early days of June two years ago the Indian Army was storming the Golden Temple at Amritsar, chief shrine of the Sikhs, and hundreds of lives were lost. To imagine such a thing happening anywhere else in India is nearly as hard as to suppose a band of armed Methodists holding out in a Cornish chapel, or Druids in Stonehenge. The Punjab, Land of Five Rivers, was always an exceptional province, forged on the anvil of India by the hammer of Muslim invasion ...

Holland’s Empire

V.G. Kiernan, 17 August 1989

Dutch Primacy in World Trade, 1585-1740 
by Jonathan Israel.
Oxford, 462 pp., £45, June 1989, 0 19 822729 9
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... Jonathan Israel seeks, as few before him have done, to explain the phenomenal rise and then fall of the Dutch commercial hegemony by viewing it against a global background. His theme is its centrality ‘for over a century in the making of the Early Modern world’. His big book comes close to being a history of Europe, even of the whole world, or at least of commercial relations everywhere and the bearing of these on political relations ...

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