What’s the big idea?

Jonathan Parry

  • The Age of Decadence: Britain 1880 to 1914 by Simon Heffer
    Random House, 912 pp, £30.00, September, ISBN 978 1 84794 742 0

Simon Heffer has had an idea. He has had them before, but he has fattened this one up into a book of enormous proportions. Huge quantities of factual narrative have been injected into it, in the hope of beguiling reviewers into acknowledging its historical respectability. For all that, the underlying argument is simple – the title gives it away. Britain began to go to the dogs in the period between 1880 and 1914. That was because the ruling classes forgot how to rule and became corrupted by wealth and the attendant vices of materialism.

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[*] Michael Foot reviewed Heffer’s Moral Desperado: A Life of Thomas Carlyle in the LRB of 11 May 1995.