Folly and Malice book

Volume 63 Issue 2 February 2013

Deborah Cohen opens the archives of the Scottish Marriage Guidance Council, founded in 1946, and finds that couples in the postwar years were more than happy to air their dirty linen.

The German First World War commander Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck has been described as the 20th century’s greatest guerrilla leader for his undefeated campaign in East Africa. Is the legend justified? Dan Whitaker considers the wider picture.

Christian Byzantium and the Muslim Abbasid caliphate were bitter rivals. Yet the necessities of trade and a mutual admiration of ancient Greece meant that there was far more to their relationship than war, as Jonathan Harris explains.

For all its faults C.E Hamshere’s account of Francis Drake’s 16th-century circumnavigation, published in History Today in 1967, applies a historical imagination lacking in more recent studies, argues Hugh Bicheno.

Atheism today is widely perceived to be the opposite of spirituality. This assumption is turned on its head when we look at the neglected origins of the Victorian ‘non-believing’ movement, epitomised by the controversial freethinker, William Stewart Ross, says Alastair Bonnett. 

The Vikings are back with a vengeance, writes Jeffrey Richards

Tim Pat Coogan points the finger of blame for the Great Famine at ministers in Lord Russell’s government, which came to power in 1846, and sees echoes of the disaster in the Republic’s current economic plight.

George T. Beech investigates whether a King of Wessex adopted a new name for his country in 828, but failed to implement the change.

Roger Hudson pictures British gunboat diplomacy in Egypt in 1882.

A new online resource opens up possibilities for interpreting the infrastructure of the Roman world, says Jasmine Pui.

Philip Baker considers the lasting impact of the Levellers’ famous efforts to reform the English state in the aftermath of the Civil Wars by means of written agreements guaranteeing the sovereignty of the people.

Victoria Gardner looks back at earlier attitudes to Britain’s press freedom and how the withdrawal of the Licensing Act of 1662 spawned a nation of news addicts.

Seth Alexander Thévoz looks at how Victorian clubs in London’s West End played a role in oiling the nation’s political wheels.

A pioneer of global governance, Lionel Curtis is all but forgotten today. His ideas, says Tom Cargill, are in urgent need of reassessment.

Who is and who is not an American? The question goes back to the Revolution. The answer is always changing, says Tim Stanley.

Jerome Carson and Elizabeth Wakely explore the mental illnesses suffered by some famous historical figures and consider the impact on their lives and achievements.

The ill-fated fortress was opened on February 14th 1938.

The celebrated little person was married on February 10th, 1863.

The wedding of Elizabeth Stuart and Frederick V took place on February 14th 1613.

A book subtitled ‘Scotland and the Second World War’ raises an interesting question: did a nation of less than five million people in the north of Britain experience the conflict in a distinctively ‘Scottish’ way? Or did it simply endure the war as part of a wider, largely homogenised, United Kingdom?

Trevor Royle provides an answer, of sorts, in his diligently researched and lucidly written account of Scotland at war. It takes time, however, for the distinctly Scottish elements of the story to emerge. For the most part, what Royle offers is a Scottish perspective on a world war.

These two books are different in so many ways. Arthurs’ is a slim monograph, owing an evident debt in style and content to a recent PhD. Duggan’s is an elegantly written study that is the work of a historian at the height of his powers. Arthurs unveils in the Fascist use of romanità, ‘a revolutionary project for modernity, a coherent language with which to articulate aspirations for the contemporary world’. Duggan dismisses Fascism’s ‘ideological eclecticism and uncertainty’ and is derisive of the movement’s everyday divisions, confusion and corruption.

Eleven years ago Sönke Neitzel, a German historian based at Glasgow University, stumbled on the sort of documentary treasure trove that other historians spend their lives dreaming about. On a rainy autumn day, during a routine research visit to the National Archives in Kew, Neitzel came across the transcript of a covertly taped conversation between captured German officers in a British PoW camp. Like Oliver Twist he asked for more and it soon became clear that his original find was just the tip of a gigantic iceberg.

For J.G. Ballard the car park was the ‘true temple of the automobile age’. In Carscapes, the appropriately named Morrison and Minnis trace the ways in which the car has shaped Britain for 120 years.

From 1800, when Russia annexed Georgia, Russian writers reacted to the country much as British ones did to India: it was exotic, eastern and deeply romantic. Pushkin and Lermontov were inspired by its dramatic beauty. Western visitors praised its scenery and hospitality. Many were surprised when it collapsed into anarchy and civil war after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

By 1800 London was already the largest city ever known, ‘double the size of Paris with one million inhabitants, living in 136,000 houses’. Fifty years of ceaseless construction later, nearly three million people lived in 306,000 houses, figures that doubled again by the end of the century.

Nineteenth-century London was thus overwhelming: huge, noisy, stinky and overcrowded. Teeming with life and death, visitors often said that the city was unknowable in its vast, inhuman scale. Only creative artists of the stature of Charles Dickens were able to comprehend its immensity.

The trial of two young, theatrical female impersonators, Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, for attempted sodomy in London in May 1871 has long been seen as a watershed moment in the emergence in England of notions of gay identity and gay male subculture. Neil McKenna himself drew substantially upon elements of their story in The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (2003) and it has featured frequently in the many recent accounts of 19th-century homosexuality.

I suspect Ronnie Ellenblum is one of those people you love to invite to dinner and, by the time pudding comes round, you half wish you hadn’t. He is fluent, persuasive, iconoclastic and provocative. For Ellenblum, nothing is off limits. He has a case to make and he is going to follow it through to the finish – even when it might be time to move on to another topic of conversation. He is terrific, but at the same time he can be infuriating.

Although he has a starring role in one of the most widely read novels in the literary canon, Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869), and has been the subject of many biographies, Alexander I (r.1801-25) remains a shadowy figure. Every aspect of his life, beginning with his ascent to the throne as a consequence of the murder of his father, raises intriguing questions. His ambiguous relationships with women, his tortuous spiritual odyssey, his conflicting liberal and reactionary instincts and, finally, the legends surrounding his death all present the historian with tantalising riddles.