This is a wonderful book. It invites a range of responses: from engaged discussion, heated argument to personal reminiscences.
The dust-jacket of this book defines Diane Purkiss as a Lecturer in English; within its pages she prefers to describe herself as a feminist literary critic. It is a potent combination, and has resulted in a thoroughly individual and very important book.
'He probably knows more naval history than any English speaking man living. Pity he don't produce a great work instead of piddling about in the byways of naval history'. So wrote Alfred Thayer Mahan to Stephen Luce in 1890 about John Knox Laughton.
I confess that he gets on my nerves. I have admired some of his work. But the ipse behind the work - what a lot of that ipse there is!
Nearly one hundred years after the death of Queen Victoria, Victorian history is, on the face of it, in remarkably good shape. Alongside Hitler, the period remains the staple fare of the English and Welsh sixth-form syllabus. In the universities - old and new - British nineteenth-century historians outnumber their eighteenth-century counterparts by about two to one.
'We historians are dull creatures', A.J.P. Taylor once wrote, 'and women sometimes notice this.' One woman who obviously thought Taylor far from dull was Kathy Burk, the last of his postgraduate students.
This book is committed to two main propositions, one general and one more particular.
Historians and their publics: a consideration of Ludmilla Jordanova
In 1841, having unsuccessfully contested the Professorship of Natural History at University College London, W. S. Farquharson wrote to the College authorities as follows:
At a time when, particularly in the new universities and colleges of higher education, historians feel themselves in danger of being swept away by the advancing tide of vocationalism, any attempt to uphold the importance of the subject to the life of the nation is, one might think, to be welcomed.
I find this an extremely difficult book to review fairly. McLaren has an enormous and infectious enthusiasm for her texts. And her work is important; she takes the discussion of a widespread form of historical writing well beyond the point at which it was left by a fine scholar, C. L. Kingsford.