Radical Manchester: William Gladstone, Feargus O’Connor … er… Hazel Blears?

I found this quite some time ago. Leaving aside the fact that apart from Ernest Jones, none of the historic ‘radicals’ listed really have obvious Mancunian connections, I couldn’t help feeling that it was maybe a bit presumptious to include Hazel alongside Gladstone. Perhaps the authors of the page meant that she had developed a radical re-intepretation of the law concerning capital gains tax.

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Think radical, drink radical

While spending an idle moment with a pint of Special reading the London Drinker, I came across the fantastically named Hertfordshire pub, The Land of Liberty, Peace and Plenty. The pub gets its name from the fact that the first Chartist Land Plan Colony, O’Connorville, was established at nearby Heronsgate. There’s a nice image of the imagined Chartist Utopia here. As a pub name, The Land of Liberty certainly beats the Slug and Lettuce.

The People’s Charter Word Cloud

Note that this is the expurgated version

Published in: on July 7, 2008 at 2:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What ever happened to conclusions in books?

As per previous posts, I’ve just finished reading Malcolm Chase’s new history of Chartism. It’s a great piece of work, which achieves the difficult task of offering a clear narrative without sacrificing cogent analysis of the movement. The interspersing of Chartist biographies into the text helped to humanise a story, which, inevitably as a treatment of a mass political organisation might have become a bewildering blizzard of names. Chase also has a great eye for detail: the text is larded with evocative quotations and telling anecdotes, (this one in particular obviously grabbed my attention):

‘Reflecting on Oliver Cromwell and the parliamentarian cause, Hanson jolted awake. He rushed to find Elizabeth: ‘I say, lass, thah mun find me a white handkerchief for my neck ready for next Sunday; I am going to praech.’ To this she replied, ‘What ar’ta going to turn Methody na?’ ‘Noa,’ said Abram, ‘but I am going to praech for all that. I’ve just fun aght that t’Charter is to be gotten by praeching and praying.’ (p. 29)

BUT, Chase’s book doesn’t really have a conclusion, only a series of further biographies and a final ‘comment.’ And it’s not just Chase. I’ve been noticing that a large number of recent books that I have been reading are, well, inconclusive (see my review of Mike Braddick’s God’s Fury below.)

Of course, both Braddick and Chase make good cases for leaving their books open-ended. As Braddick suggests, aiming for over-arching conclusions about a period as historiographically contested as the 1640s is a somewhat fatuous task. Equally, as Chase points out, like many works on the success or failure of the English reformation, works on Chartism tend to offer either pessimistic or optimistic conclusions on the movement largely depending on where the authors draw the “finishing-line” chronologically. This makes such summaries inevitably rather artificial.

Reflecting on these historiographical uncertainties and/or issues of focus is valid and worthwhile. On the other hand, there a books like Diane Purkiss’s People’s History, which just, well, stops, with no thorough reflection on what the reader is supposed to have gained from the proceeding 570 pages. I’ve seen this trend in recent scholarly monographs too, so it appears to be a disease that doesn’t only afflict works written for a popular audience.

Where is all this inconclusiveness coming from?

Malcolm Chase: -Chartism: A New History

is what I am currently reading. It is very good. Mile Taylor at THES agrees.

I particularly like the structuring of it, with a broad narrative interspersed with biographies of lesser-known Chartist figures.

Good that MUP have made an affordable paperback edition available too.

Published in: on May 26, 2008 at 6:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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