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?


God’s Fury, England’s Fire

A very full and fair review here by Mercurius Politicus, with links to other assessments in print.

Published in: on April 2, 2008 at 4:55 am  Comments (1)  
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Braddick’s God’s Fury, England’s Fire

reviewed in the Guardian by Sir Keith Thomas. Generally positive but Sir Keith was not pleased with the po-mo twist to the tale.

Finally snagged a review copy myself but don’t hold your breath for me to post it here as the NS (for whom it is due) apparently have a bit of backlog.

God’s Fury, England’s Fire

by Mike Braddick is out now.

Very reasonably priced at only £18 too. Some reviews out as well. A rather grudging one from Diane Purkiss in the FT, who still appears to be in a bit of snit about some of the responses (i.e. John Adamson’s) to her own ‘people’s’ history of the English Civil War (an odd title, given, as Adamson pointed out, the almost complete absence of any ‘ordinary’ people from its pages.)

Much more generous reviews here in the THES by R.C.Richardson and in the Spectator by Robert Stewart.

Still sniffing round for a review copy myself, but would be interested to hear if others have taken a look at it yet.