Ever genial and discursive, occasionally sleepy and just a mite otiose, Priestley, now approaching the status of venerable...

READ REVIEW

THE ENGLISH

Ever genial and discursive, occasionally sleepy and just a mite otiose, Priestley, now approaching the status of venerable octogenarian, takes a fond, indulgent look at that elusive je ne sais quoi ""Englishness"" -- and he's the first to admit it's not a quality susceptible to bard and fast definition. To get at the archetypal Englishman, Priestley excludes Hanoverian monarchs, Scottish engineers, Irish playwrights, Welsh orators and Disraeli (""this impressive Oriental illusionist"") -- no matter their contribution to art or government. They stand at a great psychic remove from the men and women -- Cromwell, Marlborough, Charles James Fox, Melbourne, Mary Wollstonecraft, Annie Besant (can you believe it?) and Jane Austen -- who epitomize John and Jane Bull. It is important, says Priestley, to keep clear of depth psychology -- antithetical and uncongenial to the English temperament with its fondness for vague muddle, its mistrust of untempered rationalism (or the ""despotic intellect"") and its tendency to fall back on ""instinct and intuition"" as the ultimate arbiters of war, politics and social intercourse between the classes. Priestley meanders languidly back and forth from Tudor times to the present; from the image and status of English women (whom he defends with unexpected vehemence against continental calumnies -- ""charmless, sexless, mannish or ridiculously prudish"" -- and Victorian stereotypes -- ""shrinking, fainting, sofa-bound creatures"") to an appreciation of English working-class culture with its addiction to soccer and the music hall and its stubborn unreceptivity to ""revolutionary creeds that promise to change everything at once."" Some of his portraits and opinions seem idiosyncratic but then he himself is a perfect exemplar of that ""slow-moving hazy reasonableness"" which he finds so quintessentially English. Lavishly illustrated with genre paintings, caricatures, photographs and portraits by Constable, Gainsborough, Rowlandson, et al. this will delight the American Anglophile who never tires of pondering the quirks and foibles of his island cousins.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 1973

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1973