THE CAMBRIDGE APOSTLES: A History of Cambridge University's Elite Intellectual Secret Society by Richard Deacon

THE CAMBRIDGE APOSTLES: A History of Cambridge University's Elite Intellectual Secret Society

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Why was this prolific author of books on spies and spying attracted to the story of this legendary, academic secret society? A scandal has been haunting Cambridge ever since two of the Apostles, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, were revealed to be Soviet spies. But Deacon (the pen name of Donald McCormick) here throws little light either on that episode or on the Society itself. Founded in 1820 (and originally called the Cambridge Conversazione Society), the Apostles were a discussion group whose focus changed over the years, though it remained solidly anti-establishment. From countering Church of England theology in the beginning to English imperialism later on, the organization included in its ranks Tennyson, John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, E.M. Forster, Rupert Brooke, Lytton Strachey, G.E. Moore, Roger Fry, and many others listed by Deacon in a six-page appendix. Topics for debate once included such weighty concerns as ""Is there any rule of moral action beyond general expediency?"" or ""Are all mankind descended from one stock?"" Later, when the Society was ""infiltrated' by ""predacious pederasts"" (Deacon's terms), subjects for debate were more likely to be related to what the Apostles called ""the Higher Sodomy."" This testament to British clubbability, written without the Society's cooperation of course, Finds as its thesis: ""the Society probably had a considerable influence in the lives of very many people and could well continue to do so."" Padded with short biographies of the more famous and influential members, many of whom Deacon finds ""fascinatingly interesting,"" his history relies on such clichÉs as the ""fitful fifties"" and the ""restless sixties."" Only hardcore Anglophiles--and only those inured to fatuous prose--will find anything of interest in this wildly digressive, excessively chatty work.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1986
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux