Serviceable account of England’s tumultuous years between Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 and the outbreak of WWI.
“The persistent myth depicts the Edwardian era as a long and leisurely afternoon,” writes Hattersley (The Life of John Wesley, 2003, etc.); in fact it was “the time when a modern nation was born.” The “myth” he aims to dispel is largely confined to coffee-table books and pop biographies: it’s not news to historians or even well-informed general readers that the idle ways of Edward VII and the Marlborough House Set were less representative of Edwardian Britain than the radical challenges to the established order posed by the nascent Labour Party, the suffragettes, Bloomsbury’s novelists and artists or the playwrights of ideas led by George Bernard Shaw. But those not familiar with The Strange Death of Liberal England (1935) and other scholarly classics on which Hattersley freely draws may be startled by his portrait of a society finally liberated from 64 years of tranquil but stifling Victorian prosperity into the alluring, uncertain 20th century. Perhaps because the author was for many years a Labour MP, the book contains some tediously detailed chapters about parliamentary wrangling over free trade, colonial wars, organized labor, Ireland, public education and social welfare legislation—big subjects still fiercely debated today that deserve more engaging treatment than they receive here. Hattersley does better on Edwardian culture, painting with broad but vivid strokes the flowering of naturalistic, socially conscious fiction, post-Impressionist painting, Ibsenite drama and the increasingly professionalized sports (most notably football and cricket) that resulted from a working class with leisure time and spare cash. He does not neglect such communications and transportation innovations as tabloid newspapers, polar exploration and automobiles; scientific and religious developments get big-picture treatment as well. What his text lacks in a strong point of view, it mostly makes up for in entertaining anecdotes and readable prose.
Little more than a smoothly written rehash of the current academic consensus on the Edwardians, but perfectly satisfactory on those terms.