Books, History

An Enduring Power to Fascinate

Returning Fire...

Returning Fire...

In that shameless searchbait of a post in January, I linked to Keith Thomas’s review of Michael Braddick’s God’s Fury, England’s Fire. It was a review most notable for its disappointment at the book’s open-ended conclusion:

After his long, carefully grounded, empirically based narrative, Braddick in his final paragraphs abruptly dissociates himself from the “hubristic pomp” of professional historians who seek a definitive account of the period. Instead he plumps for indeterminacy. “Experiences of these conflicts,” he declares, “were plural, ambiguous, divided and contrasting; their potential meanings equally diverse.” They deserve to be remembered, he tells us in one truly awful concluding sentence, “not for a single voice or consequence, but because they provide many knowledges for our discourse”. His impressive book deserves a less murky conclusion.

In April 10th’s TLS, Braddick himself turns to reviewing, in his case tackling Donagan’s War In England, Worden’s The English Civil Wars, and The English Civil War, a collection of essays edited by John Adamson. Adamson’s major project, of course, is constructing a new narrative of the period (in case you haven’t been paying attention to me or indeed anyone else who’s read it, The Noble Revolt is a work of considerable brilliance); Braddick arugue in his review that this is an effort which proceeds from “revisionist attacks on comfortable verities”, but which seeks, in drawing new narratives together, to do more than deconstruct the faulty assumptions of the past. Worden’s book, too, is a stab at a new, reconstructed version of events.

Braddick seems to respond to Thomas’s criticism, however, in his suggestion that new unifying narratives are reductive: “there are multiple lessons to be learnt from a period of such intense conflict,” he writes. “Perhaps we should be more comfortable with the thought that this is a good enough reason to write about it.” His review contains great praise in particular for Worden, and clearly has great admiration for Adamson, but despite that it seems opposed to their approach. “Narrative synthesis” is not for him.