Noel Annan (1916–2000) was a British military intelligence officer and scholar of European history. His works include Leslie Stephen and Our Age, Changing Enemies: The Defeat and Regeneration of Germany, and The Curious Strength of Positivism in English Political Thought.

The Camel at the Door

The English “vogue novel” is by definition an ephemeral affair, as perishable as a spider’s web. In its classic form the setting is a country house where the characters assemble and do little else except talk about themselves, their friends, and their ideas; and it is essential that the characters …

Cat & Pig

The British like to think of their country as the cradle of parliamentary democracy, but many years passed before it became democratic. The aristocracy ruled during the nineteenth century, and even in the twentieth century, when women at last won the vote, patrician government prevailed. There were gaps when Labour …

Dean of the Cold War

Most Europeans think of Dean Acheson as the most distinguished American secretary of state in this century, the progenitor of the Marshall Plan, the sponsor of the Franco-German alliance, and the man who brought into being the North Atlantic Treaty, which committed America to the defense of Europe against Soviet …

Blue Fingernails

Violet Gordon Woodhouse, who died at seventy-seven in 1948, was the most admired English harpsichordist of her time; for much of her life she presided over a ménage of four adoring men, and she fascinated many of the prominent writers and musicians she came to know. In her well-written biography …

Secret Sharers

In Julien Duvivier’s pre-war movie Un Carnet de Bal, a woman turns up an old dance program with the names of her beaux and sets out to find what had happened to them twenty years later. In much the same way Timothy Garton Ash decided to look up the informers …

Between the Acts

Why do we have an inextinguishable desire to designate certain periods as an age or an epoch or an era? Is it a plot to impose order on that swirling movement of events and tendencies in history which would otherwise be unintelligible? Or is it a device to make our …

The Abominable Emperor

After 1919 dispossessed royalty and their courtiers deluged the public with memoirs whose absurdity was matched by their banality. Cecil Beaton decided to write a spoof that was illustrated with sumptuous photographs and drawings. It purported to be by a penniless exile in New York called Baroness von Bülop. Beaton …

The Best Years of Their Lives

The spring this year was bitterly cold in Britain. But for the first week in May the north wind relented, and VE day was celebrated in baking sunshine. The nation wallowed in nostalgia. Nostalgia for past glory and for a war that, apart from a few revisionist historians, people remembered …

Under the Victorian Bed

Some studies of society resemble a garden laid out by Le Nôtre. You saunter down broad avenues, you know where you are going and where you will emerge. Michael Mason’s excellent book on Victorian sexuality is the very reverse. Reading it is like entering a dense forest, where whatever path …

The Fabulous Five

One institution in Russia has had no difficulty taking to the new culture of the entrepreneurial society. This is the KGB. In the West there has been active trading in the shares of Philby Inc. and the subsidiary firms of Burgess, Maclean, Cairncross, and Blunt for some years. They eased …

The Age of Aggression

Was the nineteenth-century bourgeois citizen a staid, buttoned-up, lawabiding creature? Not according to Peter Gay. One emotion above all others, he claims, governed the behavior of the middle classes in America, Britain, France, and Germany: aggression. Whether it was politics, trade, competition in industry, snobbery, boasting, self-advertisement, or gossip, the …

The Hostess with the Mostest

There can scarcely be a book about the literary lions of London in Georgian times that does not mention Ottoline Morrell, and no country house was more famous in the First World War than Garsington, where she entertained them. The sister of a duke, she stood six feet high, her …

How Wrong Was Churchill?

The New Year had scarcely dawned in London when the Times[^1] carried a review of a book identifying a new culprit responsible for Britain’s decline. It was Winston Churchill’s fault. The reviewer was Alan Clark, a former junior minister of defense, who resigned when Margaret Thatcher was deposed, and who …

Oh, What a Lovely War

E.M. Forster was a lucky man; he was revered until the last years of his long life. Then he fell into the abyss. Critics complained that the symbolism in his novels did not harmonize with the realism of his characters; or that he failed to translate his ideas into convincing …

Hello to All That

Was the First World War, like the French Revolution, a climactic event in the Western world? After it was over, constitutional monarchy buttressed by an aristocracy was no longer normal; nor was private property secure from state intervention; nor was the conflict of classes in Europe any longer mitigated by …

Folie à Trois

Modern biographies are suffering from elephantiasis. Their authors collect letters and documents, consult virtually every secondary authority, dead or alive, worthy or worthless, and then mention them all so that no one can say that any piece of evidence has been overlooked. They rarely ask whether all that labor is …

The Art of the Matter

Toward the end of the Second World War a young British officer was posted to Washington where he rented a room in the house of a maiden lady. The lady was an astrologer and she obligingly cast not only his horoscope but that of his brother. “Don’t blame me,” he …

Mission Impossible!

D.H. Lawrence suffered the fate of one of those heroes in the Iliad—Patroclus perhaps—who are destroyed by the gods. Patroclus storms across the plains of Troy killing and scattering the Trojans until at the height of his brief triumph, Apollo steals up behind him, breaks his spear, knocks off his …

The Death of ‘Society’

David Cannadine has declined the invitation to spend the weekend at Brideshead. He intends to treat his aristocrats “seriously rather than sentimentally,…to rescue the British upper classes from the endless (and mindless) veneration of posterity.” Their money, status, and power—the three keys to the stability of any governing class—are his …

The Best of Bloomsbury

Anyone who studies British culture in this century will find that many (though not all) the dominant ideas and attitudes in that culture are to be found in the Bloomsbury group. For the generation that grew up in the shadow of the First World War they were liberators—all the more …

The True Amateur

“Why are so many people in England down on Cyril Connolly?” Edmund Wilson asked John Wain in 1957. Wain gave a sensible reply. Fashion had changed. The man of letters had been superseded by the professional academic critic. Empson and Leavis, Blackmur and Tate made discriminations and analyzed the text.

Oh What a Lovely War!

In 1963 Joan Littlewood staged in London’s East End her antimilitarist musical Oh What a Lovely War! In the approved style of Robert Graves and the First World War poets, the generals guzzled and swilled as they sent the troops in the trenches to their deaths. But to make the …

The Upper Class and the Underworld

The British obsession with spies and spycatchers continues to seethe. Books thud from the press and you cannot get a seat at the National Theatre for Alan Bennett’s Single Spies, an evening consisting of two short plays, one about Guy Burgess, the other about Anthony Blunt. Bennett belongs to that …

Gentlemen vs. Players

From 1806 and until 1962 every summer there was a fixture at Lords Cricket Ground called Gentlemen and Players. Both sides were chosen from those who played regularly for their county teams. The Gentlemen were amateurs, well-to-do rentiers, or more often young employees whose firms gave them leave during the …