Not so long ago, writes Jeremy Paxman, the English were "polite, unexcitable, reserved, and had hot-water bottles instead of a sex-life". Today the end of empire has killed off the Bulldog Breed - "fearless and philistine, safe in taxis and invaluable in shipwrecks" - and transformed the great public schools. Princess Diana was mourned with the effusive emotionalism of an Italian saint. Leader-writers in "The Times" even praise the sexual skills of English lovers ...So what are the defining features of "Englishness"? How can a country of football hooligans have such an astonishingly low murder rate? Does the nation's sense of itself extend to millions of black, Asian and other immigrant Britons? Is it grounded in arrogant, nostalgic fantasy or can it form the basis for building a realistic future within Europe? To answer these crucial questions, Paxman looks for clues in the English language, literature, luke-warm religion and "curiously passionless devotion" to cricket. He explores attitudes to Catholics, the countryside, intellectuals, food and the French. And he brings together insights from novelists, sociologists and gentleman farmers; the editor of "This England" magazine (launched in 1967 with the slogan "as refreshing as a cup of tea"); a banker enthusiastic about the "English vice" of flagellation; and a team at the OED looking for the first occurrence of phrases like "bad hair day" and "the dog's bollocks".
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
What is it about the English? Not the British overall, not the Scots, not the Irish or Welsh, but the English. Why do they seem so unsure of who they are? As Jeremy Paxman remarks in his preface to The English, being English "used to be so easy". Now, with the Empire gone, with Wales and Scotland moving into more independent postures, with the troubling spectre of a united Europe(and despite the raucous hype of "Cool Britannia"), the English seem to have entered a collective crisis of national identity.
Jeremy Paxman has set himself the task of finding just what exactly is going on. Why, he wonders, "do the English seem to enjoy feeling so persecuted? What is behind the English obsession with games? How did they acquire their odd attitudes to sex and food? Where did they get their extraordinary capacity for hypocrisy?" He ranges widely in pursuit of answers, sifting through literature, cinema and history. It is an intriguing investigation, encompassing many aspects of national life and character (such as it is), including the obligatory visit to that baffling phenomenon, the funeral of Princess Diana. Yet Paxman finds something fresh and interesting to say about even that now rather threadbare topic. In the end, he seems to find further questions to ask instead of answers. But why not? To him it is a sign that the English are acquiring a new sense of self. And some indication of this might lie in the obvious response to his remark that the English, being top of the British Imperial tree, had nicknames for the fellow nationalities--Jock, Taffy, Paddy and Mick--but there was no corresponding name for an Englishman. Of course, there is now, and it comes from one of the bits of empire to which so many undesirables were exported: Whinging Pom. --Robin DavidsonReview:
Intelligent, well-written, informative and funny.A book to chew on, dip into, quote from and exploit in arguments (Andrew Marr Observer)
Bursting with good things ( Daily Telegraph)
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