- Hardcover: 309 pages
- Publisher: Overlook Books (July 1, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1585670421
- ISBN-13: 978-1585670420
- Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 35 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #335,060 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The English: A Portrait of a People Hardcover – July 1, 2000
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What is it about the English? Not the British overall, not the Scots, not the Irish or the 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 specter 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 their fellow nationalities--Jock, Taffy, Paddy, and Mick--but there was no corresponding name for an Englishman. Of course, there is one now, and it comes from one of the bits of empire to which so many undesirables were exported: Whinging Pom. --Robin Davidson, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
As the last of the United Kingdom's protectoratesAScotland, Wales, IrelandAare wiggling free from their imperial mother, a question poses itself: What does it mean to be English these days? That's what journalist and TV quiz master Paxman (Friends in High Places: Who Runs Britain?) wonders in this study of British identity. A humorous, ironic, nostalgic, skeptical, dilettantish, mildly eccentric, self-deprecating and proud account (like its subject), the book surveys the various aspects of stereotypical English identity one by oneAin realms ranging from sex to food. Although he occasionally gives too much credence to flimsy stereotypes and is unnecessarily harsh on the subject of the cult of the English countryside, on the whole, Paxman offers an intriguing investigation. His sociohistorical survey rambles through characteristic attitudes toward foreigners, the weather, religion, the home, sport, language and the countrysideAsometimes fondly, sometimes iconoclastically. He finds evidence of the English spirit (if not the English identity, which he considers to be historically underdeveloped) everywhere: in the National Trust's successful efforts at historic preservation, the classically British propensity toward certain S&M practices and the offices of the Oxford English Dictionary. Based on book research, personal observation and Paxman's interviews with Brits including John Cleese and the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, this odd collection of theoretical musings, historical tidbits and quirky observations should serve as both a corrective and a comfort for AnglophilesAin Britain and elsewhere. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
"... the English have found themselves walking backwards into the future, their eyes fixed on a point some time at the turn of the twentieth century." - Jeremy Paxman
THE ENGLISH by Jeremy Paxman is an erudite, thoughtful, and thought-provoking essay on what it means to be "English". Jeremy addresses eleven general topics in the same number of chapters. The post-WWII loss of identity concurrent with the divestment of Empire. The English attitude towards foreigners. The submergence of English identity in Empire. The nebulosity of the attribute "true-born Englishmen". The English affection for being beleaguered against overwhelming odds (as at Agincourt, Khartoum, Rorke's Drift, Mafeking, Dunkirk, and during The Blitz). The Church of England. The English as misanthropes. The enduring fantasy of rural England. The "ideal Englishman", anti-intellectual and with stiff upper lip. Sex, and the status of women in society. And, lastly, dragging England out of its glorious past into an uncertain future.
Paxman volunteers insights that I, a visitor to England (and Wales and Scotland) multiple, but all too infrequent, times, would never have thought of:
"The picture of (arcadian) England that the English carry in their collective mind is so astonishingly powerful because it is a sort of haven ... a refuge conjured up in the longing for home of a chap stuck deep in the bush, serving his queen ..."
"The English fixation with weather is nothing to do with histrionics ... The interest is less in the phenomena themselves, but in uncertainty. ... It is the consequence of genuine, small-scale anxiety. ... life at the edge of an ocean and the edge of a continent means you can never be entirely sure what you're going to get."
Paxman's narrative is always interesting, and occasionally witty in a dry, English sort of way. Whether his conclusions are correct or not is best left to the judgment of the reader. (Indeed, anthropologist Kate Fox, in the first chapter of her book, WATCHING THE ENGLISH, maintains that Paxman missed the point with his weather observation.) For the most part, however, they seem eminently reasonable to me, although I might have encompassed one or two peculiarities that have become apparent during my lifetime love affair with the country, e.g., that the English seem to lavish more affection on their pets than their children.
Finally, I applaud the author's attempt to tease apart national characteristics of the English from the "British" overlay. Mind you, "English", "Welsh" and "Scottish", are all lumped under the political construct "British", which is oft wrongly equated with "English" by both ignoramuses and those that should know better. After my many visits to the island, what I remember most vividly (and superficially) are: "Mind the gap!", Cadbury dispensers on railway platforms, Marks & Spencer, the smell of coal smoke on a rainy day, the fluttering and cooing of doves in abbey ruins, roundabouts, kippers for breakfast, Indian take-away, the cold mustiness of the cavernous cathedrals, Scotch eggs, London Tube maps, the low-ceilinged (ouch!) gun deck of HMS Victory, time-warped floor boards in ancient wooden inns, gravestones in isolated cemeteries, and the pre-dawn departure of fishing boats from Portree on the Isle of Skye - only a few of which are unique to an English experience, but all are British.
Try it. Stretch a bit.
Most recent customer reviews
Excellent and enjoyable book. Read it!