Friday, July 13, 2007

Killing The Cult of the Gentlemen Amateur

Being "en vacance" as it were, I have been reading, slightly outside of my regular comfort zone, a number of critical histories of France. Before I get anywhere near the point, can I recommend both Julian Jackson's "The Fall of France" which only suffers from having (the same) accolade from Max Hastings on front and back covers and Alistair Horne's "Friend or Foe: An Anglo-Saxon History of France". I will probably try to get hold of Jackson's follow-up, "France: The Dark Years, 1940-19944" once the posties stop striking :).

However, the thing that I had never really considered before (though, strictly, I did know this - that Napoleon was promoted General of Brigade in the Revolutionary Army), not having done much of the 18th Century in my dimly remembered history lessons, how little time elapsed between the settings of those two great literary heroes - Sir Percy Blakeney, gentleman par excellence and amateur, and Richard Sharpe - professional and proletarian. From 1789 where Sir Percy first meets Marguerite, to "Sharpe's Tiger" set in 1799 does not cover much time, although the change in social order with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution is significant (as portrayed in the Sharpe TV episode where he rebels against being the Militia officer 'enforcer-in-chief' for a north-English squire - I forget which one but Sharpe's brother was the 'enemy').

It is a pity that this cult cannot be resurrected for our political classes - the odd bit of experience outside of union officialdom (trade and university), law school, Party HQ and running for office would do the buggers the world of good.


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