The English National Character: The History of an Idea from Edmund Burke to Tony Blair

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What makes the English so English? Is there such a thing as an English national character?

What kind of people are "the English"? What characteristic traits and behavior (if any) distinguish them from other people? This highly original and wide-ranging book traces the surprisingly varied history of ideas among the English about their own "national character" over the past two centuries. Two hundred years ago, the very idea of a national character was novel and not very respectable. Today, it is again difficult for the many who think of themselves as unique individuals to imagine a "national character" that binds the English together in a national unit. But in between, as Britain became a democracy, "national character" became part of the national common sense, reflected in depictions of "John Bull" and his twentieth-century successor, the "Little Man," and in a set of stereotypes about English traits, follies, and foibles. Not at all shy to talk about themselves, the English have produced a vast outpouring of material on what it means to be English--material on which this book draws: lectures, sermons, political speeches, journalism, popular and scholarly books, poems and novels and films, satires and cartoons and caricatures, as well as up-to-the-minute social science and public opinion research. In this comprehensive and lucidly argued book, a leading historian of modern Britain challenges long-held assumptions and familiar stereotypes and proposes an entirely new perspective on what it means to think of oneself as being English.
 

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Contents

List of Illustrations ix
1
The English People
27
AngloSaxons
59
Great Britons
106
Little England
143
England After Character?
196
Acknowledgements
243
Bibliography
304
Index
337
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About the author (2006)

Peter Mandler is reader in modern history, University of Cambridge, and fellow of Gonville and Caius College. He is the author of, among other books, The Fall and Rise of the Stately Home, published by Yale University Press.

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