The English

The English : A Portrait of a People

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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".

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Product details

  • Paperback | 320 pages
  • 148.6 x 214.1 x 18.5mm | 358.33g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 0140267239
  • 9780140267235
  • 599,434

Review Text

A deeply serious yet wonderfully lively, witty, and heartfelt study of the Mother Country.Who, really, are the English? At a time when Great Britain seems to be devolving into its constituent parts, its not an idle question. Nor should it be for Americansnot only for those who trace their origins to the Mother Country (is that England or Britain?) but for all those who seek to understand the extraordinary worldwide influence of so relatively few people. Journalist and broadcaster Paxman believes that it is the Englishnot the Scots, the Welsh, or the Irishwho have lost their own sense of who they are and how they fit into the United Kingdom. They and their culture already possess, he argues, the least distinct identity of any of the ancient peoples of the British Isles. And as the nations of Europe grow into one large state, whats left of English culture risks disappearing completely into a larger whole. Opening the door to a large subject, Paxman searches for the essence of Englishness in history, religion, geography, behavior, speech, andwell, just about anything that throws light on his subject. He describes what he thinks good and bad, useful and dysfunctional, of what remains of Englishness. With gentle irony and understatement, he tweaks his own people for their hypocrisy, their baffling lack of sharp personality, their insularity. He also nudges them to step out of the shadows, even on their own island. In the end, while remaining somewhat perplexed by his own peopletheyre elusive to the lastPaxman finds reasons to be optimistic about their future. He believes that theyve begun to emerge from their go-it-alone, who-cares mentality and started more healthily and effectively to embrace the changing world. To which many Americans will say, Right on. Immensely popular in Britainand England, too!Paxmans informative, fact-studded book will enlighten and entertain everyone who seeks to learn of yesterdays England and todays Cool Britannia. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Table of contents

The land of the lost content; funny foreigners; the English empire; "true born Eglishmen; we happy few; the parish of senses; home alone; there always was an England; the ideal englishman; meet the wife; old country, new country;

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