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A richly detailed history of Britain at its imperial zenith, revealing the simmering tensions and explosive rivalries beneath the opulent surface of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras.
The popular memory of Britain in the years before the Great War is of a powerful, contented, orderly, and thriving country. Britain commanded a vast empire: she bestrode international commerce. Her citizens were living longer, profiting from civil liberties their grandparents only dreamed of and enjoying an expanding range of comforts and pastimes. The mood of pride and self-confidence can be seen in Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance marches, newsreels of George V’s coronation, and London’s great Edwardian palaces.
Yet beneath the surface things were very different In The Age of Decadence, Simon Heffer exposes the contradictions of late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain. He explains how, despite the nation’s massive power, a mismanaged war against the Boers in South Africa created profound doubts about her imperial destiny. He shows how attempts to secure vital social reforms prompted the twentieth century’s gravest constitutional crisis—and coincided with the worst industrial unrest in British history. He describes how politicians who conceded the vote to millions more men disregarded women so utterly that female suffragists’ public protest bordered on terrorism. He depicts a ruling class that fell prey to degeneracy and scandal. He analyses a national psyche that embraced the motor-car, the sensationalist press, and the science fiction of H. G. Wells, but also the nostalgia of A. E. Housman.
Simon Heffer took a PhD in modern history at Cambridge. His previous books, published in Britain, include: Moral Desperado: A Life of Thomas Carlyle; Like the Roman: The Life of Enoch Powell; Power and Place: The Political Consequences of King Edward VII; Nor Shall My Sword: The Reinvention of England; and High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain. The Age of Decadence is his first book to be published in America. In a thirty-year career on Fleet Street, he has held senior editorial positions on The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator and is now a columnist forThe Sunday Telegraph. He lives in London.
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Advance praise from England:
“Magisterial.” The Spectator
“A riveting account of the pre-First World War years . A gloriously rich history. Balanced and judicious. The Age of Decadence is an enormously impressive and enjoyable read.” The Sunday Times (London)
“Simon Heffer has given us a magnificent account of a less than magnificent epoch. Vital and energetic.” The Literary Review
“The Age of Decadence is an impressively well-constructed book. Heffer weaves his wonderfully diverse strands of inquiry into a devastating critique of prewar Britain. His criticism of unbridled traditionalism is devastating and convincing. It’s also disturbingly relevant to the world in which we live.” The Times (London)
“Simon Heffer writes with admirable sensitivity about both music and literature. He does a brilliant job of exposing the rot beneath the glittering surface of late Victorian and Edwardian Britain. He writes with such exuberance—indeed with such Edwardian swagger—that he leaves the reader looking forward to his next volume.” The Economist