Island Stories

Island Stories

by Raphael Samuel
     
 

A luminous sequel to the highly acclaimed first volume of Theatres of Memory, Island Stories is an engrossing journey of discovery into the multiple meanings of national myths, their anchorage in daily life and their common sense of a people’s destiny. Raphael Samuel reveals the palimpsest of British national histories, offering a searching yet

Overview

A luminous sequel to the highly acclaimed first volume of Theatres of Memory, Island Stories is an engrossing journey of discovery into the multiple meanings of national myths, their anchorage in daily life and their common sense of a people’s destiny. Raphael Samuel reveals the palimpsest of British national histories, offering a searching yet affectionate account of the heroes and villains, legends and foibles, cherished by the “four nations” that inhabit the British Isles. Samuel is interested by the fact that traditions can disappear no less abruptly than they were invented. How is it, he asks, that the Scots have lost interest in a British narrative of which they were once a central protagonist? Why is the celebration of “Britons” thriving today just as its object has become problematic? Island Stories marvelously conveys the mutability of national conceits. Samuel calls as witness a galaxy of authorities—Bede and Gerald of Barri, Macaulay and Stubbs, Shakespeare and Dickens, Lord Reith and Raymond Williams, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Benn—each of whom sought to renew the sense of national identity by means of an acute sense of the past. Island Stories is a luminous study of the way nations use their past to lend meaning to the present and future. This sequel to the widely acclaimed Theatres of Memory is as passionate, unexpected and enjoyable as its predecessor.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The sheer scope and erudition of these pages is stunning ... an imaginative tour de force.”—Terry Eagleton, Guardian

“Provocative, original ... a powerful testimony to the unending dialogue between the present and the past that is the essence and excitement of history.”—David Cannadine, Observer

“A stunning collection ... humane, optimistic, multi-textured, ever-meandering but always sparkling ... One of the finest and—paradoxically—most quintessentially English historians of our time.”—Ben Pimlott, Independent on Sunday

“A magnificent and irreplaceable collection.”—John Gray, New Statesman

“A provocative lens into both the remote and the near British past.”—Publishers Weekly

“Deeply researched, intelligently argued, lovingly presented, thoroughly excitable and immensely stimulating ... [Samuel is] as comfortable with seventeenth-century sectarians as with Victorian nonconformists, as familiar with the townlands of Ireland as the streets of London.”—John Gillis, Left History

“A rich fund of subversive ideas.”—Daniel Johnson, The Times

David E. Bell
...Samuel [explores] with evident delight, the vagaries and the vicissitudes of popular collective memory in Great Britain....[it has] a taste for whimsy and [an] appetite for exposing invented traditions....His work has nothing systematic about it. It reflects, rather, one of his own favorite phrases: "madcap enthusiasm." -- The New Republic
Kirkus Reviews
A collection of scholarly, oddly compelling essays that aim to unravel the complexities of British identity. Historian Samuel intended Island Storiesþthe second installment of a planned trilogyþto address "the wildly different versions of the national past on offer at any given time, depending on whether the optic is that of town or country, center or periphery, the state or civil society." Although he died of cancer before he could complete the project, his longtime editors and literary executors completed it posthumously, bringing together key essays intended for the book, many of them on the verge of completion, others unfinished. The result is an odd pastiche that encompasses a variety of forms: essay, argument, travelogue, and personal memoir. It seems less a definitive history than a history of definitionsþSamuel clearly delighted in pulling apart the labels that have often been applied to the inhabitants of the so-called United Kingdom. Current events are proving it to be anything but, and Samuel made a point of noting that "the unity of the British Isles, so far from being the norm, can appear rather as an exceptional condition." Samuel examines the myths and oppositions inherent in the idea of Britain: Saxon and Celt, urban and rural, middle class and working class. Samuel's timeliness is indisputable: Nationality has become the key issue, the "storm-center" around which domestic politics in Britain now revolve. Indeed, there is a strange discomfort in using the word "British"; Samuel himself described it as capable of generating "a vertiginous sense of impending loss." Rather than being a "secure, genetic identity," he wrote, "[it] can be seen assomething culturally and historically conditioned, always in the making, never made." Strangely enough, the same could be said of his book. As fascinating and politically astute as Island Stories is, it suffers nonetheless from a lingering incompletion. (illustrations, not seen)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781859841907
Publisher:
Verso Books
Publication date:
05/01/1999
Series:
Theatres of Memory Series
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.85(d)

Meet the Author

Raphael Samuel (1934–1996) was a tutor in History at Ruskin College, Oxford, and a founding editor of History Workshop Journal. His works include Theatres of Memory and Island Stories, also from Verso. For more information about his work, see The Raphael Samuel History Centre and Archive online.

Gareth Stedman Jones is a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge University and in 2010 become Professor of the History of Ideas at Queen Mary, University of London. He is the author of An End to Poverty? and Languages of Class: Studies in Working-Class History 1832–1982.

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