High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain

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High Minds is as sturdily girded as a bridge by Brunel and there are flying buttresses that would give Ruskin a thrill. Heffer's voice throughout is that of a testy schoolmaster trying to din facts into a class of urchins who would prefer to be out picking pockets.

Most Victorian of all, though, is his attitude to his own construction of the past, which remains, at all times, achingly earnest. At the start of the period there is cholera, machine-breaking and eight-year-olds down mines — an Oliver Twist landscape of hopelessness and dirty noses. By the end, as Gladstone begins his second term in power, there are town halls, hospitals, married women with their own property and fullish stomachs all round.

High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain - Simon Heffer - Google Книги

Indeed, he makes the bold choice of using Thomas Arnold, the reforming headmaster of Rugby, as the subject of his prologue. Arnold below is not the sort of man you expect to find kicking off a book on the Victorians aimed at the general reader. For one thing he died in , when the Queen was only five years into her reign. But it quickly becomes clear that Heffer sees Arnold as the emblematic victim of successive waves of anti-Victorianism that washed over Britain in the 20th century, toppling heroes and besmirching reputations.

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And now Heffer rides to the rescue, like a knight out of one of Walter Scott's feudal fantasies, to right wrongs and restore moral order. Consequently the good doctor limped through the 20th century as the most ghastly bore, popping up in screen adaptations of Tom Brown's Schooldays armed with a stock of moral homilies delivered in a booming basso profundo during Sunday morning chapel.

Above all, he made a whole generation of privileged young men realise that they had a moral duty to work for the good of others. While the elite Etonians continued to swirl around in their own moral filth, the subaltern Rugbeians were being trained for a life that was serious, generous and, when necessary, self-sacrificing. It was that moral energy, diffused through Arnold's proteges in the succeeding generation, that transformed the early Victorian ethos of sharp-elbows into a mid-century culture of sterling public service.

You could change the law, give people the vote, even provide the working classes with education, but all you'd end up with was a dreary Town Hall ethos where everyone thought the same.

High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain, by Simon Heffer

Arnold had a word for it — Phillistinism — and, snob that he was, thought it probably spoke with a Manchester accent. So far so Carlylean. More interesting, because more unexpected, is the attention Heffer pays to those Victorians who don't quite make the grade as high minds or heroes. It analyses the birth of new attitudes to education, religion and science.

A lively and assured survey of the Victorians’ pursuit of perfection

And it shows how even such aesthetic issues as taste in architecture were swept in to broader debates about the direction that the country should take. In the process, Simon Heffer looks at the lives and deeds of major politicians, from the devout and principled Gladstone to the unscrupulous Disraeli; at the intellectual arguments that raged among writers and thinkers such as Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, and Samuel Butler; and at the 'great projects' of the age, from the Great Exhibition to the Albert Memorial.

Drawing heavily on previously unpublished documents, he offers a superbly nuanced insight into life in an extraordinary era, populated by extraordinary people - and how our forebears' pursuit of perfection gave birth to modern Britain. The Best Books of Check out the top books of the year on our page Best Books of Looking for beautiful books?

High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain by Simon Heffer – review

Visit our Beautiful Books page and find lovely books for kids, photography lovers and more. Review Text "High Minds is worthy to the task: Review quote "Heffer has written a stunning overview of the great and the good - and the not-so-good - of Victorian society and of the changes which a largely benevolent capitalism brought about.


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If you want a succinct volume on the Clarendon Commission and the debates on education, there is a not-so-slim volume embedded here. There is another on the desperate case of the formidable Caroline Norton and the battle to give women rights This is a great sweeping, confident book, demonstrating the self-same energy and passion as do the Victorian heroes Heffer celebrates. It is a magnificent achievement. It is the personalities involved that contribute such liveliness to this assured and magisterial narrative.

About Simon Heffer Simon Heffer was born in

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