Amazing Grace

E.S. Turner

Read February 2006

Is there anything more British than Punch? Is there anything more British than pompous gentry that constantly find themselves at odds with a people querulously in love with notions of liberty? And who better than a writer of the former—that too a relic—to write about the latter?

Turner's study, subtitled The Great Days of Dukes, is a work of bile, ranking with some of the great works of vituperation. But it is that curious thing: a comprehensive work written with a tone that is never stringent, only viciously humorous. For Turner does not hate the dukes so much as study them like one would, say, species of poisonous insects or venomous plants, according the species respect when deserved, but often even that for reasons that are deleterious to mankind as a whole.

From the cover art onward you don't doubt what Turner is up to, but just how much could there be to say? A great deal, it appears, and not merely a boring recitation of the peerage. Turner takes the trouble to weave a story, dukes coming in and out and sometimes even entwining branches of their family trees. Now you might ask how an Indian who lives in America could evaluate such a work; but having visited Woburn in Bedfordshire in 2004—my sole non-fictional experience of the smiling English countryside—I could actually picture parts of this book (the Bedford Russell's, what with their influence on London's Bloomsbury too, are prominent players here), and my travel experience was enriched by it.

In the end, I confess: I bought the book purely for entertainment. Turner delivered far more than promised, not only on that account but also on history (I could scarcely have imagined reading a hundred pages on this topic, let alone three times that) and, good heavens, even a bit of scholarship: the index to this book would put many a textbook to shame. It's difficult to dub this a ``classic'' but, with a little poetic license, Sutton Publishing deserves much credit for re-publishing this 1975 book in 2004 under their History Classics series. Sit back and enjoy it with a measure of port.