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80Victorian Review nation-states to control information to the paranoia and espionage of modern and now postmodern war machines. This is why Pynchon's novel about war and paranoia figures so largely in Richards' analysis. But the pattern is already present in Kim and Riddle of the Sands, and informs the entire tradition ofBritish spy fiction. Richards' argument is both provocative and, to me, highly persuasive. However, its succinctness and its emphasis on fiction (i.e., novels) will perhaps mean that political and social historians (as well as historians of the sciences) won't pay as much attention to it as will literary and cultural critics. This is too bad: historians especially need to be more aware of the reality effects fictions can have — including fictions like the dream of universal knowledge that informs "the imperial archive." PATRICK BRANTLDSfGER Indiana University Jose Harris. Private Lives, Public Spirit: A Social History of Britain 1870-1914, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993. xii + 283. £17.95 (cloth); $35.00 US (cloth). Is social history in crisis? Since it was born in dissidence we might expect this to be a permanent condition. Yet the current disquiet is more profoundly threatening to the identity of the field and its practitioners than previous issues of debate. I refer, of course, to the fundamental challenge to its epistemology posed by postmodernism and the snake's tongue of the linguistic turn. Though it opened up new areas and perspectives — the view from below, the view from cultural anthropology and the validity of the experiential — the social history project in Britain remained objectivist in its dedication to an unproblematical notion of 'the real' as vested in 'the social'. The latter's autonomous reality was to be revealed by a doughty native empiricism, leavened on the left with a critical attention to ideology, both of history and the historian. Largely untouched by this totalizing vision were a posse of non-doctrinaire liberal or subMarxist scholars happy to hunt down the social truth piecemeal in areas previously denied academic respectability — trade union banners, fish and chips, the popular arts in general. In the 'eighties the import of more radical continental theories — structuralism, femininism, semiotics — threatened the certainties of such practice. As Raphael Samuel has put Reviews81 it, 'reading the signs' supplanted 'grubbing for facts'. A politically empowering vision dissolved into the mocking figures thrown back at us from the fun-house mirrors. The social could no longer be confidently mapped onto the material, or vice versa. The old foundational categories sagged still further: class, sapped by gender, almost (heavens!) disappeared into mere difference. Those alarmed at such depredations have fought back — see the current exchanges in Social History (UK); those who can't see or don't care what all the fuss is about continue in unproblematical fact-rich production — see most of the contributions to the three volumes of the recent Cambridge Social History ofBritain. Jose Harris knows what the fuss is about, for the ten years gestation of her text has been disturbed by what she calls 'a revolution in historical fashion'. Perceptions of the past have become much more nuanced, idiosyncratic, private, and relativistic. Texts, artefacts, and language have replaced institutions, movements, and social forces as the substance of what social history is supposed to be about, (vii) Quite so. This summarizes two positions we might call social-structural (not 'structuralist') and social-discursive. Harris tempers her prime if qualified loyalty to the former with a cautious infusion of the latter. The most plainly admitted element of the new agenda is nuance. There is a sharper acknowledgement of difference which, while reliant on conventional evidential modes, yields an insistent emphasis on complexity, diversity, and pluralism in a 'multi-faceted society ... of manifold cross-currents'. This is not, however, the ludic impressionism of the blithely disintegrating postmodernist, but the vexed note of the frustrated synthesizer. Less urbane than F.M.L. Thompson, less populist than J.F.C. Harrison (two comparable treatments), this is a well written book informed by a certain wry wit but the struggle to marshall and package its recalcitrant contents is almost palpable. Harris sticks bravely to her task, for the package has to be delivered...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 80-82
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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