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.