Gladstone Critical Essays

Roy Jenkins


(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

William Gladstone was Prime Minister of Great Britain four times during the second half of the nineteenth century, and, according to biographer Roy Jenkins, was the most remarkable person ever to have held that position. Gladstone began his political career as a Conservative, helped found the Liberal Party, but later brought about a split in the latter which contributed to its demise as a governing party. While pursuing a successful political career, Gladstone was also a prolific author, a charismatic orator, made important contributions to major theological controversies, chopped down trees at his Hawarden estate, and attempted to rescue attractive prostitutes.

Although publicity about the latter would have ruined his political career, for over forty years Gladstone continued to walk the streets of London at night seeking out prostitutes. Even though Gladstone was an intensely religious person, Jenkins does not accept his claim that the nighttime activity was solely for the purpose of persuading prostitutes to leave their occupation. He concludes that even if Gladstone did not make “full use” of the women’s services, it was the element of sexual temptation which drove him to continue.

Because he has been Chancellor of the Exchequer and the co-founder of a British political party, Jenkins is especially well-suited to discuss Gladstone’s political life. GLADSTONE: A BIOGRAPHY is primarily based on published sources, such as Gladstone’s diaries, but provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of Great Britain’s greatest statesmen.

Sources for Further Study

The American Scholar. LXV, Autumn, 1996, p. 614.

Contemporary Review. CCLXIX, September, 1996, p. 162.

Foreign Affairs. LXXVI, July, 1997, p. 157.

History Today. XLVII, January, 1997, p. 54.

London Review of Books. XVII, November 30, 1995, p. 10.

The New York Review of Books. XLIV, March 27, 1997, p. 10.

The New York Times Book Review. CII, February 23, 1997, p. 7.

The New Yorker. LXXII, February 10, 1997, p. 78.

Newsweek. CXXIX, March 10, 1997, p. 70.

The Times Literary Supplement. October 20, 1995, p. 6.

The Wall Street Journal. February 21, 1997, p. A12.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVII, February 2, 1997, p. 3.