Leon Garfield Margery Fisher - Essay

Margery Fisher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I would hesitate to offer The House of Hanover to anyone who did not already possess a reasonably good idea of the sequence of events in the eighteenth century and their own views on some at least of the century's writers. On the other hand, those who do already relish the period are likely to find Leon Garfield's dish somewhat over-spiced. This is, by intention, a very personal view of the period and one which is almost disavowed by the author when, having made a rapid and dogmatic tour of the National Portrait Gallery, he is adjured by the attendant to "Go through the gallery again—and come out with a different answer". So, we must accept, even if we do not like, echo or agree with, the attitudes he takes up in this book. He is lengthy and serious about Handel, coyly respectful of Johnson, disagreeably superficial about Pope (surely the fashion for describing the poet as a cold projector of strategems went out generations ago), sentimental about Swift, inadequate about George III. The idea of seeing the eighteenth century by way of a sequence of portraits was a good one and the book's epigraph, Pope's line "The proper study of mankind is man", says something valid about a period when individuals still steered historical event. Still, there is dangerously little of history here to anchor the throw-away literary comment, and a chronological scheme somewhat resembling Dunne's theory of Time is likely to confuse rather than enlighten a young reader not equipped with the essential skeleton of dates. The book may send some to the literary figures who are its chief subject and that (Leon Garfield implies) is his chief aim: it is a logical if unusual interpretation of the brief of the "Mirror of Britain" series, which is by definition a many-faceted cultural history. But history the series is, and history is both orderly and layered. I do not feel that Leon Garfield's contribution to the series is either. The many stimulating and pointed comments are lost in imagery that at times seems like self-parody and in chats with the gallery attendant which remind me uncomfortably of the father-son chats in [A. A. Milne's] Pooh books. And this could have been such a good book! (pp. 2944-45)

Margery Fisher, in her Growing Point, September, 1976.