Heresies and Heretics: Memories of the Twentieth Century

By George Watson

An entertaining and provocative exploration of cultural and literary heresies of the 20th century, and the diverse and original individuals who championed them.

ISBN: 9780718892920


In this enjoyably iconoclastic book, George Watson discusses some of the great heresies of the twentieth century, and the cultural heretics who espoused them, often with surprising results. Watson provides us with examples of ‘true’, original heretics, from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who asserted that his study of the remote past had made a radical of him, rather than any influence of modernism, to others such as Douglas Adams, whom Watson knew as an undergraduate.

Watson forces us to question various long-cherished political and intellectual assumptions in his witty and conversational style. Is snobbery really such a bad thing? Have we ignored the links between socialism and genocide? He touches entertainingly upon subjects as diverse as literary theory (experimental fiction is often the last resort of those who have nothing to say), and the unoriginal conformism of teenage Marxists (incapable of actually reading Marx, as he is too boring).

This is a work which will delight any reader seeking a uniquely personal perspective on the culture, history, and personalities of the twentieth century.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 200

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Trade Information LPOD

About the Author

George Watson was Fellow in English at St John’s College, Cambridge, and had been Sandars Reader in Bibliography. He published a number of books on literature and political thought, including The Literary Critics, and was general editor of the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature. His other publications with the Lutterworth Press include: Lost Literature of Socialism (1st Edition 1998, 2nd Edition 2010); Never Ones for Theory? England and the War of Ideas (2001); The English Ideology: Studies on the Language of Victorian Politics (2004); Take Back the Past: Myths of the Twentieth Century (2007); and The Story of the Novel (2008). He died in 2013.



Part I: Heresies
1. Who are the Heretics?
2. The War of the Canon
3. A View from the Basement
4. The Virtue of Verse
5. The Privilege of Absurdity
6. The Best of British
7. Making History
8. Shooting a President
9. Commonplaces
10. No Marx for Engels

Part II: More Heresies
11. Americanophilia
12. The Americanness of Poetry
13. The Rain in Spain
14. Educating the Prime Minister
15. The Indictment of the Germans
16. Thoughts on a Dead Elephant
17. The Sudden Death of Imperial Guilt

Part III: The Heretics
18. P.G. Wodehouse
19. The Forgotten Churchill
20. Arthur Quiller-Couch
21. E.M. Forster
22. C.P. Snow
23. Hugh Sykes Davies
24. Angus Wilson
25. Moses Finley
26. Hugh Trevor-Roper
27. Frank Kermode
29. Douglas Adams



Endorsements and Reviews

It is vintage George Watson, challenging, intransigent, witty, drawing on an immensely wide range of reading and taking treasured assumptions apart with breezy charm. His memories of friends – some of them known to me – are both poignant and trenchant. Altogether a delight.
John Carey, Emeritus Merton Professor of English Literature, University of Oxford

[Watson’s] writing style was always engaging, with a mischievous wit, so it is good to have them in a durable form. They are short essays with interesting perspectives and well worth reading.
Stewart Rayment, in Journal of the Liberal International British Group, Issue 1