Book Review

Movements in European History by DH Lawrence

a mediocre history text then a pro-UBI, anti-"the Arts is special" rant

More from the lockdown backlog, this one written on July 7th.

This book, if i wanted to sound even more “online” than I usually do, is a DH Lawrence “deep cut”.

Movements in European History is Lawrence’s non-fiction history book which was first published pseudonymously by Oxford University Press (who also published this (now battered) 1970s edition) in 1920 as a “book for schools”.

Yes, that’s right: the struggling Lawrence, fresh off the back of his first dabbling with literary notoriety and prudish censorship, was hired by an esteemed educational publisher to write a broad strokes history book to give to children aged 10-12 to teach them about the long standing divisions and wars and alliances and rivalries that led the world (well, Europe) to the brink of destruction in the continent-wide class genocide of 1914-1918. 

The written-to-spec (and then reissued with illustrations (not included here) and Lawrence’s real name after a few years had mellowed out his reputation (although OUP did, tho, refuse to include Lawrence’s very “comment is free” type epilogue (which is included here lol))) non-fiction is very dry in places, especially the sections that are most clearly Lawrence paraphrasing other books.

When Movements in European History is most enjoyable is in the sections which clearly contain Lawrence writing from memory/perceived knowledge.

If you, like me, have read any of Lawrence’s other non-fiction, then you, like me, will know that he has big “researching is secondary to lived experience” vibes.

Though Lawrence writes informative-feeling texts about the Etruscans (an interest he had, disappointingly, not developed before he wrote this), one never gets the impression that he was an “expert” in any real sense of the word.

Yes, Lawrence visited some Etruscan tombs and went round some relevant museums, but there’s nothing in his writing about the Etruscan civilisation that implies significant primary or secondary study.

Lawrence’s tone in his non-fiction is to infer knowledge, rather than to justify it, and here he is trying to pack massive, older, texts (like Edward Gibbons The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire) into punchy, paragraph-length, summaries. Sometimes, though, this works.

I did enjoy reading summaries of historical periods and historical figures I knew little about (or at least less than I thought I did!) and Lawrence’s literature-focused chapter on the Italian Renaissance was genuinely engaging, because Petrarch, Dante and Boccaccio were writers Lawrence cared about.

It was fun, too, to learn about Charlemagne and Napoleon and Augustus, to learn about the splitting of the Holy Roman Empire and the rise of absolute monarchs. A summary of the French Revolution is always fun, and learning about Prussia and the unifications of Germany and Italy for the first time in my life was, I suppose, almost useful.

Of course, though, if assessing Movements in European History as an aid to knowledge acquisition, then it falls far flatter than Wikipedia, especially in the fact that on Wikipedia it is mandatory to provide sources and citations to justify statements claimed as fact. Also there’s probably a lot less casual sexism and racism though, knowing the internet and the kind of alt-right incel nobodies content to waste their sad little lives modifying Wikipedia articles, maybe that isn’t true.

Movements in European History is fun, but it’s basic; it’s engaging, but it’s a very whitewashed history that fails to connect events meaningfully with contexts from outside of Europe, or tbh even with “European” events occurring in the UK, Ireland, or the Iberian peninsula.

Rather than a “history of Europe”, this is a history of Italy, France and Germany, with a little on Austria.

There’s nothing (or next to nothing) to be learned about Scandinavia, Greece, the Balkans, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Romania or Hungary.

Of course, this was meant to be an “entry level” book, and as an “educational text for schools” a certain, conservative, ideological perspective is not just expected but demanded. This is a history that lauds the nation state, the strong ruler, the capitalist, the trader, the rich. It is pro-education but also against unlimited education for all, which is a viewpoint I sometimes find myself agreeing with, i.e.: what is all the education for, when so many of us have post-graduate degrees but work menial jobs??? (edit from September – it’s so we can produce phenomenal literature in our time away from work).

I had lots of arguments with peers yesterday after vociferously opposing the Tory’s promised bail-outs for theatres and galleries and other middle class hobbies. I say peers, they were people who work in “high art” industries/for “high art” institutions that are subsidised but still pejoratively expensive for the majority of the populace to benefit from.

Art is not vital, art is not important. Art is a hobby.

Until – or unless – there is UBI and sufficient housing for the entirety of every person living in a “Westernised” country, there should be no money being siphoned from taxpayer pots, money which is meant for everyone, that goes only to the entitled middle classes.

Maybe if I got back into cocaine I might apply for arts council funding for a book of poetry about being sad or something, but that would be because I was behaving unethically, selfishly and badly.

Defend and promote UBI, then, if you’re an “arts professional” who intends to work for – what amounts to – a failing business.

It doesn’t matter if twats like me and my readers live off the government via “arts grants” rather than the dole, because – with UBI – people who are less privileged would be fine, too.

In my opinion (tho remember I have tiny tiny self-esteem), no physically-fit, university-educated person should get to work for an unprofitable, but aspirational, business while there are people living on the streets.

These are my new, hard left politics and I fucking love them. No hobby should be prioritised – theatre for everyone who wants it, but only if there are PlayStations for everyone who wants those, too.

Bye. is 10 years old! Celebrate by sharing this post – or others – with friends (if you have any), family (if you have any), lovers (which I presume you have because this website isn’t for children), or by donating to the site via the below link so that I can maybe take a day off work some time and enjoy being alive for a few hours.

1 comment on “Movements in European History by DH Lawrence

  1. Pingback: Roman Around: Three Imperial Paperbacks – Triumph Of The Now

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