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One Hundred Letters From Hugh Trevor-Roper [Hardcover]

Richard Davenport-Hines , Adam Sisman
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

19 Dec 2013
The one hundred letters brought together for this book illustrate the range of Hugh Trevor-Roper's life and preoccupations: as an historian, a controversialist, a public intellectual, an adept in academic intrigues, a lover of literature, a traveller, a countryman. They depict a life of rich diversity; a mind of intellectual sparkle and eager curiosity; a character that relished the comédie humaine, and the absurdities, crotchets, and vanities of his contemporaries. The playful irony of Trevor-Roper's correspondence places him in a literary tradition stretching back to such great letter-writers as Madame de Sévigné and Horace Walpole.

Though he generally shunned emotional self-exposure in correspondence as in company, his letters to the woman who became his wife reveal the surprising intensity and the raw depths of his feelings.

Trevor-Roper was one of the most gifted scholars of his generation, and one of the most famous dons of his day. While still a young man, he made his name with his bestseller The Last Days of Hitler, and became notorious for his acerbic assaults on other historians. In his prime, Trevor-Roper appeared to have everything: a grey Bentley, a prestigious chair in Oxford, a beautiful country house, a wife with a title, and, eventually, a title of his own. But he failed to write the 'big book' expected of him, and tainted his reputation when in old age he erroneously authenticated the forged Hitler diaries.

For an academic, Trevor-Roper's interests were extraordinarily wide, bringing him into contact with such diverse individuals as George Orwell and Margaret Thatcher, Albert Speer and Kim Philby, Katharine Hepburn and Rupert Murdoch. The tragicomedy of his tenure as Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, provided an appropriate finale to a career packed with incident.

Trevor-Roper's letters to Bernard Berenson, published as Letters from Oxford in 2006, gave pleasure to a wide variety of readers. This more general selection of his correspondence has been long anticipated, and will delight anyone who values wit, erudition, and clear prose.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 488 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (19 Dec 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198703112
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198703112
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16.4 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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A superb selection ... The book makes a hugely entertaining volume ... it should be treated as a salient part of [Trevor-Ropers'] oeuvre. (Paul Johnson, Standpoint)

The quality of the prose is so sparkling, the wit is so sharp, and the Enlightenment standpoint so carefully nourished, that the book serves not only as entertainment, but as a manifesto for the intellectual values that were Hugh Trevor-Roper's lodestar. (The Times Literary Supplement)

100 letters that show this brilliant, difficult man in a new light ... The many Trevor-Ropers of this collection ... together make a complex but fascinating creature ... ' (John Gallagher, Sunday Telegraph)

A splendid introduction to this delightful, funny, ebullient and relentless person ... The present volume is beautifully produced and the selection from the voluminous correspondence is particularly well judged. (John Banville, The Guardian)

Beguiling ... This volume isn't peripheral, but central to a career of fluctuating accomplishment ... Tom Sharpe's Porterhouse Blue couldn't have blended sugar and acid more silkily. (Peter Preston, The Observer)

The quality of the prose is so sparkling, the wit is so sharp, and the Enlightenment standpoint so carefully nourished, that the book serves not only as entertainment, but as a manifesto for the intellectual values that were Hugh Trevor-Roper's lodestar. (A.N Wilson, Times Literary Supplement)

What better way to celebrate the centenary of Trevor-Roper's birth than to treat the reading public to a hundred of his letters? ... Collected by two editors who really know the territory and who really understand the ethos of the period, Hugh Trevor-Roper's letters are a marvellous evocation of a world now completely vanished. (Leslie Mitchell, Literary Review)

Trevor-Roper was ... one of the great prose stylists of our times ... and in this magnificent collection of letters dating from the war years until shortly before his death in 2003, he lays into "impertinent adversaries" with wit and gusto ... He would have been delighted to know that his letters ... have been impeccably edited. (Jeremy Lewis, The Oldie)

A masterly editorial touch ... [the editors have] succeeded both in choosing letters of the highest standard and in creating what amounts to a supplementary biography, enhanced by vital, Gibbonian footnotes ... [Trevor-Roper] would surely be delighted that the last ten years have already produced a fruitful harvest of posthumous books, to which these Hundred Letters are both a stylish addition and an admirable tribute to his hundredth birthday. (John Saumarez Smith, Country Life)

About the Author

Richard Davenport-Hines is a historian, literary biographer, and former Research Fellow of the London School of Economics. He has edited two previous collections of Hugh Trevor-Roper's writings, Letters from Oxford and Wartime Journals. His other previous books include Dudley Docker: The Life andTimes of a Trade Warrior, for which he won the Wolfson Prize, biographies of W. H. Auden and Marcel Proust, Titanic Lives, and, most recently, An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo. Adam Sisman is a freelance writer, specializing in biography. His first book was a life of Hugh Trevor-Roper's rival, the historian A.J.P. Taylor, and he has more recently written the authorized biography of Trevor-Roper himself. Sisman's other work includes Boswell's Presumptuous Task, which was awarded the National Books Critics Circle prize for biography, and The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge. He is currently at work on a life of John le Carre.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing and intriguing 14 Jan 2014
By Judith
Format:Kindle Edition
An excellent selection from a huge archive which reveals much about the man and the scholar. The early letters particularly reveal a humorous, self-effacing, gentle and kind person whose public persona may have appeared completely differently. If anything, the volume is slightly over-footnoted but better too much than too little. The introductory paragraphs are enlightening and fascinating. The letters about the Hitler diaries fiasco are intriguing and alone tell us much of the real character of Hugh Trevor-Roper. A terrific read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An excellent book of personal letters, superbly edited and annotated by Adam Sisman (Trevor Roper's biographer) and Richard Davenport Hines.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Downed Don 28 Feb 2014
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Hugh Trevor-Roper was a gifted individual who spent much of his life in fostering his career and social climbing. He was an excellent writer and stylist. One of his descriptions of Jerusalem and another of the infamous LSE riots of 1968 are quite superb. This book is full of fascinating stories about Hugh, is very entertaining and beautifully written. On every level it is richly rewarding.

Born in 1914, Trevor-Roper was one of the foremost historians of the mid-twentieth century. He was also a dreadful snob. He never missed a chance to criticise those Dons who came from lowly backgrounds (his dislike of the Oxford English scholar A.L.Rouse was based on this). Only those with a knowledge of Oxford dons and their behaviour in-house can begin to understand the degree of jealousy, backbiting, scurrilous gossip, intrigue and sheer bitchiness that pervades those hallowed academic grounds.

Trevor-Roper was a very complex, arrogant and colourful character He had a very unhappy upbringing experiencing very little love from either parent. His father was a doctor, a respected member of local society. The family could trace their origins back to the fifteenth century. By his teens Hugh had decided that his father had contracted out of parenthood. Neither of his parents had any intellectual interests. Horse racing was his father's chief interest. As a child, Hugh was frail, short-sighted, poor at games, and awkward in company. Reading was his great pleasure in life. After school at Stancliff Hall which he disliked he was sent to another boarding school, Belhaven Hill in Dunbar,which he loved and where he thrived academically. He won a scholarship to Charterhouse where in his last term he was placed top of the Classical Sixth, the highest form in the school.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A splendid read for the initiated 21 Feb 2014
By francis
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book by an exceptionally learned, gifted and opinionated historian covering a tumultuous time in the profession. How he was able to read, travel and write so much in a single lifetime is a mystery!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A splendidly humane correspondent 17 Feb 2014
By Carter Nicholas - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The academic backdrop of this historian's noted zest for professional argument is greatly enriched by his display in these few letters of a profound fluency in friendship, a genuinely humanistic scope of interest, and an estimable gift for the judicious appraisal. To read him "venturing to defend Gibbon" to his dear friend Gerald Brenan, is to marvel not merely at his gift for encompassing a great mind in very clear and verifiable terms, but at the powerful sensitivity and affection which can be projected to a grieving friend through invoking their common values as a subtle, unstated compliment. Trevor-Roper can be read here not merely for what he knows, but for what he knows of why he learned it, and how to apply learning to the nourishing of society. The book is very well edited, with all the footnotes one would need for context, without turning to another section. It must have been ridiculously difficult to keep this book so portable and yet compleat.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Writer, Nasty Temperament 22 Mar 2014
By reading man - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Those who knew Trevor-Roper considered him a wonderful chap, but his judgemental temper is more than a little off-putting.
He reminds me of Kingsley Amis in that respect: someone whom his friends loved, but who was so hypercritical of everyone else that you can't imagine him as being an ideal human being.

Trevor-Roper's opinions, especially apart from historical questions, are often dubious. For example, he thought that the novel was a dead form, whereas poetry was still vital in the 20th century, which I'd say is completely backwards. He only likes a few novelists of any era, one of them being the now unreadable Walter Scott, and he recommends Stendhal as a master of style--not untrue, but only in the sui generis case of Stendhal. Read Jean Giono to see why imitating Stendhal is a grave mistake.

The unreadable Doughty wrote one of Trevor-Roper's favorite books, and his inordinate praise for Gibbon seems to me to be ancestor worship of the doubtful kind.

But Trevor-Roper was a good writer, a stylist without question, so reading his letters and diaries is rewarding for that merit alone, certainly much better than trying to read his straight historical works (excepting his book on Hitler, though why that should be compared with Gibbon, which more than one critic has done, baffles me).
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lubricant of the Republic of Letters 17 Mar 2014
By Christian Schlect - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A well-chosen selection of the clear, vibrant, sometimes waspish letters directed to various friends, both young and old, produced from the pen of an important English scholar, Hugh Trevor-Roper.

A great and interesting mind is at work here, even when ordinary topics, such as personal travel or university politics, are addressed.

The co-editors deserve special acclaim for their useful and concise explanatory footnotes to the text, most helpful to me and, I am sure, for other common readers.

For further reading, I highly recommend the "Wartime Journals" as edited by Richard Davenport-Hines and "Boswell's Presumptuous Task" authored by Adam Sisman.
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