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James Anthony Froude: An Intellectual Biography of a Victorian Prophet [Hardcover]

Ciaran Brady

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Book Description

14 Mar 2013
James Anthony Froude remains one of the most commonly referenced and frequently cited of Victorian public intellectuals. Known to intellectual historians as the author of a monumental History of England in the sixteenth century and more generally as a key exponent of Victorian religious doubt, he is also frequently referenced by literary critics and historians as the author of a series of scandalously provocative novels and of a major and hugely controversial biography of Thomas Carlyle. Historians of the British Empire and historians of Ireland have frequently been compelled to address his sometimes outrageous (but often representative) historical writings. Scholars of mid-Victorian politics have no less often turned to Froude as a typical representative of Victorian fears of democracy, while more recently students of political thought have identified him as an early representative of a new form of Commonwealth civic republicanism.

Yet for all that Froude remains a strangely marginalised, fragmented, and neglected figure. Ciaran Brady now addresses this remarkable gap. Based on a thorough critical examination of all of Froude's published works (many of which have been discovered and identified here for the first time), and supplemented by intensive research into Froude's private and widely scattered manuscript materials, he offers the first sustained study of Froude's life and thought. Against the common assumption that Froude's life can simply be divided along simple lines - the sometime enfant terrible who aged into a respectable man of letters - he argues that there was a deeper coherence underlying everything he wrote from the scandalous productions of the 1840s to the authoritative university lectures of the 1890s.

In addition to providing a study of a major but neglected nineteenth century intellectual, Brady offers a critical analysis of the impulses, the aspirations, and the unquestioned assumptions underlying the Romantic project of personal renovation, and an alternative view of that unique phenomenon known as 'the Victorian sage'.


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Brady writes about even the most difficult material with consistent clarity and energy, and with a cool but generous relish for all aspects of Froude's enormous output. Froude's often outré, sometimes absurb and occasionally repellent political opinions and activities are expounded with insight and sympathy, and the portrait of the complex, gifted and exasperating individual that emerges is entirely pursuasive. (Eamon Duffy, Times Literary Supplement)

a rich slice of intellectual history as well as a memorable portrait of an impressive, if intermittently appalling, personality who left an enduring mark on Irish historiography, Carlylean biography and much else. (Roy Foster, The Times Literary Supplement)

Brady has mastered not only Froude's own prodigious body of writing but also a vast, demanding literature on Victorian intellectual history. The result is an erudite and absorbing study, a masterclass of scholarly exegesis and lucid analysis. Brady's study may not make Froude any more appealing, nor his many offensive views and prejudices any more palatable, than they have hitherto been considered. But the work triumphantly renders Froude, the public historian and sage, more intelligible and infinitely more interesting than we may have assumed and, in the process, illumines large swathes of the intellectual landscape of Victorian England. (The Irish Times)

[Froude's] unpublished autobiography should have been called (History Today)

. There is nothing disappointing, however, in this elegant biography.

With consummate skill and erudition Brady traces the intricate course of Froude's thinking through his work... (Literary Review)

[Froude's] fate is a puzzle, and Brady's exhaustive investigation is the first to give it the attention it deserves. (John Pemble, London Review of Books)

Absorbing (John-Paul McCarthy, Sunday Independent (Ireland))

Mr. Brady ... has written a shrewd, vigilant inquiry into biography and literary ethics (The Wall Street Journal)

About the Author

this book could not be more timely, or more useful in elucidating the roots of a prophetic vocation (Julia Stapleton, American Historical Review)

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Unknown Froude Revealed 29 May 2013
By Dr. Michael E. Bauman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Ciaran Brady is right: Froude is forgotten. But forgotten does not mean unenlightening, worthless, or irrelevant. Froude is none of those things, and Brady's fine book proves it.
Brady's work is bold in its theories and admirably modest in its conclusions. It moves confidently into arenas other biographers overlook. Because it asks and answers questions others never ask, it is a journey, an education, an exercise in understanding one human being, and therefore all humans, a little better than before we picked up the book. Brady's effort is a historical game, a psychological quest, an intellectual challenge, and therefore a moral and spiritual benefit.
This is now the fifth book I have read on Froude in the last year. To have plowed that field several times before turning at last to Brady, I was afraid I'd be bored or disappointed, that I'd set the bar so high that no book could meet the challenge. My fear was misplaced and unnecessary. I was not bored or disappointed, not even once, not even a little. Every page is well argued, challenging in its scope and methods, and informative and worthwhile in its conclusions. It is historically reliable and psychologically acute. Having read so many books on Froude before turning to Brady, I knew Froude's story. I knew what was coming next. But I didn't know from what creative and revealing angle Brady would attack his challenge. The results were uniformly sensible and interesting.
In short, this volume deserves high marks all around. You'll be glad you read it.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 12 July 2014
By Professor Brendan O'Leary - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The best biography of an intellectual that I have read this year.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No Profit Prophet 4 July 2013
By Christian Schlect - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Skip this book unless you are extremely interested in the British historians James Anthony Froude or Thomas Carlyle. As the author himself states, his subject--Froude--has "now been cast into the obscurity of history's ash-heap."

This is an intellectual biography by an academic writer, Professor Ciaran Brady. There is not much devoted to Froude's adult personal life or the lively surrounding times. There is much on all most all of Froude's many genres of writing--novels, histories, biographies, travel, and parables.

Will you enjoy reading such prose as closes this book?

"His limitations and mistakes notwithstanding, however, Froude's fate has been unjust. For the stakes for which he contended were not simply historical and reputational; they were, and remain, obstinately and enduringly moral. Moreover, the challenges of personal responsibility, recurring persistently amidst the inescapable facts of individual deficiency, general cognitive inadequacy, and the unceasing flux of inherited history which he so bravely confronted and so imperfectly addressed, have not disappeared with his failure. And our own alterative palliatives of moral relativism, ideological sclerosis, or the self-exculpating strategies of hermeneutic suspicion may in time seem no more creditable than the contradictory and reckless, passionate and sincere impulses which compelled Froude to make his stand."

I am now trying to figure out if I am a moral relativist, a strait-jacketed ideologue, or just hermeneutically suspicious.
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