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Letters from Oxford: Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson: Letters from Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson [Hardcover]

Richard Davenport-Hines

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Book Description

13 July 2006
When they met in 1947 Trevor-Roper, a young historian at Christ Church, Oxford, was 33. Berenson, the world-famous art critic, was 82, frail but still intensely curious about the world. Trevor Roper promised to write to him and his letters continued until Berenson's death in in 1959. Elegantly constructed, beautifully and precisely written, they are shot through with high-octane malice, sharp judgements and blistering comments, and many wonderfully funny episodes. Trevor-Roper was an intellectual heavyweight, but the overall tone here is one of amusement at the human comedy', the vanity, snobbery and human weakness he sees all around him. At the same time he loves intrigue and controversy. Subjects range widely: several brilliant set-pieces on Oxford college elections, books, journalism, publishing, politics (postwar Europe, ex-Nazis and collaborators, the Cold War, Suez, etc), history and history-writing, personal life (including marriage to Earl Haig's daughter Alexandra after her messy divorce), travel, gossip, and so on. He has a memorable journey on a pilgrims' bus in Persia, goes behind the Iron Curtain to meet Communist dignitaries and speeds in his glamorous grey Bentley to visit duchesses in the Scottish borders. Figures in the letters include Evelyn Waugh, Isaiah Berlin, A.L. Rowse, Anthony Eden, Gerald Brenan, A.J.P.Taylor, Arnold Toynbee, Dimitri Shostakovitch, C.S. Lewis and Harold Macmillan.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; First Edition edition (13 July 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297850849
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297850847
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 16.5 x 23.5 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 462,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'wonderfully wise and witty...... in Trevor-Roper, as these letters drenched in irony attest, history had discovered a profound analyst who was also a consummate stylist' (Christopher Silvester THE SUNDAY TIMES)

'Richard Davenport-Hines's introduction is so crisp and perceptive.' (Ferdinand Mount THE SPECTATOR)

'Trevor-Roper proves a wonderful letter-writer, filling his pages with outrageously funny accounts of Oxford goings-on and malicious London gossip.' (Derwent May THE TIMES)

'... the book would be worth buying for it [Roper's account of his campaign to get Macmillan elected Chancellor of Oxford University]. But other reasons for buying this book will be found on almost every page; not least among them is the skill of the editor, Richard Davenport-Hines, whose deft annotations somehow contrive to be both economical and omniscient.' (Noel Malcolm THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH,)

'These letters offer sheer, unadulterated pleasure.' (Mark Bostridge THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)

'Skilfully edited by Richard Davenport-Hines, this volume is a consolation at any season, and, it must be hoped, is the forerunner of many more to come.' (L G Mitchell THE TLS)

'The letters focus best on teh 'guerilla-warfare of the cloister,' the elections to the Wardenship of All Souls, to the Regius Professorship of Poetry.' (John Saumarez Smith COUNTRY LIFE)

'contain masterpieces of wit and irony...... Davenport-Hines has added some masterly notes and an excellent introduction' (THE FINANCIAL TIMES Robin Lane-Fox)

'this very entertaining volume.....superbly edited by Richard Davenport-Hines.' (Adam Sisman LITERARY REVIEW)

Book Description

Superbly readable and revealing letters, full of malice and gossip, from a master historian --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Delightful! 1 Oct 2007
By Ronald H. Clark - Published on
The late Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914-2003; later Baron Dacre of Glanton) was everything you want in an Oxford don: deeply learned; possessed of a wicked sense of humor; extremely clever (in the British sense of the term); sporting a period of service in the Secret Intelligence Service during the war (out of which grew his "The Last Days of Hitler"); but above all one of the finest letter writers one is likely ever to encounter (on a par with Justice Holmes and Isaiah Berlin). This book consists of letters written by Trevor-Roper to the art expert and proprietor of I Tatti Bernard Berenson between 1947 and 1960.

The letters are edited and introduced by Richard Davenport-Hines, and his substantial introduction to the volume is one of its finest features. However, the meat of the matter are the letters themselves, skillfully annotated and accompanied by some wonderful photographs, and presented in pleasant format in this volume. Also included as appendices are several letters that Trevor-Roper wrote to the American historian Wallace Notestein. A couple points bear emphasis. While there are no letters as such from Berenson, occasionally there are some excerpts included to set the stage for Trevor-Roper's letters to follow. I was very surprised to see that Berenson was far more knowledgeable in fields outside art history than I had imagined; in fact, he was quite conversant with the main themes of European and American intellectual history. Another point is that for those of us interested in (and puzzled by) the inner workings of the University of Oxford and its component colleges, these letters are a treasurehouse of information. Trevor-Roper delighted in academic fisticuffs and delighted even more in explaining these strange rituals to outsiders such as Berenson. However, not all the letters are fun and games; some show Trevor-Roper at work as an historian, including dispute with some major figures such as J. Hexter, Christopher Hill, Tawney, and above all Lawrence Stone. So, from every vantage point, just as enjoyable a collection of letters as one will ever happen upon.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Letters at their literary best 26 Jun 2010
By Radcliffe Camera - Published on
This is a wonderfully witty collection of letters written by one of the most distinguished British historians of the twentieth century, Hugh Trevor-Roper, to one of the most famous art historians of the twentieth century, Bernard Berenson, from the late 1940s to the end of the `50s, when the latter was ensconced in his famous villa outside Florence, i tatti, and the former was an Oxford don and then Regius Professor of Modern History. One gets only Trevor-Roper's letters, but enough background in the excellent introduction, very full (and readable) footnotes, and in quotations from Berenson's letters to understand what is happening without needing prior acquaintance with the two personalities or their worlds.

The letters are worth reading, above all, for Trevor-Roper's marvellous English prose style. He was a master of the letter-form, and always has something funny and insightful to say on a range of topics, in particular elections at Oxford, bus-trips in Persia, falling in love with a woman who is trying to divorce her husband, post-war Germany, and life in communist Russia. But he is at his best when he writes about contemporaries like A.H.Smith (Warden of New College, Oxford), A.J.P. Taylor, Evelyn Waugh, Maurice Bowra, and Isaiah Berlin, to name just a few in a large cast. The humour, and (let it be said) malice, which these sketches often contain make the book a real pleasure to read.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars T-R to BB an A 28 Sep 2006
By Christian Schlect - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Those who appreciate smoothly elevated language, as put down here by a very lively English scholar in private correspondence to an elderly friend from the art world of Italy, will greatly enjoy this book.

Flashes of insights on random subjects, biting descriptions of the petty politics of universities, asides on some of the most famous people and controversies of the 1940s-50s, and well-turned phrases abound in this collection of letters.

(Richard Davenport-Hines deserves the praise Hugh Trevor-Roper gave another editor of a collection of letters: "... it is very well and learnedly edited.")
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Made for Each Other 28 Aug 2013
By GI Joe - Published on
Snobbery, bitchy gossip and selective anti-semitism served up in a style that screams its own cleverness: the letters of an under-performing Oxford don to a once seminal art historian who peddled his expertise to shady dealers and rich collectors for fees which enabled him to set himself up in a baronial Florentine villa; there he received everyone he thought to be anyone, with special attention to flatterers like Trevor-Roper and to pretty young women who suffered being pawed by an elfin old lech. The editor's notes make it worth the price. I Tatti Survivor --
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