Hilaire Belloc Hardcover – 1 Jan 1984
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'One of those outstanding biographies, which have the deeper and wider resonance of a novel... a marvellous book.' Sunday Telegraph 'It is a bonus when amusing subject and amusing author coincide. This fortunate conjunction has occurred with Wilson writing with poise and pace on Belloc.' The Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
A.N. Wilson is one of Britain's most popular writers of biography and history, and the recipient of many prizes. He writes regularly for the Telegraph and Daily Mail. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
The book’s four-hundred-or-so pages are split into sixteen chapters, with Belloc’s life itself in two parts: the first, entitled ‘Old Thunder’, takes us through his first forty-four years up to the death of his wife, which Wilson sees as the dividing line of the life, augmented by that of the death of his son in the Great War; the second, ‘Mr Belloc’, narrates his final thirty-nine years, for “he went on using mourning paper, and wearing black clothes, for the rest of his life, outwardly bluff and sarcastic and funny as before, but with a face almost perpetually darkened with a shadow of death”
And Belloc’s life was perpetually on the move: up to the time of his stroke, aged seventy-one, “School terms at the Oratory can have been the only spells when he was in the same place for more than three months in the space of his entire life.” Early on, Wilson addresses the reader directly about Belloc’s anti-Semitism: “The biographer is forced to speculate where Belloc’s undoubted antipathy to the Jews came from. He must try to explain it.Read more ›
Wilson's biography is a fairly straightforward chronological account from Belloc's birth during a thunderstorm to death as an eccentric figure with a large white beard hiding facial asymmetry caused by a stroke. Wilson's sources are mostly documents in Boston College, Mass., but he energetically corresponded and met people with such surnames as Asquith and LeFanu, and such abbreviations as SJ.
There isn't much in the way of Belloc's personal history of ideas. Unless a certain envy of people who'd made, or held on to, wealth, counts as an idea. Let me look at a few topics....
 Catholicism and anti-Catholicism. Belloc was of course Catholic in the western sense, not Greek or Russian Orthodox; so far as I can tell he had no liking of these. Hunting through Wilson's index, I could find no trace of Joseph McCabe, born in almost exactly the same year, an incredibly prolific author of whom Belloc was certainly aware. As far as I know, Belloc never entertained any doubts as to the actual existence of Jesus. His Catholicism must have been reinforced by G K Chesterton, a lifelong friend. (According to Wilson, Belloc retained all his friends throughout his life). I have a copy of 'Survivals and New Arrivals', an account of heresies old and new; it is interesting but of course any rationalist will be unable to take the philosophical side very seriously. He mentions Islam, and in fact wrote a bit about it - for example, Mediterranean pirates being just about a living memory.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
By the bye, one really should purchase Mr. Wilson's works before they all fall out of print--they are quite well constructed, very entertainingly written, just not quite up to a certain level . . . well, you can piece together the rest.
Later in life I fell in love with his riotous writing again in his cruising and sailing book - that freely wanders into politics and history - The cruise of the 'Nona'. However my enthusiasm for his authorship came to grief when I tried to read some of his historical and biographical works and I quickly tired of his extreme evangelical preaching and his then fashionable (before the Holocaust), anti-Semitism.
Having enjoyed the works of Wilson before - and being only a little wary of his evangelical periods, interspersed with bouts of agnostic fervor - I was not prepared at all for this sad story of a wonderful, fiery politician with strong views tempered by a compassion for others that totally went on in his career to dissipate his talents in the cause of his religion. To this reader it was as if a philatelist allowed his hobby to override his judgment and to totally swamp all other skills, talents and interests.
Wilson covers his subject's life from a mildly pampered, dual citizenship childhood spent partly in France and partly in various English estates and private schools, through the sad and very lonely end of Belloc's career, marriage and life.
A very good Biography - but still, what a wasted life of great potential for true good.
Wilson sees Belloc as a much better conversationalist and personal correspondent than writer, a man who resented the establishment’s lack of appreciation for his intellect, abilities, and religion; a hard drinking grossly unkempt controversialist who is willing to lie to support an argument but who nevertheless “lost almost no friends, in the course of his life, except through death.” Preferring to wander than stay in one place, Wilson’s Belloc is a disinterested father and editor.
Wilson terms Belloc’s spirituality “dessicate,” a word he attributes to Belloc, but paradoxically, or perhaps inconsistently, Wilson also shows him weeping at the Latin hymns during benediction.
The footnotes appear at the bottom of the pages. They can be maddening, not because of their content, but because of sloppy proofreading. For example, while the text may include a numeral indicating there is a footnote, the footnote is missing.
I couldn’t help but think that Wilson would have written a better biography if he had been more sympathetic to Belloc and his beliefs.