The Civil War, Amanda Foreman, Oxford, Nudity and Large Families

Wednesday, September 14, AD 2011

The above video is an interview with Amanda Foreman who has written a fascinating study of Great Britain and the Civil War, A World on Fire, a book that I have been reading lately.  It is a comprehensive history, 958 pages in length, fully sourced and end noted, not only looking at the diplomatic relations between Great Britain and the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War, but also examining individual Brits who fought on both sides of the War, and studying the travails of British war correspondents who covered the War for British papers.  If the British Empire had entered the War on the side of the Confederacy it is hard to see how the Union would have prevailed, and Great Britain came within inches of doing so during the furor over the Trent affair, the Union seizure of Confederate diplomats Mason and Sliddel from the British mail ship Trent, in 1861.  Foreman masterfully retells this tale, and explains why the Brits ultimately did not intervene throughout the War.   Her tome is one of the more original books on the Civil War that I have read in many a year and very well written.

Whenever I come across a book that I enjoy by an author I am not familiar with, sooner or later I will research the background of the author.  For most historians it is usually dry stuff:  where they attended college, which historians they studied under, academic positions they have held and a list of the books they have written.  The ink stained wretches who serve Clio, the Muse of History, may write about exciting events, but they usually live fairly dull and colorless lives themselves, a historian like Winston Churchill being very much the exception.  Well, I quickly learned that there is very little dull about Ms. Foreman!

Born in 1968 she is a daughter of the late Carl Foreman, a former Commie who was blacklisted in the Fifties.  He was also a screenwriter of genius, producing the script for High Noon.  Foreman embraced Communism, which he later renounced, while studying at my Alma Mater, the University of Illinois. (Well, living among the corn fields at Urbana can do strange things to college students unused to bucolic Central Illinois.!)    After he was blacklisted he moved to England where he enjoyed great success with such films as The Guns of Navarrone and Young Winston, becoming a Commander of the British Empire.  He also married, for the second time, and had two children, Jonathan and Amanda Foreman.  Jonathan Foreman has achieved fame in Britain  as  a war journalist in Iraq, being embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division, and helped found, and writes for, StandPoint , a center-right journal of opinion in Britain that celebrates Western Civilization.  (I wonder what Carl would think?)

Ms. Foreman was educated at a boarding school in England, although she lived with her father in California prior to his death in 1984 of brain cancer.  She attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, and then Columbia.  She earned a Phd in history at Oxford, writing her doctoral dissertation on Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, 1757-1807.  In 1998 she published her doctoral dissertation.  Normally such books fall stillborn from the press, and are usually read only by professors, people who are paid to read them, and students, people who are forced to read them.  Not so this book, which, while a superb history of the Duchess and her era, was written in a lively style by Ms. Foreman, who obviously had inherited a full measure of the dramatic skills of her father.  The book rapidly became a best seller, and was made into a play and a movie.  Not the usual fate for a doctoral dissertation.

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14 Responses to The Civil War, Amanda Foreman, Oxford, Nudity and Large Families

  • Yeesh, I was reading this article about her:

    http://www.docstoc.com/docs/86445129/Amanda-Foreman-The-queen-of-historical-biography

    (Because, yes, curiosity demanded that I look up that picture.) Her husband went through treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma a couple years ago. He’s in remission now, but that’s nasty stuff. (My father managed seven years, with one long and one short remission in there.) With five very young children, they could definitely use our prayers.

    Sounds like a fascinating book.

  • Indeed Darwin. Taking care of 5 kids, nursing an ailing husband and finishing off what may be the definitive study of Anglo-American relations during the Civil War. Ms. Foreman isn’t supermom or superwife, but she isn’t far short!

  • Another book for my seam-bursting Amazon wish list.

  • And she does all of this in *Manhattan.* I love the city, but I can’t imagine a more daunting place to try to raise a large family. I’ll go ahead and say it–Superwife and Supermom.

  • Thanks, Don, I shall read this at the earliest opportunity. When I read history as an undergraduate 40 years ago women on the course outnumbered men by two to one, and yet women academic historians are still very much in the minority; female historical writers seem more drawn to biography. From the evidence of the video clips I would certainly go out of my way to hear her lecture.

    BTW, I know that Oxford D.Phils often preferred the style ‘Mr’ to ‘Dr’ (as do surgeons, even if they have doctorates) but I’m not sure about Ms. – might be confused with the abbreviation for manuscript.

  • Since she kept her own name John, I assumed that Ms. Foreman would have preferred Ms. which of course might be mistaken on my part. I was aware of the Oxford custom of eschewing doctor for “phony docs”, but even if I hadn’t I would not have used the title in a fairly light-hearted post like this. American attorneys, like their Brit counterparts, do not claim the title of doctor, although German attorneys are always referred to as Herr Doktor. American “phony docs” outside of the academic setting tend to be cautious about using the title since Americans in common usage assume that a Doctor is an MD, a vet, a dentist or a chiropractor. Perhaps Dr. Paul Zummo could enlighten us further as to the etiquette of American “phony doc” usage.

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  • Don, the ‘phony docs’ are surely physicians who only have a bachelor’s degree and for whom ‘doctor’ is a courtesy title. Consultant surgeons are still Mr or Mrs although some dentists have recently started using Dr presumably imitating continental or US practice. Vets are Mr or Mrs. Those with doctorates in non-medical disciplines certainly use them; the Abp of Canterbury is Dr Williams.

    Sadly, I no longer receive formal correspondence addressed to J Nolan Esq. as computers can’t cope with it.

  • God Bless her, I hope her husband gets well again.

  • When I saw the headline of this post this morning, my first thought was “Civil War…Amanda Foreman (who is she?)…Oxford…nudity…large families…OK, I can’t process this yet, it’s too early and I haven’t had my coffee.”

    I’m glad I came back tonight to read the post. What a fascinating family! As Dale noted, yet another addition for the Amazon wish list. Thanks, Donald!

  • Thank you Donna! I suspected the headline would produce some question marks!

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  • What astonishes me is that she came from the family of Carl Foreman of all people, who was not, in my opinion, a writer of “genius” but competent nonetheless. Mr Foreman was also a bit of a royal pain on a movie set, with an autocratic style that did not endear him to his fellow workers. Oddly, none of these traits seem to be plaguing Miss Foreman.

    I will read her book. It sounds fascinating.

    And, oh, by the way, if I may say this: please don’t ever forget we are in a war of words, and that means me must never concede to the enemy one single inch of gorund in that war. So avoid using their “Ms” appellation (a meaningless one if ever there was one). “Miss” is the proper term when in doubt, whether the woman is married or not. If you know her to be married it is proper to use her married name, of course. Another war-word is “gay”, so please don’t ever use that perfectly innocent word to describe buggery. The War of the Words is much more important than perhaps you think it is.

  • “And, oh, by the way, if I may say this: please don’t ever forget we are in a war of words, and that means me must never concede to the enemy one single inch of ground in that war.”

    That is your war Dan, not mine. In business usage Ms. is handy when you do not know whether a female is married or unmarried. When a woman chooses to keep her maiden name I assume that she wishes to be addressed by Ms. unless she indicates otherwise.