Hi there! Yes, I'm afraid that the day has come: time for a bit of weighty scholarship!

So, today, I was at the library, looking for a Nelson biography to cherish, and there were two to choose from. I won't name the books or authors concerned, but one was what we might call a 'conventional' view of the man, with a particular emphasis on the military side. I had also been for it for quite a while. However, the other book was a 'revisionist' view, and from what I had read about it, seemed like a pretty mean-spirited one at that. I decided to take the more conventional book, but while walking to the bus stop, I couldn't help but wonder who was right about Nelson.

The problem with some revisionist studies, at least from my experience, is that they focus on one or two specific events and use them to drag the subject into disrepute. In most cases, revisionist Nelson scholars tend to focus on his affair with Lady Hamilton or his sycophantic conduct at the Neapolitan court, although the two might be said to go hand in hand. They argue against a hagiography of Nelson that in fact rarely exists among today's scholars, and in fact has not really existed since the age of Victorian heroic idealism. Reputable scholars both acknowledge and censure the way he behaved at Naples, not only in the context of the actual event, but also in the way that it shows us a more general picture of his character; a man who slavishly devoted himself to those who represented the ideal royalty for whom he was fighting, his love of flattery, vanity and his love of gaining new titles - in short, being a hero. However, the affair with Emma is a more thorny issue. Some biographers side overwhelmingly with Emma, while others point out that his callous abandonment of Lady Nelson was unforgivable. Still others choose to avoid controversy entirely, stating the facts and offering only rather anodyne speculation as to what really went on. 

Hmmm... That was very heavy! Feel free to put your own ideas in the comments box!
Rosie :)
6/29/2012 07:49:09 am

Indeed, "revisionist" histories tend to be overly negative, as if the authors get oodles of enjoyment out of bebasing someone's character or minimizing something's worth. I am always frustrated by the way Britain, as a country, is debased in some modern history books. Sure, people are a mixed bag of good and bad traits, Nelson included, and nations have to face up to their unsavory actions. But to try to negate all the good and honor and truth and beauty and make it all base is just low down. I hope you enjoy your reading!

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