Heroic Failure and the British

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  • Author:
    Stephanie Barczewski
    Apparently as a nation we hold failure in esteem, or at least we have during specific time periods of our history. This is the central theme of this book and explores several incidents in depth along with an analysis of the impact they had on the British nation as a whole and reveals why we have this need to worship failure.

    It covers a mixture of failures but focuses upon explorers and military failures. Among the explorers are Mungo Parks, Sir John Franklin, David Livingstone and Captain Scott whilst the military include charges such as Aliwal, Chillianwallah and the Light Brigade and last stands like Isandlwana and Maiwand, Gordon of Khartoum getting an entire chapter to himself.

    The subjects are fairly varied and over a time span of about a hundred and fifty years, mainly during the time of Victoria and during the biggest expansion of the Empire. The author's premise is that whilst we conquering vast portions of the globe and making happy with the red crayon on the map of the world, it had to be not easy. for Victorian sensibilities sake, it could not just be that we were waltzing in and over running by virtue of superior firepower but the locals had to be seen to have a chance. As such, the occasional loss to them, preferably overwhelming suited that ideal.

    It is an interesting idea, which is then carried forward to help deal with the subsequent decline of the Empire, we talk about Dunkirk as a high point of the Second World War, a successful mass evacuation. More recently we have the likes of a succession of tennis players who have all nearly succeeded until Andy Murray actually did win Wimbledon.

    Do we enjoy failure? Is it a national trait that has been with us for some time, that is debatable but there is no doubt that some failures are held in high regard, Captain Scott for example, others are less fashionable these days such as Franklin and perhaps are recognised more as poor performers.

    The self sacrifice of Oates on Scott's fatal final trip will never leave our national psyche and for over a century now has epitomised the ideal British reaction to severe adversity. His elevation to hero at the time has never been revoked but Scott's own character has gone in and out of fashion as has his fellow Polar explorer Shackleton.

    At time of writing this (April 2016) it is £15.19 for Kindle and £16.59 for hardback via Amazon

    It is an interesting read, well written and well illustrated. I'd give it 4 Mr Mushroomheads

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  1. beardyProf
    Judging by attitudes on ARRSE we still do. I'd suggest it goes alongside our anti-intellectualism. A book I'm currently reading "Albion the origins of English imagination" by Peterr Ackroyd, would ink these characteristics to our art as well.