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Hilaire Belloc by A. N. Wilson

Hilaire Belloc

by A. N. Wilson

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Like many an English lad “of a certain age” I read and loved Belloc’s books, supposedly written for children and very bad ones at that. Certainly the humor is wicked and proved to be very appealing for many generations, particularly with the illustrations and ideas of Lord Basil Temple Blackwood. (http://www.librarything.com/work/4103676) In fact it was re-published as late as 2008 and is offered for sale still today.

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 who wasted his career and dissipated 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. When his wife of 17 years, at just forty-two, died Belloc turned the key to her bedroom. For forty more years each time he passed that door he kissed it and made the sign of the cross. Love.

A very good Biography – but still, what a wasted life of great potential for true good.
  John_Vaughan | Apr 27, 2012 |
A fine biography of the writer Graham Greene dubbed ""the most unlikable man of letters of our time."" Actually, Belloc (1870-1953) was both amiable (witty, gregarious, loyal) and obnoxious (blustering, bigoted, anti-Semitic) in the extreme. But no one who penned the immortal Cautionary Tales could be all bad. In any case, it's not easy to do justice to Belloc: he wrote something like 150 books and smaller works, but most of them were potboilers; he spent four years in Parliament (1906-10), but his blend of revolutionary radicalism (he wanted to abolish the House of Lords) and fascism (he idolized Mussolini) seems chimerical; he worshipped his wife Elodie, but spent most of their married life (1896-1914) wandering far from her in Europe and America; he was immensely clubbable but barely presentable (unwashed, unkempt, breadcrumbs all over his clothes, wine bottles in his pocket); he roared out his Roman Catholic certitudes, his categorical, wrongheaded judgments on everything under the sun (tsarist Russia was the safest place for investments, America in the 1920s was on the verge of anti-Jewish violence), but at bottom he felt frightened and insecure.
added by John_Vaughan | editKirkus (Apr 26, 1984)
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I pray -- for fashion's word is out and prayer comes round again -- that I may seem, though I die old, a foolish, passionate man. W. B. Yeats
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Hilaire Belloc was born during a thunder-storm on July 27, 1870, nine days after Pius IX had declared the doctrine of papal infallibility, and two days before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0749324074, Paperback)

Belloc sought fame, and it came to him early: after a stormy Oxford career, he quickly made a reputation with his novels, essays, and poems, his flamboyant way of life, and his radical politics. With full access to the Belloc archives, the author explores Belloc's private and public life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:23 -0400)

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