Monday, January 24, 2005


An excellent essay in the London Review of Books on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. A sample:
"Since this is still predominantly a compendium of men written by men, the right searches ought to yield some illumination about favoured male self-descriptions. Perhaps surprisingly, only 17 of our national heroes were ‘all-round sportsmen’, and only two had ‘dashing good looks’, but ‘attractive to women’ throws up a fascinating medley of attitudes among its 27 results.

Some concentrate on the physical, such as the entry for Edwin Booth (1833-93, ‘actor’) – ‘with dark eyes, long dark hair, romantic good looks, and a warm musical voice, Booth was attractive to women’ – and some not, such as that on Marcus Cunliffe (1922-90, ‘Americanist’), who is described as ‘generous, relaxed, charming, urbane, vivacious, witty, playful and attractive to women’.

Others excite more sympathy, such as Thomas Jones (1870-1955, ‘civil servant and benefactor’) whose agreeable qualities ‘made him particularly attractive to women, especially after his wife’s death’; one immediately senses a whole squadron of those female ‘forceful personalities’ steaming over the horizon."


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