Richard Davenport-Hines

High & Mighty

Entitled: A Critical History of the British Aristocracy

By

Doubleday 436pp £25 order from our bookshop

Reviewers may be daunted by a book’s erudition, but it is rare to feel intimidated by the violence of the language. Chris Bryant’s Entitled is disturbing partly because it is written in a full-throttle, high-decibel and thought-precluding rage. It comes as a shock that an MP can write a book so narrowly intended for people who already think like him, so crude in battering those who disagree and so set on polarising politics by assuming extreme, intractable positions. The polemical brutality of Entitled hinders free expression.

Starting his story in 679 and ending with the imprisonment of the rabid Brexiter Lord St Davids in 2017, Bryant is relentless in indicting his target class. Aristocrats are condemned, in bulk and with scant differentiation: they are described as ‘phenomenally self-serving’, ‘avaricious’, ‘insatiable’, ‘self-regarding’, ‘struttingly prided’, ‘pretentious’ and ‘sneer[ing] at those without money or title’. Phrases like ‘over-vaunting ambition’ and ‘patrician elitism’ are flung like poison darts. Their ‘narcissism and inbreeding’ endowed them with overweening entitlement, which in turn engendered ‘greed, licentiousness, violence, mendacity’ and other vices. ‘For much of their history they were a perpetual grievance machine, standing on their dignity, asserting their private rights and privileges, and instigating unnecessary wars at home and abroad.’ More than 400 pages belittling any social group – the jobless, judges, GCSE candidates, office workers, EU citizens, toffs – makes for ugly reading and ought to be unacceptable. 

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • In this month's Silenced Voices, Lucy Popescu shines a light on Myanmar's persecution of writers and journalists, p… ,
    • Lecture on war and peace in 19th-century Europe by Professor Sir Richard Evans, Thurs 25 Oct, 6.30pm Europe House… ,
    • 'Why, throughout the world, are so many people fascinated by the fiction and reality of espionage? And why of all p… ,
    • . here on books, Muriel Spark and life's tangled dance ,
    • RT : There aren't enough aggressive subtitles these days: ,
    • Churchill's on the cover of the October edition of the magazine. Piers Brendon reviews two new books about the Brit… ,
    • 'Readers have no more power to predict where the next story is going to take them than the prisoners had to determi… ,