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. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • From the Archive: Martyn Bedford on Ian McEwan's 'Atonement' ,
    • In 'Silenced Voices' reports the ongoing story of the human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been… ,
    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,