A History of the French in London: Liberty, Equality, Opportunity by Debra Kelly & Martyn Cornick (edd) - review by Jonathan Keates

Jonathan Keates

It’s Raining Frogs

A History of the French in London: Liberty, Equality, Opportunity


Institute of Historical Research 488pp £40

‘When I consider this great city in its several quarters or divisions,’ wrote Joseph Addison in 1712, ‘I look upon it as an aggregate of various nations distinguished from each other by their respective customs, manners and interests.’ Three centuries later the French ‘nation’ has become so numerous that London is now effectively France’s sixth biggest city, with over 300,000 French citizens. French magazines routinely keep style-conscious readers up to date with photoshoots and articles on le look londonien, while the irresistible creep of franglais, that linguistic equivalent of Japanese knotweed, has made the term ‘so-British’ (pronounced à la française) an ironic seal of approval.

England (not Britain – the French love the Scots and the Irish) is France’s archetypal Other. A nation profoundly loathed and despised, she is nevertheless a nurse worth keeping hold of, an abiding sanctuary at those historical moments, not infrequent, when what Mr Micawber called ‘our lively neighbour the Gaul’

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