Paperback: Decency and Disorder, by Ben Wilson

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The Independent Culture

Devoted (if you credit the media) to booze, lechery and brawls, Britain seems to have reverted to its 18th-century manners. This outstanding history explains how the country first went "respectable". Spanning the age from the French Revolution to the arrival of Victoria, 1789 to 1837, Wilson shows how radicals and libertines looked on aghast as the evangelical middle-class hastened the spread of "cant" in a land of four-lettered freedom. It's a history of self-image as much as events: maybe Georgians were not so wild, proto-Victorians not so prim, as they thought. But even the high ideals of the prigs – such as anti-slavery – suffered from a taint of hypocrisy.

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