Gladstone: A Biography

In This Review

Gladstone: A Biography

By Roy Jenkins
Random House, 1997
698 pp. $35.00

This wonderfully readable volume gives us a brilliant account of the politics of nineteenth-century England, and of the weight of the "Irish question" in particular. But Jenkins, a former statesman, also writes with a novelist's gifts. What is, therefore, particularly admirable is the re-creation of character, the psycho logical insights into the motivations and complexities of a formidable, tormented, "most remarkable specimen of humanity." Gladstone was a man whose energy -- physical as well as intellectual -- was awesome, a voracious and erudite reader, a great orator, and a man who claimed that "religion was more important to him than politics." Between 1845 and 1851 (from his 36th to his 42nd year) Gladstone "experienced four religio-sexual emotional crises" in which "temptation and guilt in combination indisputably produced high states of neurotic tension." Gladstone's wife once exclaimed: "Oh, William dear, if you weren't such a great man you would be a terrible bore." With his extreme sensitivity and frequent self-righteousness, he must indeed have been more than a little hard to take. But the sprightly, smooth style of Jenkins removes any possibility of boredom. In an age of enormous biographies, many of which tend to be "pathographies," this study manages to seem short, and does full justice to its eminent subject.

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