Annan, Noel Gilroy 1916-2000
ANNAN, Noel Gilroy 1916-2000
PERSONAL: Born December 25, 1916, in London, England; died February 21, 2000, in London, England; son of James Gilroy and Fannie (Quinn) Annan; married Gabriele Ullstein, 1950; children: two daughters. Education: Kings College, Cambridge, B.A., 1938,M.A.
CAREER: Cambridge University, Kings College, Cambridge, England, fellow, 1946, assistant tutor, 1947, lecturer in politics, 1948-66, provost, 1956-66; University of London, University College, London, England, provost, 1966-78; vice-chancellor, 1978-81. Governor of Stowe School, 1945-66, and of Queen Mary College, London, England, 1956-60; senior fellow of Eton College, 1956-66; member of Arts Committee of Gulbenkian Foundation, 1957-64; trustee, Churchill College, 1958; chair, Departmental Committee on the Teaching of Russian in Schools, 1960; member of Academic Planning Board, University of East Anglia, 1960; chair, University of Essex, 1962; director, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1963; fellow of Berkeley College, Yale, 1963; trustee of British Museum, 1963-78; member of Academic Advisory Committee of Brunel College, 1964, and Committee on Social Studies, 1964; Oxford University, Romanes lecturer, 1965; member of Public Schools Commission, 1966-69; trustee of National Gallery, London, 1978, chair of trustees, 1980-85. Military service: 1940-46; served in Military Intelligence, British War Office, Staff College, Camberley, and on Joint Intelligence Staff, War Cabinet Offices; head of German Political Branch in Political Division of British Control Commission.
MEMBER: Royal Historical Society (fellow).
AWARDS, HONORS: Order of the British Empire, 1946; Le Bas Prize, 1948, for essay; James Tait Black Memorial Prize, 1951, for Leslie Stephen: His Thought and Character in Relation to His Time; commander, Royal Order of King George I of the Hellenes (Greece), 1962; created Life Peer, 1965; honorary fellow, University College, London, 1968; Diamond Jubilee Medal, Institute of Linguists, 1971; D.Litt., York University; D.Univer., University of Essex; D.Litt., University of London, 1997.
Leslie Stephen: His Thought and Character in Relation to His Time, MacGibbon & Kee (London, England), 1951, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1952, revised edition published as Leslie Stephen: The Godless Victorian, Random House (New York, NY), 1984.
Roxburgh of Stowe: The Life of J. F. Roxburgh and His Influence in the Public Schools, Longmans (London, England), 1965, published as The Headmaster: Roxburgh of Stowe and His Influence in English Education, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 1966.
The Disintegration of an Old Culture, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1966.
What Is a University for Anyway, University of Toronto (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1971.
(With Sir Charles J. Curran) Television Today and Tomorrow, Hart-Davis MacGibbon (New York, NY), 1977.
(Editor and author of introduction) Leslie Stephen, Selected Writings in British Intellectual History, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1979.
Our Age: English Intellectuals between the World Wars—A Group Portrait, Random House (New York, NY), 1990, published as Our Age: Portrait of a Generation, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1990.
Changing Enemies: The Defeat and Regeneration of Germany, Norton (New York, NY), 1996.
Dons: Mentors, Eccentrics, and Geniuses, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1999.
(Author of introduction) Personal Impressions, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2001.
Contributor to Studies in Social History, edited by J.H. Plumb, Longmans, Green (London, England), 1955.
SIDELIGHTS: Noel Gilroy Annan was a writer, professor, administrator, and thinker who circulated within and wrote about England's intellectual circles for several decades. Annan is especially remembered for his biography of Leslie Stephen, but he also wrote several social and intellectual histories, as well as biographies of other important figures in English society. He spent a large portion of his career in the realm of higher education, working as both a professor and administrator at the most prominent educational institutions in England. Much of his writing, as well, is devoted to educational thought and history.
Annan revised and expanded his biography of Leslie Stephen more than forty years after its initial publication. Stephen, known as the father of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, was a journalist, the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, the author of intellectual chronicles such as The History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, and an agnostic philosopher. Annan wrote about Stephen as his intellectual descendent. His revised version of the book, with an additional 100 pages, was praised as greatly improved. Bernard Lightman wrote in Victorian Studies, "We should now be grateful to Annan for giving us a revised and expanded edition of his classic study of Leslie Stephen … for it will serve as an even better guide to future Stephen research." Annan primarily adds new scholarship which sheds new light on different factors in Stephen's life and work: new studies of Virginia Woolf and her relationship with her father, newly discovered Stephen correspondence, and contemporary insights on the intellectual context in which Stephen worked—particularly the Bloomsbury group and the Victorian age.
While Stephen was an important man of his age, critics point out that, more than for his accomplishments or arguable brilliance, Stephen is worth writing about because of his place within important intellectual circles and movements of his day. Denis Donoghue explained in the New York Times Book Review, "Stephen illustrated his time at several points without dominating it any. Many aspects of his day are more clearly visible in him than in greater figures, precisely because his relation to them was exemplary rather than dominant." Annan clearly found Stephen a worthwhile thinker in his own right, however. In his book, he chronicled the evolution of Stephen as a scholar, noting some of his most influential ideas, such as his argument that different classes employ different modes of thought. Finally, he presents Stephen as a man, husband, and father. Annan did not ignore the popular images of Stephen as a rather tyrannical father, but took into account the losses of two beloved wives and other hardships.
Annan's biography received abundant praise from critics, both for its thorough and thoughtful intellectual historical context and a remarkably balanced portrayal of Stephen. John Clive of the New York Review of Books wrote, "Though he frankly admits that he likes and admires Stephen for many reasons, he does not by any means see his task as that of counsel for the defense." Frank Kermode wrote in the London Review of Books, "Annan's admiration of Stephen, even his sense of fellowship, is obvious, but he won't overrate him…. He can be pretty hard on Leslie'sshortcomings. Yet there is also a tenderness, and a willingness to defend his man from unjust strictures." Critics also found the book almost flawlessly well-written and entertaining. "Noel Annan has managed to invest the story of Stephen's life with the sort of interest that held this reader spellbound throughout," wrote Clive. A large portion of the biography is devoted to the intellectual context of Stephen's work. Kermode estimated that, "Only about a third of the book deals directly with Stephen's life. The remainder is an attempt to situate him in the context of 19th century ideas, and to trace the later course of those ideas." Critics considered Annan's treatment of this context in and of itself to be successful, but some found fault with the positioning of these different sections of the book. As Clive explained, "Annan's book has only one serious flaw … the division into biography and intellectual history…. Parts of the section on thehistory of ideas are so crammed with intellectual background, philosophical arguments, and disquisitions … that we occasionally lose sight of Stephen himself." Other critics saw the biography primarily as a look at the scholarly life and thought that surrounded Stephen, rather than a traditional biography. Donoghue said, "There is enough biographical material here for most purposes, but the main object is to see Leslie Stephen in relation to the public aspects of his time."
In Our Age: English Intellectuals between the World Wars—A Group Portrait, Annan presented a completely different kind of book. He focused on the English intellectuals who, as reviewer Hugh Trevor-Roper explained in the Spectator, "were born into the middle class, were educated at public schools and certain universities (especially Cambridge), and accepted, propagated, and applied in life and politics certain common ideas." Annan wrote the book not only as an intellectual historian but as an inside member of this group. As such, he wrote in a careful yet confident manner. Paul Addison wrote in the Times Literary Supplement, "He is describing a real world he knew intimately, as a lifelong insider. He understands it socially, as a network of people and institutions, but he understands it intellectually as well, as a historian of ideas." Trevor-Roper agreed, calling it a book "which few other men are qualified to write."
Annan's book essentially concerned itself with the social, political, and artistic issues of the day, especially as they related to the members of Our Age. Such issues include Modernism, pacifism, changing values and concepts of morality, and the so-called "cult of homosexuality." He also focused on specific members, such as Evelyn Waugh, F. R. Leavis, and Michael Oakeshott, as well as including "vignettes" of such figures as P. G. Wodehouse, Bertrand Russell, and T.S. Eliot. In addition to discussions of art movements of the day, Annan negotiated the political influence of these people, particularly in light of Britain's decreasing economic and social stability, usually associated with Margaret Thatcher's reign. Trevor-Roper described how Annan's discussion eventually led to a climax in which "he braces himself to ask the painful question, 'Was Our Age responsible for Britain's decline?'" Annan was impressively fair in his attempt to answer this question, many critics concluded. Addison commended his demonstrated belief that "no ideology possesses a monopoly of the truth," commenting, "He trims both politically and philosophically and his method throughout is to examine both sides of every question." In the Sewanee Review, John McCormick wrote, "No quibbles can challenge the essentially authoritative, always good-natured, nonpolemical tact with which Noel Annan treats his disparate and thorny materials."
Our Age was widely praised, although critics sometimes questioned Annan's subject itself, expressing uncertainty about who comprises "Our Age." Addison said, "He repeatedly uses the phrase 'Our Age' as though it were a sociological fact rather than a loosely defined idea. It is never quite clear who the 'we' of Our Age are." Others questioned the value of, as Addison put it, "another guided tour around Bloomsbury and Oxford." Others contended that Annan was not just another tour guide, but an observer who was just inside enough and just outside enough to provide a refreshing view into this circle and the changes they effected.
Annan's Changing Enemies: The Defeat and Regeneration of Germany was an autobiographical account of the time he spent as a Military Intelligence Officer in the German department during World War II. He gives first-hand accounts of the final surrender of Germany, the rebuilding process, and what took place in between. He also shared his retrospective views of those years, including some British Intelligence strategies that he came to see as flawed.
Critical response to Changing Enemies was dichotomous. Those reviewers who found fault with the book had very few positive comments about it, while others found the book intriguing and refreshing. Nicholas Hiley, in the London Review of Books, criticized Annan primarily for what he considered an obstructively distant narrative voice and style. He called the book generally "cold and detached," accusing Annan of intentionally choosing this style in order to excuse himself from his participation in certain groups and events, and to bow out from discussing his emotional reactions to these same events. "In those places where his experiences might have added to our under-standings of events Annan has almost nothing to say. With regard to the slaughter of the Jews he admits that in Intelligence 'we knew of the gas ovens,' but he does not choose to elaborate on this or to recall his feelings." If his accusation is incorrect, Hiley concluded, "It is hard to understand why Annan should have withdrawn so completely from his own life." Denis MacShane of New Statesman & Society admonished Annan's book over political issues, finding many of his conclusions about the reconstruction of Germany to be outdated or incorrect. He found Annan's "conventional account of how British officials guided Germany into democracy" to be virtually obsolete: "Research has shown the extent to which Germans, after 1945, drew upon their own democratic traditions. Annan, for example, is absolutely wrong about the influence of the TUC on German trade union development."
Other critics found Annan's chronicle purely interesting and enjoyable. Times Literary Supplement reviewer A. J. Nichols described Annan's narrative and analysis as balanced, and commended him for being "refreshingly sceptical about the role of intelligence in the Second World War," and also because he "does not hesitate to pay tribute to the West Germans for their energy and common sense." Others critics lauded the close-up picture Annan gives of high-level goings on and the intimate portraits of the men operating them. They found the book refreshing and engaging both for its perspective and the details Annan chose to include.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
London Review of Books, December 6, 1984; March 7, 1996, p. 15.
New Yorker, July 15, 1991, p. 79.
New York Review of Books, January 31, 1985; May 30, 1991.
New York Times Book Review, December 30, 1984, p. 8; June 16, 1991.
Observer Review, November 5, 1995.
San Francisco Review of Books, May-June, 1985,p. 17.
Sewanee Review, fall, 1985, pp. lxxxiii-lxxxv; winter, 1992, pp. xii-xv.
Spectator, December 22-29, 1990, pp. 57-60.
Times Literary Supplement, November 2-8, 1990,p. 1169-1170; November 24, 1995, p. 12.
Victorian Studies, spring, 1989, pp. 442-444.
New York Times, March 9, 2000, p. A24.
Observer (London), February 27, 2000, p. 28.
Times (London, England), February 23, 2000.
Washington Post, March 10, 2000, p. B7.*