Bentley, Michael (John) 1948-
BENTLEY, Michael (John) 1948-
PERSONAL: Born August 12, 1948, in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England; son of Peter Roy and Jessie (Burgess) Bentley; married Jane Fisher, July 25, 1970 (divorced, 1994); children: Hannah, Daniel. Education: University of Sheffield, B.A., 1969; St. John's College, Cambridge, Ph.D., 1975.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Modern History, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Fife KY16 9AL, Scotland.
CAREER: Educator and historian. University of Sheffield, Sheffield, England, professor of history, 1977-95; University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland, professor of modern history, 1995—.
MEMBER: Royal Historical Society (fellow).
(Editor, with John Stevenson) High and Low Politics in Modern Britain: Ten Studies, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1983.
The Climax of Liberal Politics: British Liberalism inTheory and Practice, 1868-1918, Edward Arnold, 1987.
(Editor) Public and Private Doctrine: Essays in British History Presented to Maurice Cowling, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1993.
(Editor) Companion to Historiography, Routledge (London, England), 1997.
Modern Historiography: An Introduction, Routledge (New York, NY), 1999.
Lord Salisbury's World: Conservative Environments inLate-Victorian Britain, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: British history professor Michael Bentley, a former student of political-science scholar Maurice Cowling, is the author of several volumes analyzing political currents in England during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The body of Bentley's early work belongs to a movement in British historicalpolitical analysis referred to as high politics. This school of thought is founded on the premise that Britain's ideologically based liberal and conservative parties have little to do with political action; rather, it is a group of several dozen influential politicians that actually define what laws are passed and which policies are instituted. According to this theory, the only way to understand politics is to examine the intricate day-to-day maneuverings that occur behind the scenes. Historical analysis utilizing the high-politics model is marked by a decidedly cynical tone devoid of any ingenuous ideas about discourse among the nation's movers and shakers. Bentley's first three works attempt to analyze historical and political events in England based on these theorems.
The Liberal Mind, 1914-1929, Bentley's first published volume, appeared in 1977. The work chronicles the dramatic changes that occurred within the Liberal Party in England over the course of fifteen years. During this period the country entered World War I, battled with Ireland over its independence, resolved some vociferous labor troubles, and later enjoyed the prosperity of the 1920s. Bentley chronicles the transformation of the Liberal Party that took place under Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and, later, within the coalition government of David Lloyd George, himself a Liberal. Bentley postulates that this transformation was due to two ideological factions within the party represented by each leader, and that the ultimate demise of the Liberal Party was the result of the sentimental attitude to which its senior members clung.
In putting forth the thesis of The Liberal Mind, Bentley utilizes lesser-known sources. Rather than relying solely on published remarks by the leading politicians of the era, he quotes from journal entries and private letters, providing a more intimate glimpse of the ideological changes occurring among party leadership.
Bentley's second book, 1983's High and Low Politics in Modern Britain: Ten Studies, is a collaborative effort with John Stevenson that discusses, through a series of essays, the dynamics of modern historicalpolitical scholarship in England. The writings of the influential Cowling spawned numerous other works by followers of his theories on high politics, and this ignited a debate among contemporary British political scientists. Battle lines were drawn between those who espoused Cowling's theories and those who vehemently discounted them. The points of contention centered around the use of more private sources as a basis for analysis, and the cynical view held by Bentley and others as to the real forces that drive politics. High and Low Politics attempts to give voice to both sides of the argument. In their essays, Bentley and Stevenson defend aspects of high-political scholarship, and are joined by other noted observers such as Henry Pelling and Kenneth Morgan. On the other side of the issue, Jose Harris, D. C. Watt, and Peter Clarke argue against such interpretations of political power, although their cases against it are not direct rebuttals. Times Literary Supplement reviewer J. A. Turner faulted this aspect of the volume, noting that "the root of the trouble seems to have been the editors' bashfulness about prescribing the terms of the debate to their contributors." Yet Turner also commended High and Low Politics for its aim of clarifying some issues of the debate, observing that "there is no recrimination here, and the essays themselves, written by distinguished scholars, are individually of the highest quality."
Politics without Democracy; Great Britain, 1815-1914: Perception and Preoccupation in British Governmentis Bentley's third published volume. The 1984 work examines the movement toward a more democratic political structure in England during the nineteenth century. The book is divided into two sections: the era prior to 1865, defined by the author as a period of "pressure from without"—a movement toward more democratic precepts that came from outside the actual institutions of power—and the era following 1865, grouped under the concept of "pressure from within." Bentley discusses the key leaders of the various eras of the century, including Tory Prime Minister Robert Peel and later Liberal successor to the post William E. Gladstone, and the behind-the-scenes machinations among them that helped shape the country's political climate. Politics without Democracy also evaluates the important social and economic factors that impacted the political infrastructure, such as industrialization and British colonialism. Norman Gash of the Times Literary Supplement faulted the work for factual inaccuracies that, though individually trivial, "collectively . . . suggest a disturbing carelessness"; the critic also stated that "the elliptical style of Bentley's narrative technique" compounds the text's detractions. However, Gash conceded that "with all its blemishes . . . this is a book which deserves to be read both for the enjoyment and mental stimulus," and granted that Bentley "has a sharp mind, a sharp pen, and an iconoclastic approach."
The author examined his own field of history-writing with two books. Edited by Bentley, 1997's Companion to Historiography contains forty-five essays that examine the ways history has been written from both Eastern and Western perspectives. Bentley contributed his own 100-page survey of western historiography from the Enlightenment to the present day, an effort that English Historical Review critic William Stafford called "especially good." Stafford added that "these specialist essays are the cream of the volume: it is difficult for any historian to assess the quality over such a wide range, but the individual essays seem to me to be almost without exception authoritative and first-rate." R. C. Richardson, reviewing the book for Clio, noticed discrepancies in the amount of coverage devoted to different areas of historiography: "Asia gets much more space than Africa," Richardson wrote, "and Latin America acquires more prominence than the United States. Chronology seems to have a bearing, too, in the space finally allotted to the different parts. Early modern historiography gets more pages than the medieval section, which in turn receives a larger allocation of space than the ancient world. The modern age is given more chapters than all the rest of them put together."
Modern Historiography: An Introduction followed in 1999. Christopher Kent characterized this work as "an excellent, focused little survey covering Western European and North American historiography from the Enlightenment to the present with thematic emphasis on the development of the profession." Kent, continuing in his Canadian Journal of History report, noted that in Bentley's book "particular attention is given to German methodological debates, the impact of the Annales school, and the current 'moods' of historiography, including the postmodern." English Historical Review contributor John Tosh lauded the author for writing "refreshingly on the scholarly impact of successive waves of intellectual refugees from Tsarism, Nazism and Communism," but found that "Marxist historiography is almost entirely ignored."
Bentley paid homage to his old mentor by editing a festschrift titled Public and Private Doctrine: Essays in British History Presented to Maurice Cowling. This work brings together a dozen historians who "treat . . . the guest of honour, or rather his ideas, as a subject for serious and critical engagement instead of cosy celebration," according to Paul Smith of the English Historical Review. Victorian Studies reviewer Peter Marsh felt "there is an unusually personal focus to this festschrift, which invests it with an equally unusual conceptual unity." While he had praise for Bentley's editing skills in this volume, however, Marsh also remarked on the author's contribution to Public and Private Doctrine: an "essay on the religious dimensions of Victorian historiography [that] is among the least successful."
Bentley turns to historiographic biography with Lord Salisbury's World: Conservative Environments in Late-Victorian Britain, published in 2002. This study examines the image of Queen Victoria's four-time prime minister, a political conservative whose policies helped guide the Tory Party into the twentieth century. In fashioning this book Bentley's goal, noted Times Literary Supplement critic Martin Pugh, was "to re-create the mental environment in which [Lord Salisbury] . . . functioned. The result is a remarkably wide-ranging thematic treatment, examining [Salisbury's] views on, among other things, property, the State, the Church, Empire and the Party, enlivened by some pungent quotations and suggestive observations."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Albion, spring, 1995, review of Public and PrivateDoctrine: Essays in British History Presented to Maurice Cowling, p. 173.
British Book News, January, 1985, p. 59; April, 1987, p. 206; August, 1987, p. 513.
Canadian Journal of History, December, 1999, Christopher Kent, review of Modern Historiography: An Introduction, p. 385.
Choice, July, 1985, p. 1681; June, 1988, p. 1608; February, 1998, S. Bailey, review of Companion to Historiography, p. 1045; July, 1999, review of Modern Historiography, p. 1993.
Clio, winter, 1999, review of Companion to Historiography, p. 231.
Contemporary Review, March, 2002, James Munson, review of Lord Salisbury's World: Conservative Environments in Late-Victorian Britain, p. 191.
English Historical Review, June, 1996, Paul Smith, review of Public and Private Doctrine, p. 778; June, 1998, William Stafford, review of Companion to Historiography, p. 691; February, 2001, John Tosh, review of Modern Historiography, p. 152.
History, June, 1995, P. F. Clarke, review of Public andPrivate Doctrine, p. 324; January, 1999, Martyn Housden, review of Companion to Historiography, p. 95.
History Today, July, 1989, p. 54; February, 1995, Jose Harris, review of Public and Private Doctrine,p. 61.
International History Review, December, 1998, Simon Hornblower, review of Companion to Historiography, p. 934.
Journal of Modern History, March, 1986, p. 307.
Library Association Record, October, 1997, review of Companion to Historiography, p. 558.
Library Journal, August, 1997, Mark Grover, review of Companion to Historiography, p. 76.
Reference and Research Book News, November, 1997, review of Companion to Historiography, p. 17; August, 1999, review of Modern Historiography,p. 18.
Times Educational Supplement, April 8, 1988, p. 23.
Times Literary Supplement, December 16, 1983, J. A. Turner, review of High and Low Politics in Modern Britain: Ten Studies, p. 1409; November 9, 1984, Norman Gash, review of Politics without Democracy; Great Britain, 1815-1914: Perception and Preoccupation in British Government, p. 1292; April 19, 2002, Martin Pugh, "A Believer in Society," p. 26.
Victorian Studies, summer, 1986, p. 654; spring, 1989, p. 445; winter, 1997, Peter Marsh, review of Public and Private Doctrine, p. 356.*