Balfour's World

Balfour's World

Aristocracy and Political Culture at the Fin de Siècle

Nancy W. Ellenberger

Personal eBook

Boydell Press



An exploration of political culture in Britain in the last decades of the nineteenth century, revealing how Arthur Balfour and his circle served as a clear bridge between the Victorians and the moderns in Britain's twentieth-century political culture.
Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930) was born toward the beginning of Queen Victoria's long reign. At her death in 1901, he was a year away from becoming the first prime minister of the Edwardian era. In the quarter century after his entry into political life in the 1870s, Britain experienced material changes and a sense of intensifying human interactions as dramatic to his generation as the forces of globalization are today. Aristocrats watched anxiously as gifted boys from the middle classes rose to the top in professional life. Culture wars over male and female behaviours erupted at home, as small wars of empire proliferated overseas. Politicians came to terms with electioneering among the masses and with a boisterous print culture that prefigured the mass media of the next century. The first great era of advanced, international capitalism affected every segment of British and imperial society, including the rarefied domain of Arthur Balfour.

That changes of the magnitude that Balfour's generation faced would demand different skills, career paths or political alignments is not surprising. That they might also result in the creation of different emotional sets and interior worlds may be more so. Balfour's World provides an intimate history of how Arthur and his friends - George Herbert, 13th Earl of Pembroke; Laura and Margot (later Lady Asquith) Tennant; Mary and George Wyndham - helped to construct a new 'emotional regime' among Britain's political elites at the fin de siècle. The rich diaries, letters and publications they left allow access both to public selves and to inner landscapes, and the mix of psychological patterns and cultural assumptions that mediated their responses to the world. As the new century began, the demeanours modelled by habitués of Balfour's world would characterize many in the imperial elite, marking them as a clear bridge between the Victorians and the moderns in Britain's twentieth-century political culture.

NANCY W. ELLENBERGER is Professor of History at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland.


17 black and white illustrations
430 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Hardback, 9781783270378, September 2015
Personal eBook, 9781782046127, September 2015
Library eBook
Boydell Press
BISAC HIS015000, HIS037060
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Arthur Balfour
Men of Fortune
Domestic Scripts
Small Wars
Interlude: 'The Pivot of Politics'
Strange Friends
Political Performances
Country House Party
Interlude: Fin de Siècle
Terra Incognita
Celebrity and Scandal


A book that should be read not just by those interested in Balfour and his acquaintances, but by anyone seeking to learn more about late Victorian society and how the young members of its elite adapted to the new demands they faced. CERCLES

(Ellenberger uses) exhaustive research in diaries, letters, and memoirs of the period to show how private and public lives evolved with the Edwardian outlook. Recommended. CHOICE

'Professor Ellenberger's study of Arthur Balfour and his place in the political and social world of late Victorian Britain is marked by scrupulous research into the archives of the times and also by an incisive reading of recent critical and theoretical work. Elegantly and gracefully written, the book exposes Balfour's world with its complicated-sometimes louche-elements in new and important ways.' William C. Lubenow

'Nancy Ellenberger offers the most comprehensive account yet of the fin de siècle aristocratic milieu of Arthur Balfour and those relatives and friends of both sexes who together were known as "The Souls". She explores these networks of political, social and sexual connection with great skill, subtlety and sophistication, and she is the first historian to give as much (and much-needed) attention to their private as to their public lives. The result is a fascinating and revealing book, which is a major contribution to the political, social and cultural history of late nineteenth-century Britain.' David Cannadine