As a grad student, reading a monograph and not necessarily understanding it is not an uncommon thing. Indeed, one often gets bogged down in theory, confused by the use of unfamiliar types of evidence, and sometimes even the very essence of the argument itself. I strive to find the positive in every book I read, even if it is outside of my field or areas of interest (both temporally and spatially). But then there was John Bossy’s ‘Under the Mole Hill…’
As I pointed out in class yesterday, the selection of the book as the BBC History Magazine book of the year represents a very different impression of the work than the one we all collectively constructed (with the exception of D.E., sorry). To look at the back cover of the book once more, the quotes offer further examples of the disparity between our opinions and those of high literary minds. This quote truly illustrates that point: ‘John Bossy tells this story with all his familiar narrative flair,’ by Ralph Houlbrooke of the Times Literary Supplement. While his narrative prose was nice, and actually pleasant, when it appeared, it was hampered by his uneven and often confusing analysis. His attempt at leaving a trail for his reads to follow turned into a spasmodic spreading of breadcrumbs leading to frustration and aggravation.
As we touched on in class yesterday, the audience for Bossy’s work was profoundly limited, perhaps even within a microcosm of a microcosm of a microcosm of the academy in Yorkshire. Indeed, Bossy’s history of an ‘Elizabethan Spy Story’ is the epitome of the micro-history. During the discussion yesterday, it was postulated that maybe this was Bossy’s response to the movement of writing accessible, almost meta-narratives in the hopes of reaching an audience beyond the confines of academia. If this is his proverbial middle-finger to that turn in historical writing, imagine his response to something pedestrian he might take offense to.
This post is a testament to my contempt and loathing of this book. I have rambled on for over three hundred words now in an attempt to avoid engaging with the book itself. I typically enjoy scholarship which engages in a difficult, thought provoking question or problem. Yet, I am at an absolute loss. The one positive I can offer it that at least it was short. But perhaps the subject would have been better served by a work twice as long. Good lord…what have I just suggested?! Indeed, my only positive comment is in fact a negative.