This article is intended as a sequel to the one published in Albion 28, 4 ([Winter 1996]: 607–33). As with the earlier article, it reflects the wealth of recent scholarship and adopts a wide definition of politics, and there is a powerful element of choice and subjectivity. The last arises in part from the breadth of the subject. A definition of the political culture and process of the period that directs attention to cultural, religious, social and gender issues is not one that can be readily summarized by restricting attention to the world of Court, Parliament, and the political elite.
Last time I began with cultural politics, and it is worth renewing this approach because the role of discourses as both forms of political expression and the subject of historical study remain important. The most prominent book in this field was a disappointment. John Brewer's The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century (1997) is a work about and of consumerism. The forcing house of eighteenth-century public demand provides the essential pressure for cultural modernization and for the definition of taste in this account. Consumerism has also structured Brewer's book as a cultural and intellectual artefact. As he acknowledges, he wanted to ensure that the book “would be a beautiful object,” and HarperCollins has amply fulfilled this requirement. The publisher was also responsible for fighting what Brewer terms the “alien abstractions” of the original prose, and presumably for the decision to dispense with footnotes. The book as consumer product contributes to the sumptuous cover illustration, a painting of “Sir Rowland and Lady Winn in the Library at Nostell Priory,” to the photograph of the relaxed author on the dust-jacket, and to the laudatory quotes from two big names, Simon Schama and Lisa Jardine, not noted for their work on the subject but then most potential purchasers would not know that.