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Book Review: The Kit-Cat Club - Friends Who Imagined a Nation, by Ophelia Field
My interest in this subject derives from a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in London, whose top floor contains a room of portraits of Club members by Sir Godfrey Kneller. I am aware that I'm not all that knowledgeable about history - a state that I think can be only tangentially ascribed to the fact that I dropped the subject at school at 14, as I was definitely taught the "New Math" version of history.

Perhaps surprisingly, I found Field somewhat opaque on the origins of the club (named after Christopher Cat [or Catling], pie-maker extraordinaire); she chooses to begin in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, but ascribes the origins to be more commercial than political, as publisher Jacob Tonson sought to build relationships between writers and patrons. However, the membership of the club was definitely on the Whig side, and most of the history Field writes relates to the political power struggles around the turn of and into the early eighteenth century. Indeed it seems everything had a political interpretation: plays, music and operas, and architecture. The Kit-Cat's political aim was to build a more meritocratic English establishment, though this was defended with fervour in terms of the prosecution of Continental wars and Jacobite suppression. At home, their struggle with the Tories and Queen Anne led to publications of various pamphlets, including originals of The Spectator and The Tatler. After the Hanoverian succession, the club felt it had secured its primary aims and members drifted apart.

Field acknowledges in her introduction that she has focused primarily on the literary figures in the Club such as Addison and Steele; there are some members whose names feature only in her listing as an appendix. I found one or two sections at either end of the book a bit diffuse, but I suspect more knowledge of the times is assumed.
Tags: books, food, history, politics
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