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A. L. Rowse
A. L. Rowse (December 4, 1903 - October 3, 1997) was a British historian best known for his poetry about Cornwall and his work on Elizabethan England. He was also a Shakespearean scholar and a biographer. He developed a widespread reputation for irascibility and intellectual arrogance.
Alfred Leslie Rowse was born in Tregonissey near St Austell, Cornwall, the son of Dick Rowse, a china clay miner, and Annie (neé Vaston). His parents were very poor and virtually illiterate. Despite this handicap and fragile health, he attended St. Austell grammar school and won a scholarship to Christ Church College, Oxford in 1921. He had planned to study literature, having developed an early love of poetry, but was persuaded to read modern history. Whilst an undergraduate he developed a reputation for his devotion to speaking precisely correct English and for his candour about his homosexual behaviour. He was a popular student and made many friendships that lasted for life. He graduated with first class honours in 1925 and was made a Fellow of All Souls' College; the first such Fellow from a working class background. was awarded his Master of Arts degree in 1929. In 1927 he became a lecturer at Merton College and stayed there until 1930. In 1931 contested the parliamentary seat of Penryn and Falmouth for the Labour Party but he was unsuccessful and became a lecturer at the London School of Economics until the next election (in 1935). He was again unsuccessful and returned to Oxford as Sub-Warden of the All Souls but was defeated in his election as Warden in 1952, shortly after which he retired to Trenarren, his Cornish home, for the remainder of his life. He received a doctorate (D. Litt.) from the university in 1953. After delivering the British Academy's 1957 Raleigh Lecture on History about Sir Richard Grenville's place in English history he became a Fellow of the Academy in 1958. Despite his academic and social success, he remained proud of his working-class origins.
He published 105 books and with the publication of the first volume of his autobiography in 1942 Rowse became a celebrity and travelled widely, especially in the United States. He also published many popular articles in newspapers and magazines in England and the United States. He became known for his brilliance, his knack for the sensational and his academic boldness (which some considered to be irresponsible carelessness).
One of his great enthusiasms was collecting books and he owned many first editions although most of them were annotated ascerbically. His copy of the January 1924 edition of The Adelphi magazine edited by John Middleton Murry bears a pecilled note after Murry's poem In Memory of Katherine Mansfield: 'Sentimental gush on the part of JMM. And a bad poem. A.L.R.'
Rowse was a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society . He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Exeter in 1960, was elected to Athenaeum under Rule II in 1972, received the Benson Medal of the Royal Society of Literature in 1982 and was made a Companion of Honour in 1996. Upon his death in 1997 he bequeathed to the University of Exeter his collection of books, and his personal archive of manuscripts, diaries, and correspondence. In 1998 the University Librarian selected about sixty books from Rowse’s own working library and a complete set of his published books. The Royal Institution of Cornwall selected some of the remaining books, and the rest were sold through a London book dealer.
Rowse contributed poetry to student magazines. He had verse in Oxford 1923 nand continued to write poetry throughout his life.
His first book was On History, A Study of Present Tendencies published in 1927 as the seventh volume of Kegan Paul 's Psyche Miniature General Series.
His early works focus on sixteenth century England and Rowse's first full-length historical monograph, Sir Richard Grenville of the Revenge (1937), was a biography of a sixteenth century sailor. His next was Tudor Cornwall (1941), a lively detailed accountt of Cornish society in the 16th century. He consolidated his reputation with a one-volume general history of England, The Spirit of English History (1943), but his most important work was the historical trilogy The Elizabethan Age: The England of Elizabeth (1950), The Expansion of Elizabethan England (1955), and The Elizabethan Renaissance (1971-72), respectively examine the society, overseas exploration, and culture of late sixteenth century England.
In 1963 Rowse began to concentrate on Shakespeare, starting with a biography in which he claimed to have dated all the sonnets, identified Marlowe as the suitor's rival and solved all but one of the other problems posed by the sonnets. His failure to acknowledge the work of other scholars ot the assumptions behind some of his conclusions alienated some of his peers but he garnered popular acclaim. In 1973 he published Shakespeare the Man, in which he claimed to have solved the final problem: the identity of the sonnets' 'Dark Lady'. From a close reading of the sonnets and the diaries of Simon Forman he asserted that she must be Emilia Bassano Lanier , whose poems he would later collect. In 1976, he used Forman's diaries again as the basis of a another book: Sex and Society in the Elizabethan Age. Rowse completed his studies of Shakespeare with an annotated edition of the complete works (1978).
Human sexuality was the subject of another high profile book in the 1970s: Homosexuals In History (1977). But Rowse was no gay partisan. He resisted the prevailing academic suggestions that the sonnets were written to a gay lover, asserting (for he never proposed or suggested) that Shakespeare was "a strongly sexed heterosexual […] more than a little interested in women—for an Englishman."
He wrote other biographies of English historical and literary figures and many other histories. His bestselling autobiography appeared in several volumes, starting with A Cornish Childhood (1942) and ending with whimsical stories of Cornwall in the 1980s. His last book, disdainful accounts of Historians I Have Known, was published in 1995.
During his later years, Rowse moved increasingly towards the political right, and many considered him to be part of the Tory tradition by the time he died. Rowse wrote a series of books and articles in the 1950s and 1960s condemning appeasement as a consequence of the degeneration of part of Britain's elite. During this period, Rowse broke with his former friend A. J. P. Taylor and became one of Taylor's most bitter critics.
- On History, A Study of Present Tendencies, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1927)
- Science and History: A New View of History, (London: W. W. Norton, 1928)
- Queen Elizabeth and her Subjects, (London: Allen & Unwin, 1935)
- Mr. Keynes and the Labour Movement, (1936)
- Sir Richard Grenville of the Revenge, (London: Jonathan Cape, 1937)
- Tudor Cornwall (1941)
- A Cornish Childhood (1942)
- The Spirit of English History (1943)
- West-Country Stories, (London: Macmillan, 1945)
- The Use of History (1946)
- Teach Yourself History, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1946)
- The England of Elizabeth (1950)
- An Elizabethan Garland (1953)
- The Expansion of Elizabethan England, (1955)
- The Churchills; From the Death of Marlborough to the Present, (1958).
- All Souls and Appeasement : a contribution to contemporary history, (1961).
- Appeasement : a study in political decline, 1933-1939, (1961).
- William Shakespeare: A Biography, (London: Macmillan, 1963)
- Christopher Marlowe: a biography (1964)
- A Cornishman at Oxford (1965) (autobiography)
- Bosworth Field and the Wars of the Roses (1966)
- A Cornish Anthology (1968)
- The Cousin Jacks (1969)
- The Elizabethan Renaissance (London: Macmillan, 1971) ISBN 0333125347
- Shakespeare The Man, (London: Macmillan, 1973)
- Peter, The White Cat of Trenarren, (1974)
- A Cornishman Abroad, (London: Jonathan Cape, 1976)
- Brown Buck : a Californian fantasy, (1976).
- Matthew Arnold: Poet and Prophet, (London: Thames & Hudson, 1976)
- Homosexuals In History, (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1977) ISBN 0297772996
- The Byrons and the Trevanions, (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1978)
- Stories From Tenarren, (Kimber, 1986)
- The Poet Auden: A Personal Memoir, (London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1987).
- All Souls in My Time, (1993)
- Historians I Have Known (1995)
- Sydney Cauveren, A.L. Rowse: A Bibliophile's Extensive Bibliography, (2000)
- Valerie Jacob, Tregonissey to Trenarren, (St. Austell: Valerie Jacob, 2001)
- Richard Lawrence Ollard, A man of contradictions, (London: Allen Lane, 1999)
- Richard Lawrence Ollard, The Diaries of A. L. Rowse, (London: Allen Lane, 2003)
- James Whetter, Dr. A. L. Rowse, (Gorran, St. Austell: Lyfrow Trelyspen, 2003)
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