Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Speaking ill of the dead

As Marilyn Johnson makes clear in her book The Dead Beat, obituaries are carefully worded constructions that generally dwell on their subject's positive attributes and achievements and couch any criticism in coded, euphemistic terms. So when an openly savage send-off is published, it inevitably causes quite a stir.

Such has been the case with Richard J Evans' Guardian obituary of fellow historian Norman Stone, whom he characterises as a boorish provocateur and obnoxious drunk who squandered his talent for writing and never checked his facts. It's evident that Evans relished the opportunity to settle some scores publicly, taking advantage of the fact that he was guaranteed to have the last word. His approach and tone have been criticised in some quarters - it's not a particularly good look for an Oxford don to be dancing on someone's grave - but on the other hand Stone has received the sort of treatment that he apparently spent his life dishing out to others.

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