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Beautiful Afternoons

        "None of you has ever seen a gentleman."
—Charles Eliot Norton

"You have been writing," the author's alter ego tells him at the conclusion of this book, "about the decline not of the West but of the Anglo-American upper class." As A Thread of Years makes plain, however, the two entities have been so closely entwined that, for a period of about two centuries anyway (roughly 1750 to 1955), the idea of the second could not be surgically removed from the fact of the first without fatal results for them both. And so Lukacs's book, ostensibly a meditation on the decline of the ideal of the Anglo- Saxon gentleman, is actually an imaginative summation of the great themes of the author's 18 previous ones: the end of the modern age, the passing of bourgeois civilization, historical consciousness (and unconsciousness), and the relationship between ideas and the people who hold them—and yes, the collapse of the West, the nearly complete "erosion of beliefs and of institutions and of manners and morals and habits that can no longer be restored."

John Lukacs, who for years has insisted on his inability to produce a novel for the reason that he cannot invent a plot, has nevertheless written a novelistic work that by some stretch—not much—of contemporary critical standards...

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