Ophelia Field’s ‘Kit-Cat Club’ is a story of a changing time in 17th-century Britain, during the reigns of Queen Anne and George I, when a group of men and their enterprising initiatives paved the way for new literary and political viewpoints, born out of the most unexpected circumstances.
The Kit-Cat Club was founded in the late 1690s when Jacob Tonson, a bookseller of lowly birth, forged a partnership with the pie-maker Christopher (Kit) Cat. What began as an eccentric publishing rights deal – Tonson paying to feed hungry young writers and so receiving first option on their works – developed into a unique gathering of intellects and interests, then into the unofficial centre of Whig power during the reigns of William & Mary, Anne and George I.
With consummate skill, Ophelia Field, author of the acclaimed biography of the first Duchess of Marlborough, ‘The Favourite’, portrays this formative period in British history through the club’s intimate lens. She describes the vicious Tory-Whig ‘paper wars’, the mechanics of aristocratic patronage, the London theatre world and its battles over sexual morality, England’s union with Scotland, Dublin society governed by a Kit-Cat and the hurly-burly of Westminster politics.
Field expertly unravels the deceit, rivalry, friendships and fortunes lost and found through the club, along with wonderful descriptions of how its alcohol-fuelled, all-male meetings were conducted. Tracing the Kit-Cat Club’s far-reaching influence for the first time, this group biography illuminates a time when Britain was searching for its own identity.
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Ophelia Field was born and raised in Australia and London, and educated at Christ Church, Oxford and the London School of Economics. Aside from her career as a freelance writer, she has also worked for over a decade as an advocate for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. She has been an expert consultant to, among others, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Human Rights Watch and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Ophelia has reviewed for the Times Literary Supplement and Sunday Telegraph, as well as publishing numerous articles related to both her historical and human rights work.
‘The decades after the Civil Wars have been rich pickings for cultural historians. These were the years of coffee houses and clubs, an atmosphere captured in Ophelia Field's wonderrful THE KIT-KAT CLUB.’ Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Telegraph (Book of the Year)
Christian Tyler, Financial Times (Book of the Year)
‘Field is meticulous in describing the literary and other artistic achievements of the wits in the club: but the fascination of this book lies in the tale she tells of their social advancement and, to an extent, of the way the club altered manners and attitudes to class around the country.' Literary Review
‘In a general book such as this, with such broad general themes, the details matter. Here Field has succeeded admirably. She has a native gift for historical retrieval so that we see the past in close-up, as it were, as well as in wide view.’ The Times
'After reading this stimulating book, it is shocking to realise that the Kit-Cat Club has had to wait so long for its influence to be recognised. Field offers rich compensation, in a book that is both instructive and engrossingly readable.' Guardian (Book of the Week)
'What particularly distinguishes this book is the humane perspective in which the writer places her protagonists...As an essay in group biography her book presents an authoritative portrait of a genuinely revolutionary era.' Sunday Telegraph
‘Elegantly written...this deeply researched book is a fitting memorial to a remarkable body of men who contributed so much to British politics and culture.’ Sunday Times
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