How was the social and cultural life of Britain affected by the fear that the French Revolution would spread across the channel? In his brilliant new book, John Barrell argues that the fear of revolution produced a culture of surveillance and suspicion which penetrated every aspect of private life. The Spirit of Despotism shows how the culture of suspicion affected how people spoke and behaved in London coffee-houses; how it influenced attitudes to the king's behaviour on holiday; how it infiltrated the country cottage, previously idealised as haven of peace and retirement; and how it influenced the fashion of the period, so that even the way people chose to style their hair came to be seen as a political issue.

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