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  You are in: Home > Biography > Raymond Carr  

Raymond Carr
The Curiosity of the Fox

María Jesús González

María Jesús González teaches Modern History at the University of Cantabria. An expert in the political history of the reign of Alfonso XIII, she is the author of Ciudadanía y Acción: El conservadurismo maurista 1907–1923 (1990) and El universo conservador de Antonio Maura: Biografía y proyecto de Estado (1997), which was short-listed for the 1998 Spanish National Essay Prize. She has recently been working on various aspects of twentieth-century British politics and culture.


Raymond Carr pioneered a new way of looking at modern Spanish history, releasing Spaniards from the shackles of Romantic myth and allowing them to see their nation as a country like any other, rather than one set apart from the rest of Europe. Born in humble circumstances, he journeyed through a fascinating period in twentieth-century British history, vaulting the class barriers that were still very much in place in the England of his day and turning himself into an interested and acutely observant member of the exclusive and decadent world of the late aristocracy, even becoming a keen huntsman. Familiar with the intricate and secret highways and byways of Oxford, both as an undergraduate at Christ Church and, later, as a Fellow of All Souls and of New College, he eventually became Warden of St Antony’s.

Throughout his Oxford life, he met and befriended some of the most important, eccentric, and charismatic intellectual figures of the entire twentieth century. But he was also on first-name terms with aristocrats, prime ministers, artists, spies, the foremost U.S. players in the Cold War, and military leaders in Francoist Spain. This biography tells a story that is in some ways stranger than fiction. By tracing the various facets of Raymond Carr’s life and personality – as intellectual, traveller, social chameleon, academic mover and shaker, lover of politics, and unrepentant enquirer into anything and everything to do with life and human history – the author builds a masterly picture of the society into which he was born, the politics and culture of a England that is now lost to us, and the work of one of England’s major Hispanists.

List of Illustrations
The Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies
Foreword by Paul Preston
Preface and Acknowledgements

1 A Country Childhood
  Wootton 14
  Hythe and Brockenhurst: The Journey Begins

2 Oxford
  Another World
  The House: Life among the Toffs

3 The Schoolmaster
  Wellington College and London: Partying in the Blitz

4 All Souls
Admitto te socium Collegii Omnium Animarum

5 Sara
  Love and Marriage

6 Spain
  Raymond in his Labyrinth: The Explorer in Uncharted
  A Big Fish in a Small Pond

7 New College
Et in Arcadia Ego

8 Town and Gown
  Winds of Change

9 St Antony’s
  The College that Came in from the Cold

10 Hands Across the Ocean
  Raymond Carr and the Discovery of the Americas

11 The Warden
  Stormy Seas

12 The Hunting Hispanist
  Emperor of Iberia
  The Rise and Rise of the Hispanist

13 Bowing Out
  The Troubled 1970s and Jewish Studies
  Goodbye To All That


Sources and Bibliography
Index of Proper Names

“Raymond Carr is a very important and also attractive figure in British academic life and nobody could have written a better biography than this one. This book not only brings an unusually interesting person to life, but fills a large gap in the literature – the profound links between British academia, historical writing and our understanding of Spain.”

“This is a very enjoyable book. María Jesús González’s account of Raymond Carr’s life is fascinating, as is her discussion of his contribution to the study of the history of Spain. The research and documentation provided in this volume is scholarly and outstanding.”

El País
11 April 2012
“Carr is a great iconoclast. I greatly enjoyed his biography by María Jesús González.”

Times Literary Supplement
29 July 2011
“Carr’s achievement was to write even-handedly about Spain when General Franco made history hard for Spaniards — and to inspire other British historians to do the same. González returns a rigorously sourced compliment.”

Times Literary Supplement
29 July 2011
“María González won her biographical spurs with a study of Antonio Maura, Spain’s great Conservative Prime Minister of the early twentieth century. She has now come up with a biography of Raymond Carr which quickly turns into something both more ambitious and fascinating: a full length life of the historian and his intellectual and high society milieux, over a large part of the twentieth century. (…) The author’s assiduity is reflected in her extensive bibliography of works on twentieth-century British socio-political history, written records from mostly personal archives, and interviews with some eighty people connected with one or another aspect of Carr’s world. Hardly a fact or assertion goes by without its being sourced in the endnotes.”

St Antony’s Newsletter. St Antony’s College
ALAN ANGELL, Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College
Trinity, 2011
“It is a long book but it sustains the interest of the reader throughout (…) The author brings to life Raymond’s insatiable curiosity for all aspects of Spanish life, history and culture, his encyclopaedic knowledge of so many aspects of that country, his ability to talk with persons from aristocrats to peasants, and from all parts of the political spectrum. (…) This book is about the Raymond I knew. His zest for life, his complete lack of pomposity, his breath of intellectual knowledge, his sense of fun, his dedication to his students and his unending fascination with Spain all feature prominently in this excellent book. But it is more than just about Raymond. It is a portrait of intellectual life in Oxford especially in the years after the Second World War, it is a book about how historians approach their subject, and it tells the story of the foundation of the college and the crucial role that Raymond paid.”

El Mundo (Book of the Week)
BERNABÉ SARABIA, Professor of Sociology, University of Navarra, Spain
10 December 2010
“It is our great good fortune that this latest volume from María Jesús González, Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Cantabria, is one destined to live long on the library shelf. (…) Setting events and people firmly in context, it not just a biography. Instead, it develops into a comprehensively detailed portrait of English society and of the central role played in that society by the unique aristocratic milieu that was Oxford. (…) The reader is taken on a journey that combines chronological narrative with a stylish and racy account which does not duck the shortcomings and failures of its central figure nor shies away from the occasionally dubious circumstances in which he found himself over the course of a long and varied life.”

El Pais, Babelia (Book of the Week)
SANTOS JULIÁ Professor Emeritus of the Department of Social History and Political Thought, UNED
8 January 2011
“Raymond Carr was the man who succeeded in disentangling the reasons for Spain’s cultural and political backwardness and almost single-handedly set Spanish history in the context of Europe as a whole. The scholar and the man come alive in María Jesús González wonderful biography. (…) The book is, as Paul Preston says, ‘so much more than the biography of a single individual’. As she sure-handedly paints us a picture of Carr himself – his many friends, the world in which he moved, the loves of his life - the author gradually recreates an entire world: the British education system, the university, and the social and intellectual elite of the day. The result is not just the biography of the man but as splendid a biography of an entire period that one could wish for.”

Diario de Cadiz
JAIME GARCÍA BERNAL, University of Seville.
12 January 2011
“No account of this latest offering from the young Spanish historian María Jesús González, an authority on British politics and culture who has written about leading figures in the suffragette movement and the nineteenth century, would be complete without a recognition of the intellectual rigour of her work and the way it is written. Her biography, based on weeks and months of taped interviews with Raymond Carr and his wife, is the result, if I may coin a phrase, of ‘a Britishist’ looking at a the great Hispanist historian who spent much of his life in the cloistered and male-dominated world of Oxford. Many things are changing...”

El Imparcial
JORDI CANAL, Maître de conférences, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, París
27 March 2011
“María Jesús González of the University of Cantabria has given us a quite outstanding biography of Raymond Carr (Bath 1919). The Curiosity of the Fox is written with verve and passion, goes into every aspect of Carr´s life, and uses a wealth of sources. (…) This is an excellent work. Well conceived, well sourced, well written. Reading it is a real pleasure.”

7 April 2011
“Raymond Carr, The Curiosity of the Fox is a model biography. It is also a terrific read. María Jesús González not only follows Carr’s idols, work, and travels; she recreates the entire world of 20th-century England in all its complexity. She puts flesh and sinew on the bare bones of the story gleaned from wide reading, hundreds of primary sources, and the testimony of those living both at the time and since. Her account makes sense of this bewildering welter of information and charts in delightful fashion the ups and down of an entire life of scholarship.”

Nigel Glendinning (Emeritus Professor of Spanish and Fellow of Queen Mary, University of London, Honorary Fellow of the Hispanic Society of America)
May 2011
“I finished reading the biography and, like putting down a good novel, I know that I am having symptoms of withdrawal, and am missing not having new chapters to read. It is a magnificent book, admirable in many different ways, and it combines Raymond Carr’s life story and that of his friends and family quite brilliantly with the social and political history of the UK in his times, the history of education in this country and changing ways of studying history and writing it. The richness of the sources is extraordinary, yet she wove them all into her tapestry seamlessly. I cannot say how very much I admired her ability to stay in complete control of such varied material, while making the book compulsive reading, informative, entertaining and moving too.”

“Professor González’s volume is a book that is highly recommended. Readers interested in biography and in English culture will find an exciting narrative of the life of an outstanding figure who knew how to climb the social ladder in his country, along with an overview of aspects of the world of the English upper classes, intellectuals and politicians. Moreover, they will discover the importance of British Hispanism for Spanish Culture during the Franco era and the Transition to Democracy. To historians, the book offers the possibility of gaining an in-depth knowledge of Raymond Carr’s life and historiography, in addition to having a model of biography to follow.” Gonzalo Pasamar, University of Zaragoza, Historiografias (July–December 2012)

News Dissector Review, Danny Schechter
Wow! — what a thrilling work it is of scholarship, and a beautifully written investigation, driven by a sensibility of someone with evident personal integrity, and packed with multi-layered information and insights.

It took Gonzalez almost a decade to complete the Spanish and the revised English version, playfully subtitled “The Curiosity of The Fox.” That is a reference to both famous Isaiah Berlin’s description of the types of knowledge (“fox and hedgehog”) and also to Carr’s aristocratic and eccentric hobby as foxhunter. In a country known for its foxhunts, she was the hare that trapped the fox.

Her own curiosity turned into what seems like an impressive obsession (the biographer’s obsession) that delved deeply into three dimensions of Carr’s and long run voluminous work: “Life, Milieu and Work.” She makes the subject come alive because the book is also personal — referencing her conversations with Carr — and also political because she never hides her critical point of view about the situation or the intellectual ideas and compromises that animated Carr, his colleagues and cronies

The great British biographer, Michael Holroyd, has suggested that ‘writing the life of a living person is to enter a minefield’. Maria Jesus Gonzalez writes with nuance and concern about her complex subject, Raymond Carr, but her sensibility is stirring me to urge anyone with the time and “curiosity” to explore this soon to be forgotten history, to read it and savor it, as I am, for the dedication it shows, the love of language it reveals and the intellectual ideas it wrestles with. You won’t be sorry. She survives the minefield just as she introduces us to its dangers. Danny Schechter, November 7, 2013,

This is an unusual book: a Spanish historian writes the life of an English historian of Spain. In doing so, as the historian in question is the extraordinary Raymond Carr, still with us at 94, María Jesús González also writes about the rural West Country of his childhood, the English class system, educational opportunities in the 1930s, social mobility, Wellington College, the Gargoyle Club, Rosa Lewis at the Cavendish, four Oxford colleges, Giraldo and his orchestra, G.D.H. Cole, John Neale, Hugh Trevor- Roper, A.J. Ayer, John Sparrow, A.L. Rowse, Oswald, Diana and Nicholas Mosley, Isaiah Berlin, Margaret Thatcher and even the Queen. In academia and society — mostly high — here comes everybody. The book has been smoothly translated from the Spanish by Nigel Griffin, and part of its interest for the English reader is that its detailed researches make one realise how peculiar so many of our institutions look to foreign eyes. The author gets a few things wrong — the title FRHS is about as exclusive as membership of the RAC — but what foreigner would not? Would an English author writing about a longlived Spanish academic — an enterprise hard to imagine — show the same patience and tenacity, and get so many things right? The Spectator, 31 August 2013. Reviewed by Malcolm Deas, Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford, and a historian of 19th- and 20th-century Colombia

Reviewed by St Antony's College, Development Office, at:

“A finely detailed and magnificently researched account not only of the career of Sir Raymond Carr but also a broad panoramic insight into the parallel fields of Hispanism and History at British universities in the second half of the twentieth century (...) admirably and sympathetically translated by Nigel Griffin (...) making it thoroughly readable in English.” Bulletin of Spanish Studies


Published in association with the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies



Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Paperback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
520 pp. / 234 x 156 mm
Release Date:
Hardback, March 2013; Paperback, May 2015
  Illustrated:   Yes
Hardback Price:
£69.95 / $99.95
Paperback Price:
£27.50 / $39.95

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