It is hard to visit Argentina for any length of time and not appreciate the influence of things British—from the iconographie presence of retail stores like Harrods and James Smart to the local elite’s taste in blazers; from the names of railway stations across the pampa to the names of the excellent prep schools and the ubiquitous anglicized names of places and institutions, such as the Belgrano Athletic Club or the Newells Old Boys athletic teams. Indeed, the importance of football (soccer), rugby, and polo in Argentine life provides further evidence of the legacy of Britain and the British in contemporary Argentina.
Of course, as this volume explains in loving detail, that influence has been much more profound and varied than these examples suggest. It has included, to begin with, the crucial British role—first military and then diplomatic—in Argentine independence. Then there is Britain’s dominant role in Argentina’s insertion in the world economy at the end of the nineteenth century—constructing the railroads, providing investment capital, and serving as a market. And through it all, as a symbol of Argentine frustrated nationalism, has stood the British presence in the Malvinas/Falklands, which culminated in the sorry and tragic war of 1982.
Alistair Hennessy and John King have attempted to deal with this legacy—and much more—in a volume of papers produced by a conference they conducted at Warwick University. The collection begins with an excellent summary of the historical relations between Argentina and the United Kingdom by Guido Di Telia. This essay demonstrates the generosity of spirit and intelligence that have characterized Di Tella’s tenure as foreign minister of Argentina. Hennessy contributes an introduction and an epilogue in which he wrestles simultaneously with two intractable issues: the Malvinas/Falklands dispute and the links between culture and diplomacy. The former is further summarized in clear if somewhat pessimistic fashion by Walter Little.
Of greatest value in the book, in this reviewer’s opinion, are five separate, esoteric jewels: Simon Collier’s delightful essay on the English tango craze of 1913— 14; Glyn Williams’ sensitive story of the Welsh settlements in Patagonia; Oliver Marshall’s incisive account of the failed agricultural settlements in the tropics; Jason Wilson’s fascinating story of W. H. Hudson’s pitiful effort to undo Darwin; and Eduardo Crawley’s moving and useful recounting of the experiences of two Argentine exiles in England, Graham Yeoll and Terragno. It is fitting for Argentina and for its complex relationship with Great Britain that both of these men, we are happy to say, have returned to Argentina to lead useful lives as leaders of the Argentine press and politics.