Eric Hobsbawm's death provoked violently contradictory reactions in the media. In one camp, the BBC, the Guardian, The Times and others proclaimed him the greatest historian of our time. In the other, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail dismissed him as a propagandist who distorted the historical facts to suit his own ideology. In both cases much more attention was devoted to him than is normally given to historians, or indeed to writers of any kind. Clearly his extreme left-wing views contributed at least as much to his fame as the merits of his books.
When I first met him in the late 1960s, Hobsbawm was already a fashionable and much admired figure among academics and intellectuals. He and his warm-hearted and witty wife Marlene lived in a comfortable family house in Hampstead, enjoying a quintessentially middle-class existence. Eric smoked a pipe and liked his slippers to be laid out for him when he got home.
I became friendly with them, particularly with Marlene, through my then husband John Gross, who had met Eric at King's College, Cambridge, where John had been an English lecturer and Eric a Fellow.
The Hobsbawms were exceptionally generous hosts, giving many lunch and dinner parties for their mostly left-leaning friends. We were frequently invited to these jolly and stimulating gatherings. John, however, would often find reasons not to accompany me: he was totally out of sympathy with Eric's politics and felt uneasy about too much socialising with someone who persisted in supporting the murderous Soviet regime. I, on the other hand, was politically very ignorant and anyway shared the generally accepted view that friendship and politics should be kept apart.
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