The prince of tricksters: cultures of confidence in interwar Britain

Dr Matt Houlbrook is currently working on his book The Prince of Tricksters: Cultures of Confidence in Interwar Britain which is under contract with the University of Chicago Press.

In Matt’s words: ‘The book focuses on one ‘international man of mystery’, but it had its origins in my interest in a motley group of conmen, chancers, vamps and wannabes, and what their lives might tell us about British culture after the Great War. It starts with a simple question: how can we be confident in something? This is a recurrent philosophical and ethical question, but it is also always an  historical question, shaped by social relations and cultural forms that are time and place-specific. The book argues that it became a compelling question in interwar Britain. The legacies of war and the accelerating pace of peacetime change made confidence and authenticity prominent yet precarious values. I show how the lies and lives of the conman, discredited journalist and scandalous royal biographer Netley Lucas revealed recurrent crises of confidence in the identity of individuals and the ‘truth’ of popular journalism and publishing. Tracing how authenticity was constructed and confidence sought in social encounters and diverse forms of mass culture, The Prince of Tricksters aims to contribute to interdisciplinary work on trust and (perhaps most importantly) to offers new ways of thinking about interwar Britain. Highlighting the resonances between crime, consumerism and monarchy, I show how questions of confidence abraded the boundaries between society, culture and politics and gives us a way of integrating historiographies and histories that have usually been treated as discrete.