The Red Dean of Canterbury: The Public and Private Faces of Hewlett Johnson

Ferdinand Mount writes:

In his prime, Dr Hewlett Johnson was one of the most famous men in the world. Almost from the moment he was made dean of Canterbury in 1931, he became instantly recognisable everywhere as the Red Dean. His faith in the Communist Party, and in Stalin in particular, was unshakeable. Though he never saw the need actually to join the Party, he remained a tankie to the last, until he was finally winkled out of the deanery in 1963, when he was pushing ninety. This is an excellent biography, crisp, sometimes cutting, but never less than fair and always as sympathetic as humanly possible to its subject even in his most maddening moments. Aided by access to the dean’s archive, Butler brings out all Johnson’s good humour and generosity of spirit. In everything bar his politics, he was a rather traditional Anglican dean, broad in his theology, simple in his faith.

(LRB 26 April 2012)

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