dwj-digest (Diana Wynne Jones) V1 #643

Gill Othen gill at othen.fslife.co.uk
Mon May 5 07:26:28 EDT 2003


> >her staunch refusal to have any truck with the burgeoning 20th Century
English middle class, except when she needs a really loathsome figure of fun
& a working class person won't do...
>
> Eh?  Kingscote, and the Marlows' homelife, seem to me middle-class to the
core.  As much so as the setting of Angela Thirkell's books in Borsetshire
of the 'tween wars and forties.  Everyone in them is of the middle classes
> apart from such people as the Thuggery (and The Village despise them not
for their class but for their behaviour) and Doris and Mrs. Bertie, who are
obviously The Salt Of The Earth whatever class they may nominally belong
> to.
>
> I would have said that the 1950s is at least a century after the middle
class burgeoned in England, probably much longer: some time around the reign
of Queen Elizabeth the First was when the process got going, and into its
swing with the English Civil War, whose object was at least in part to
reduce the arbitrary power of the king and nobility and give the merchants a
bigger slice of the cake -- and what is the merchant class if not  "middle"?
>
> >The Marlow family are very much from the impoverished post-war upper
class. Real officer material.
>
> Upper-middle at the highest.  They're of farming stock, aren't they, not
living on rents but living by their own work.  Naval officers have never
necessarily been upper class, and ain't that just as well when you look at
Nelson.  If upper class origin had been a requirement he wouldn't have got
very far.  Great-grand-nephew of a "Sir" on his mother's side, and son of a
country rector, doesn't make him one of the Upper Ten Thousand, not by a
long shot (and he himself complained that his remote connection to the
Walpoles did him no good at all, they were useless).
>
> It's a bit of a shock to my system, your classification of the Marlows as
upper class, because my mother's family, somewhat similarly placed in the
twentieth century and sharing as far as I can tell the values and mores of
> the Marlows, are Yeoman Yorkshire and would never in eight hundred years
have claimed to be "upper class" any more than I would.
>
> What Forest has little time for, it seems to me, is dishonourable
behaviour.  Folly too she swipes at (Lawrie catches it for being an ass,
often enough).  But being middle-class?  No.  Not behaving as a gentleman
should, maybe; but being or not being a gentleman has nothing to do with
being of any particular class.  Matt Carter is most certainly a gentleman,
and he mends the roads for a wage, which is hardly the most upper-class
occupation.
>
> Minnow


The Marlows are definitely of that class which thinks of itself as "middle"
but at the same time has little truck with the massed ranks of people who
live in semi-detached splendour. They are "AB" middle class, definitely not
"C1/C2" middle class, to adopt advertisers' jargon. A middle class which has
always taken private schools and domestic staff for granted - which would
seem amazingly posh to most of the people who regard themselves as middle
class these days! It's a bit like the family Paddington Bear joins, or the
Pevensies in the Narnia books. Much more affluent than most of the  readers.
Also a middle class not yet having the assumption that the kids will
automatically proceed to university, as they would today, because they might
well follow father into the family business (with the intention of taking it
over in due course) or take over the family estate. Or follow the family
army or navy tradition, of course. If they did go to university, it was
likely to be to study Law, as John Mortimer did - again, to follow the
family tradition.

Most of Forests's original readers would have been grammar school kids.
Propaganda since the demise of the grammar schools has made them out to be
posh - but they weren't, and were very different from the school Nicola and
her sisters attend.

Grammar school kids were often despised in the fifties - from both sides.
Look at "Billy Liar" and other books of that period - they felt completely
déclassé - not accepted by the affluent upper middle classes, no longer able
to feel comfortable with the respectable "upper working class" background
they came from. And there was quite a culture of sneering at their limited
aspirations and lack of "high culture" - Betjeman does it all the time. The
Marlows are of Betjeman's class and would look down a little, on jumped up
grammar school kids, without ever realising that was snobbish.

Gill


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