I do think that one the reasons Marx makes less and less sense - maybe because he was German, where it's also more rigid - is because he, being a product of the 19th century, assumed that class divides are as rigid as Freud, being a product of the 19th century, assumed gender divides were.
The thing is, I think, that English class is a mixture of birth and other much more mutable stuff. It's not like Russia, where if you're a serf, or a noble, that's who you are, unchangeably, as much as if you're a Brahmin or an Untouchable in India.
If we're talking about the 19th and first half of the 20th century in England
, there's a very basic divide between gentry and everyone else, but all the other divisions - working class, skilled working class, clerks-and-shopgirls, small business owners, large business owners - are much fluid. Elizabeth Bennet says of Darcy to horrible snobbish Lady Catherine de Bourgh, 'He is a gentleman, I am a gentleman's daughter; thus far we are equal'.
How to define it? Very, very roughly, gentry used to own land and now own shares, have servants, are officers if they go into the army, (while the only other socially possible professions if you can't live on your unearned income are the Law, the Church, and latterly doctoring) have a paid-for secondary education (the rest of the world stops at elementary education, while a few gets scholarships to grammar school and university), don't have a regional accent (except Scottish or Irish) thanks partly to that paid-for education, are members of the Church of England (except some old recusant Catholic families), their women are always referred to as 'ladies' and don't work for money and would regard it as wrong to take jobs from working men, even if the family's on its uppers.
It's perfectly possible under this system to be born in a hovel, and brought up a Methodist, make a ton of money, send your sons to a minor public school, where they may be scorned for sticking to their background or
attempting to hide it, but will lose their regional accent, make the 'right' friends and then go into Church/Army/Navy/Law, and become more-or-less gentlemen, ready to marry a lady whose ancestors have been small landowners since... they made their fortune trading opium from India into China in the 1740s. And their
sons can go to a major public school, and definitely will be gentlemen, worrying away when their son wants to marry a chorus girl.
I'm horrified to realise how much of this stuff I know, but it's amazing how many historical novelists get it wrong... And you only have to read Trollope or Dorothy L Sayers to get it right. Because writers until recently very rarely sprang from anywhere other than somewhere in the middle classes, they take an awful lot for granted. Very, very rarely, for example, do you see anything from a servant's point of view - they are the great 'other' in so much fiction. Nicola Humble's very good on this.
That, believe it or not, was an answer to ashlinn, about ten posts back!<Added>
But actually, mobility is entirely different now, and I rejoice when I realise that lots of all these ridiculous markers simply don't apply any more. I just have to get them right for what I write.
|But Geoff, isn't intellect, as opposed to education, one thing that crosses the traditional class categories at random? |
I think this is very true, and pray it remains so.
But there's a long way to go. When Michael Howard was elected leader of the Tories, what astonished them most wasn't that he was Jewish (and not, unlike Disraeli, a baptised Christian) nor that he was Welsh (which still seems to be the one thing that it's socially acceptable to be racist about) but - ssshh! - A Grammar School Boy.