Login   Sign Up 


This 182 message thread spans 13 pages:  < <   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8  9  10   11   12   13  > >  
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by Cholero at 21:57 on 14 February 2007
    the lower orders

    The lower orders of what?
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by EmmaD at 22:21 on 14 February 2007
    ... of society. A nasty Victorian euphemism, used deliberately for this context.

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by snowbell at 22:39 on 14 February 2007
    Isn't the middlebrow tag a bit like the idea of middle England which Ian Hislop did quite a good series on Radio Four about recently?
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by EmmaD at 22:56 on 14 February 2007
    To some extent I think that's true, and everyone's always rude about the middle classes.

    There's a great book by Nicola Humble, if you like writers like Elizabeth Bowen and Mary Renault, called The Feminine Middlebrow Novel 1920-1950 or words to that effect. A really good combination of close reading and broader awareness of social and cultural history. And wonderfully rude about Queenie Leavis.

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by ashlinn at 08:56 on 15 February 2007
    I really hope that I don't offend anyone by asking this question but I am genuinely very interested. Why is 'class' such an issue for the English?
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by polysharratt1 at 09:19 on 15 February 2007
    Maybe because even though it's a rigid mental structure it gives you the sense that there are many competing views of reality? Maybe it's comforting to believe that there is such a thing as a structure of relationships that still impact on our quality of life and life chances?
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by EmmaD at 09:22 on 15 February 2007
    Because we never had a revolution... Correction, our revolution was political but not social.

    Because historically we're a socially mobile society: Dick Whittington can become Mayor of London, and there are no rules about who can own land. And since everything goes to eldest son, the younger ones of the gentry have to go and get a job, or marry the daughters of tradesmen, and things get mixed up. Do you know what the rules are in Germany for who is or isn't a 'von Such-and-such'? But if you can't tell where someone is on the scale by their surname, you have to judge it by how they decorate their house.

    Because we had the first Industrial Revolution in the world, and suddenly owning land wasn't the key to wealth. Being clever and working hard are things that anyone, potentially, can use to make their fortune. And then, since landowning is still the key to becoming gentry, you buy a country estate. It's all actually very fluid and hard to judge, which makes people assert certainties by way of clinging on to their place. Specially women, who can't do much to change their own class position, but depend on fathers and husbands for it.

    Because people who left to run the colonies came back to find their places in society here grassed over, and had to find them again, with very little money to do it with.

    Because a much higher proportion of our children are educated privately than in most countries.

    I dunno. Maybe it's because we get bored with talking about the weather...

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by ashlinn at 09:42 on 15 February 2007
    polysharratt, but is class a major element in defining a person's 'view of reality'?

    women, who can't do much to change their own class position

    It's all actually very fluid and hard to judge

    Emma, can men change their class and not women? Are you referring to nowadays or how it was in the past? Funnily enough what strikes me is that the English people I know seem to have a very clear idea of where they stand in the 'scale'.

    a much higher proportion of our children are educated privately
    I have two English brothers-in-law who have tried to explain this to me but I still haven't fully understood. Even the idea of calling it 'public' school when it's really private is mind-boggling to me.
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by EmmaD at 10:08 on 15 February 2007
    Emma, can men change their class and not women? Are you referring to nowadays or how it was in the past?

    In the past, in the sense that men can get a job a step up from where they were born, and work up from there (the factory hand who becomes a foreman who ends up running the factory, say) or start a business which makes them money to buy the bigger house or even marry an heiress and inherit an estate through her, etc. Historically, women were born into their father's class, and could try to marry out of it, but work-outside-the-home was something you tried to leave behind as you moved upwards: certainly within the middle classes, and certainly on marriage. Women had to leave the civil service when they got married until well into the 1960s, I think.

    Funnily enough what strikes me is that the English people I know seem to have a very clear idea of where they stand in the 'scale'.

    I think that's because it's comforting to know where you stand, but in England it's relatively fluid and the markers of who fits where are subtle and not easily read, so people spend their lives deciding about their own, and reading others.

    Public schools are public in the sense that public companies are: they're a separate entity run by a board of governors/directors. And yes, there's a hierarchy of those, too... It's opposed to private schools, which are owned by a person - usually the headmaster.

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by polysharratt1 at 10:17 on 15 February 2007
    I suppose I think that 'class' is a tool used by individuals and institutions with varying depths of thoroughness and understanding.

    To me it's a factor I'd use say, when understanding media stereotypes, for example 'Britains inner cities are overcrowded, crime ridden and decaying'. Even though that's a stereotype we hear every day, I suppose I find arguing against that useful to my understanding of just what creates those continuing stereotypes.

    I think that stereotypes continue because, essentially, there's real inequality of access to goods, services and opportunities. People might vaguely understand that this is due to their social position but I think their understanding and perception has no legitimacy in any wider institution as extrinsic worth of an individual has displaced their intrinsic worth. For example, the children of 'the poor' are valued over their parents by government policy: 'Children First' for example, which might sound like good, cost effective legislation but in actual fact, probably places the state before the family , not giving the family the wherewithal to take control of their situation but to maybe to begin a process of institutionalisation that empowers children and infantilises their parents.....(maybe I should explain this better..I've just finished a contract in the Crown Court, logging the cases. Although I can't speak about it it really made me think about how whole groups, classes, if you like are brutalised, little by little, by class ignorance ie only seeing what you want to see! ( I suppose we all do that but I'm optimistic about the human spirit)
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by ashlinn at 10:22 on 15 February 2007
    Emma, your implication is that a person can move up and down the scale throughout their life depending on the promotions they get, the money they earn etc but I was under the impression that a person's class was independant of this and was defined at birth. (In fact now that I think of it I have no idea what factors I thought influence the positioning.) Have I got this wrong?

    it's comforting to know where you stand

    I have absolutely no idea of where I stand. I don't think it would change anything about the choices I make or how I think about anything if I did know.


    cross-posted with you, Poly. Interesting. I suppose having lived in different countries I'm very interested in what makes cultures different and why they evolved that way.
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by geoffmorris at 11:13 on 15 February 2007
    Funnily enough what strikes me is that the English people I know seem to have a very clear idea of where they stand in the 'scale'.

    If only this were true but it certainly isn't in my experience. I see it time and time again; the absolute dross of society insisting that they are somehow important and as such should automatically command everyone's respect.

    I would define class in terms of intellect rather than wealth or position. I've known many wealthy people who have attended places like Eton and Tunbridge who I would place much further down the scale than many people who attended state schools and came from 'working class' backgrounds.

    I think traditional classifications are as simple and misguided as the completely false and ridiculous notion that there are different races. Yet people still cling doggedly to these ideas and propagate them until it becomes ingrained.

    Alain De Botton raises some interesting ideas about this subject in his book Status Anxiety.
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by polysharratt1 at 11:17 on 15 February 2007
    Is there such a thing as absolute dross? Can't everything be recycled? (not to say that there aren't evil folk out there but...


    Class as ideas you are able to think........

    I suppose that what I mean is that we all have personal and economic resources but we have to negotiate a culture that is dominated by certain ideas.

    These ideas appear to be innocuous but, for example (doing some research for my newspaper, I found some stats: 53% of all supervisory and managerial vacancies advertised in my local job centre remained unfilled. This figure is a quarter of all vacancies. 87% of all potential candidates were unhappy with their job centre while 88% of all respondents appeared to be happy applying for these kinds of jobs through their local newspaper.
    What I find interesting is that now job centres have reorganised themselves and are now virtual call centres. How might this development have been different if the local newspaper had seen its role to supportpublic services, rather than compete with them for a 'market?' Newspapers often have a much more powerful ealtion with determining what happens in a locality than the average person realises, because if you don't know what's there ie even now that all vacancies are steered through the local paper there are still 75% of unfilled vacancies that a local community would benefit from knowing about......
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by ashlinn at 11:25 on 15 February 2007
    But Geoff, isn't intellect, as opposed to education, one thing that crosses the traditional class categories at random?

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by debac at 11:26 on 15 February 2007
    I agree that the disparagement of "middle-brow" fiction is probably borne of the disparagement of the middle classes, sadly. I haven't heard the former but have heard plenty of the latter.

    I'm not quite sure why the middle classes are despised, even by themselves much of the time. It seems considered far more "romantic" to be a working class hero who pulled themselves up by the bootstraps... or didn't. And the upper classes are seen as pleasantly arrogant and bold - not as prissy as the middle classes.

    I've always been middle class but as a teenager I found the sensibilities of my parents and their peers extremely irritating, and wanted to break free of those. I saw working class boys as much more fun, and much sexier. A lot of the middle class boys seemed too well-behaved to be fun. I know these are vast generalisations, but that is how it felt when I was 14.

    As an adult and still middle class, I now very much like being middle class, but I define it my way, which is why it doesn't feel like the box it felt like when I was a child.

    Someone asked about mobility... I think that's a hotly debated issue. Is John Prescott middle class because of his job and income, or working class because of his background and his gob? Ask a different expert and you'd probably get a different answer. Some people (marketing? sociologists?) define people's class by their job, or by their father's job (if a child) or husband's job (if married).

    I'd say the single more defining feature of class is aspiration. That's how I'd define it if I had to. What do they want from life? What are their values? What's important to them? You can have no money and be very middle class in aspiration, or have loads of money and the aspirations of an ASBO chick. However, I tend to avoid putting labels on individuals, even in my mind, since it's a bit presumptuous. I'd prefer people to define themselves, or let's not bother.

    Going back to middle-brow fiction, I guess it's just inverted snobbery when people criticise it. They object to the idea that some people think it's better than mass-market fiction when it isn't high art. High art they can understand the value of, but better-written accessible fiction is just (by these critics) assumed to be a form of snobbery. (And someone will probably criticise me for saying it's better written, but I won't apologise for thinking it is )

  • This 182 message thread spans 13 pages:  < <   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8  9  10   11   12   13  > >