Class in British literature and popular culture – now with bonus Farscape

Apparently, the recent sociological tome on Chavs by seems to have reached the other side of the Atlantic, for the New York Times offers not just a review but an excerpt as well.

I honestly wonder who thought that a book on such a specifically British issue would be a good fit for American readers. Even the title Chavs won’t have any meaning for American readers unless they are somehow plugged into British culture. It’s also telling that the New York Times tries to sell it as an economics book – probably because economics is a subject that New York Times readers care about – even though it seems to be much more about sociology. Not that Owen Jones will mind the free publicity.

The book does seem interesting though. I’d be almost tempted to buy it, if my budget for sociology books wasn’t non-existent ever since I left university.

Still on the subject of class in the UK, the Guardian offers this article about British writer William Nicholson complaining that “comfortable, middle-class, well-educated people living in the countryside” were no longer a legitimate subject for serious fiction.

My initial reaction to this article was: Has Nicholson ever actually read any fiction or at least looked at a bookstore shelf? Because bookstores, no matter where, are full of novels about “comfortable, middle-class, well-educated people living in the countryside” and their affairs, divorces and broken marriages. Sometimes, there a murder, too.

Indeed, it turns out that Nicholson and the Guardian are well aware that there are plenty of novels about comfortable middle class people on the shelves, but those novels are genre fiction, mysteries, women’s fiction as well as chick lit and its variations, i.e. not “serious literature” as Mr Nicholson understands it.

Meanwhile in the same Guardian article, a Scottish writer named Alan Warner claimed that there was a “sly, unspoken literary prejudice against working-class lives and characters”, which was another comment that made me go, “Huh? Have you ever read any British fiction? Cause a whole lot of it is about working class lives and characters.”

And indeed, the article offers a couple of examples including obvious ones like Alan Sillitoe, Irvine Welsh and Roddy Doyle as well as crime writer David Pearce on whose novels the Red Riding Trilogy, a British TV miniseries I did not like at all, was based. I actually have a long post about Red Riding and my issues with it in draft form. Maybe I should finish and post it some time.

Another author mentioned in the context of working class fiction is one James Kelman, whose works are described as featuring a “powerfully influential use of Glasgow vernacular”. I strongly suspect that Mr Kelman may be the Scottish working class writer to which a well-meaning creative writing teacher once compared my writing voice only to tell me in the same breath that I shouldn’t waste my lovely voice on genre but instead do something like that voicy Scottish working class writer did. I answered, “Sorry, but I’m neither Scottish nor working class and my life is completely boring.” and was so pissed off that I promptly forgot the name of the Scottish working class writer. If that writer was indeed James Kelman, I should probably read something by him now. Besides, I am no longer angry at that creative writing teacher, since he only meant well.

To sum it up, it doesn’t seem as if neither writing about working classes nor writing about well-educated rural middle classes is really in danger of dying out in Britain.

And from the department of weird coincidences: Just two days ago I mentioned that the collapse of Leo Kirch’s media empire also killed off Farscape for good, though Kirch’s own TV stations never broadcast the latter seasons. And now that Kirch is dead, I’m channel surfing on late night TV and what do I come across? A couple of random Farscape episodes in the middle of the night on one of Kirch’s former TV stations. It must be from at least a couple of seasons later than the last episodes I saw, because Aeryn Sun is now pregnant with Crichton’s child and I have no idea what else is going on. Very weird. Almost as if Kirch was somehow preventing Farscape from airing on TV stations he no longer even owned and now he’s dead, Farscape is suddenly back.

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