Saturday 22 February 2014
Class and Elizabeth Jane Howard
From a review in the London Review of Books by Tessa Hadley of All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard (and Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles family saga). The unreflecting, self-denying Cazalets are middle class.
[Mrs Cazalet] encourages [her daughter] to think she is clumsy and ugly, because it’s good for her; and, besides, the family ‘did not mention, let alone discuss, people’s appearance’.
No one talks serious politics, and the older generation share an unexamined conservatism.
An aura of art hovers round the family, conferring its high-mindedness… But at their core the Cazalets are fairly philistine and definitely unintellectual.
Howard can give flat utterance to things which were more or less understood between her protagonists, but which they didn’t have a language for.
No doubt there’s something to be said for not making a fuss, doing your duty, getting on with things, not indulging yourself, pouring a stiff drink instead of moping.
[They’re not religious but] there’s a strongly self-sacrificial inflection in their way of thinking and the standards they set themselves. Some of Mrs C’s preferences are fairly frightening: tepid baths – they’re not ‘meant to be pleasant’ – and hard toilet paper; boiled mutton and blancmange.
[The mother and daughter] are a mostly vanished English middle-class type: girlish into old age, unsexual… disciplined, conscientious, narrow… always putting their own interests last.