Monday, June 18, 2012

on Class by Paul Fussell

"The word 'class' is fraught with unpleasing associations, so that to linger upon it is apt to be interpreted as the symptom of a perverted mind and a jaundiced spirit." —R. H. Tawney

"You reveal a great deal about your social class by the amount of annoyance or fury you feel when the subject is brought up. A tendency to get very anxious suggests that you are middle-class and nervous about slipping down a rung or two. On the other hand, upper-class people love the topic to come up: the more attention paid to the matter the better off they sem to be. Proletarians generally don't mind discussions of the subject because they know they can do little to alter their class identity. Thus the whole class matter is likely to seem like a joke to them—the upper classes fatuous in their empty aristocratic pretentiousness, the middles loathsome in their anxious gentility. It is the middle class that is highly class-sensitive, and sometimes class-scared to death." —Paul Fussell

I loved the opening pages of Class, but I soon got bored. Fussell isn't interested in the underlying workings of class. He's concerned with the markers, the manifestations of class. Since the book is old, the markers are dated. But the book is a grand snapshot of its time, and I'd recommend it to anyone writing about the '70s and early '80s.

Note: I read the 1983 edition. Apparently, the book was updated, so it might also be a useful snapshot of later class markers too.