Thursday, 19 May 2011

How Ian McEwan wrote the same book twice

Hi! I'm the narrator of an Ian McEwan novel, which I like to call “Enduring Saturday”. I'm just your typical white middle class guy who's wealthy enough to own a nice house in London. I'm married to a smart, beautiful woman who has a job (see, I'm not a sexist!) but doesn't really get much of a part in the novel other than to illustrate how virile I am and as a useful backdrop against which to depict the near-disintegration of my life (oh, maybe I am a bit sexist).

One day, a totally random occurrence brings me into contact with a poor working class white man who's either mentally ill or has a serious neurological disorder, which explains why he's so angry with me and determined to ruin my life (poor people would only be angry with rich people if they were funny in the head). They're crazy, these poor people, but it's useful to have them around to create a bit of drama in my life, which would otherwise be kind of boring, because when you're as rich as me, nothing interesting ever happens.

So anyway, the crazy poor guy starts chasing me round and trying to mess up my relationship with the women I own - oops, I mean, love - as I try to get on with my comfortable-but-meaningless-life, until eventually we have a dramatic confrontation, I nearly die, but in the end it's ok because the poor guys ends up in prison or in hospital, and I go on with life with a renewed ability to appreciate my boring bourgeois existence.
The End.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The theology of Lark Rise

I recently read Flora Thompson's Lark Rise, a chronicle of village life in Victorian Britain (that was recently turned into a BBC drama). It's based on her childhood growing up in a village very much like the one she describes, and was beautifully written, fascinating to read, and an interesting contrast to most of the other literature I've read from that period which is either about rich people or the urban poor, and Thompson takes an interesting position on the politics of it all, talking about how hard it is just to feed a family on a farm labourer's wages, but also saying a lot of things like "People were poorer and had not the comforts, amusements, or knowledge we have to-day; but they were happier." She says this about the sermons they listened to in church:

Another favourite subject was the supreme rightness of the social order as it then existed. God, in His infinite wisdom, had appointed a place for every man, woman, and child on this earth and it was their bounden duty to remain contentedly in their niches. A gentleman might seem to some of his listeners to have a pleasant, easy life, compared to theirs at field labour; but he had his duties and responsibilities, which would be far beyond their capabilities. He had to pay taxes, sit on the Bench of Magistrates, oversee his estate, and keep up his position by entertaining. Could they do these things? No. Of course they could not; and he did not suppose that a gentleman could cut as straight a furrow or mow or thatch a rick as expertly as they could. So let them be thankful and rejoice in their physical strength and the bounty of the farmer, who found them work on his land and paid them wages with his money.

Less frequently, he would preach eternal punishment for sin, and touch, more lightly, upon the bliss reserved for those who worked hard, were contented with their lot and showed proper respect to their superiors. The Holy Name was seldom mentioned, nor were human griefs or joys, or the kindly human feelings which bind man to man. It was not religion he preached, but a narrow code of ethics, imposed from above upon the lower orders, which, even in those days, was out of date.
So, you know, maybe some things about the Church have got better. Have they?