Saturday, July 5, 2008

Bath Tangle (Book #65)

I'm pretty sure I read Bath Tangle (Georgette Heyer, 1955) when I was 14 or 15. My hometown library had an extensive Heyer collection, and the plot sounded familiar. But since that was more than half my life ago, I decided it counted as a new read.

It's not my favorite Heyer--I prefer The Grand Sophy, The Spanish Bride, and Frederica--but it's a fun, frothy romp, and I like its relatively slow pace and large cast of characters. One trend I don't like in modern romances is how the hero and heroine are often the only three-dimensional characters in sight, and they fall in love and commit within the course of a few days (perhaps out of relief in finding someone who isn't a 2-D cardboard cut-out!).

That said...is it just me, or do English writers of the mid-20th century actually show more classism than those from about 150 years earlier? This isn't the worst in Heyer's canon in that regard, but there's a definite sense that everyone has their level and really ought to stick to it. Dorothy Sayers is the same way--one of these days I'm going to post my rant about how I want to step into the books and make Bunter strike out on his own and stop being so damn servile when anyone can see he's just as clever as Peter and Harriet if not more so. And I remember as a child being baffled when CS Lewis has Prince Rilian in The Silver Chair tell Jill that her bravery must be a sign that she comes of noble blood. I even asked my mom what that had to do with anything, and she did her best to explain about how Lewis wrote from a different time and place and so on.

I still like Heyer, and I downright love Sayers and Lewis, but I regularly want to wring their necks over how they treat class. But while there are plenty of class issues in Jane Austen's work, I never want to do more than "tsk-tsk" at her when she says something that goes against my values as a 21st-century American with blue collar, borderline hillbilly antecedents. And on the whole, that's how I feel about 18th and early 19th century writers in general. Yes, they generally accept a class structure I'd rail against if I found myself caught in it--but it never feels quite so rigid as in those mid-20th century authors.

I'm not sure my perception is accurate, though. It could be I'm just willing to cut Austen et al. more slack than I am a set of people whose lifetimes overlapped those of my parents. Thoughts?

1 comment:

Danielle said...

Austen didn't need to be strident about her classism because there was very little chance of anyone moving up in class during the 18C -early 19C (of course there are exceptions, but they're famous precisely because they were rare).

OTOH, Sayers & Heyer have vast class anxieties because the British class system was developing deep cracks.