That form of received pronunciation so present in period pieces is so stressful and anxiety-inducing to me that I have a hard time traveling in southern England from time to time. There’s something about the low talking, seemingly snobbish tone that movies and shows about aristocratic life are unbearable. I did not watch Bridgerton. I cannot bear Downton Abbey. It’s a trigger, and it’s also a weakness.
Unfortunately, the 9s in the Modern Library list are full of books that deal with British aristocratic life, ostensibly included as a form class or social commentary. I read these books and can’t help but think how sexually repressed British early 20th century British life must have been that the greatest writers of the time kept churning out novel after novel about it. So enter Henry Green’s Loving.
Unlike similar novels, Loving deals with the servant class managing a minor British aristocrat’s estate in Ireland. The butler dies early in the novel—nothing untoward—and the first footman (whatever that is), Charley Raunce, is put in charge while the Lady (genuinely no idea if this is the right term) Mrs. Tennant and her daughter are away. A sapphire ring goes missing, rumors (no u) of the I.R.A. abound, and the staff, in neutral Ireland, speculate about the goings on of the Second World War. Raunce is in love with Edith, a young housemaid, and so it seems is Kate, another housemaid. The book never explicity describes sex, but there’s more than one scene where Kate disrobes Edith longingly.
From this description, I can almost even see the appeal of such a story. Love! Intrigue! Drama! Except also: indecipherable affairs that make zero sense unless you somehow understand the arcane social customs of the landed gentry. The book progresses mainly through dialogue, making it at times more than a bit dizzying especially because all the characters are nearly indisinguishable. The book is unique for its time because so rarely are the servants the focus of such a story. But this alone wasn’t enough for me to appreciate the novel fully. I’m surely too low class for the piece, though I appreciate what humor it offers that I understand. The truth is, however, I really could not care less about learning more about aristocracy or social norms of the upper classes or the dynamics of the servants or any of that. I am still an anarchist—burn it all down, so to speak. Let us speak like humans to one another. Love affairs are hardly the exclusive remit of the wealthy.