I recently read The New Book of Snobs, A definitive Guide to Modern Snobbery by DJ Taylor and I was quite disappointed that it was the actual thing it said on the cover, and not the book idea I had in my head.
My take on snobbery is that it’s about pre-judging people on something other than merit, or their value as a human being. We have, perhaps a fairly natural, tendency to like things that are more familiar, so we can get locked into only hanging out with other similar people and as that is how people find and get jobs and careers, it tends to define what jobs and lives are available to people. (I’m not saying people are only getting jobs because of who they know, I’m saying the jobs you think to apply to comes from your social background). So assuming all the above, I think snobbery stunts lives. Also are different classes really different ethnic groups? according to a non-English anthropology friend: definitely not, I still think there could some useful ideas there.
So the book I’d like to read is: how can I recognise and work on my own snobbery and how can I become more inclusive and how can we change our institutions and society to be more inclusive, with particular reference to class?
This is not that book.
This book does discuss class a bit, but then gives up the discussion with the line, that because all our literature talks about snobbery , if we didn’t have snobbery we wouldn’t have literature. (I’m sure other less snobby countries manage somehow!). This argument essentially boils down to: its ok to make our lives miserable, as long we can write serious literature about it, it’s a good trade-off. When I was growing up and reading comics about poor exploited orphans most of the stories where set in Victorian times. So it’s totally possible to have good stories without human misery in our own society.
After that the book just slips into comfortable groove of vignettes which seem like they were already written and published before and just stuck on to make up the number of pages (I could look it up, but I haven’t). The problem with these vignettes is that they really buy into the superior attitude of the narrator. The high class mum with the lower class daughter, the couple invited to the literati dinner party, they don’t learn anything, they just get an extra appreciation of how dreadful it is to not be them and go back to their own lives. And I don’t think it’s an unreliable narrator thing, we the reader, don’t learn anything either. So rather than learning more about other people and broadening our horizons we just reinforce our own stereotypes.
I‘d recommend Kate Fox’s Watching the English over this, while it equally isn’t aimed at ending all the pernicious effects of snobbery at least it describes class differences in a far less judgmental way. Or the book I read after writing this: Darren McGarvey’s, Poverty Safari, is a much more interesting and useful book about class.