Monday, January 22, 2007

A. G. MacDonell - England, their England

I fear that this wonderful comic novel is on it's way to becoming a forgotten classic. I desperately hope it doesn't perhaps this review may go some way towards rescuing it for a new generation.

The central character, like the author is a Scotsman wounded out of the trenches of the first world war who sets himself the task of writing a book to explain Englishness. Over the course of a year he spends his time at country house parties, political rallies, in pubs with journalists and authors and (most hilariously) playing cricket.

Of course, there isn't a glimmer of truth in any of MacDonnell's exaggerated characteristics. What makes the book so funny, is that it's a comic vision of the sort of society that those who think they are English would like to live in. So all the old soldiers are buffoons, the sportsmen all play for the team and elections are all fought with genuine friendliness on both sides. Also there doesn't seem to be any poverty, discontent or racism.

Here we have the Tory Candidate that Donald, our hero ends up supporting at the election. Having just sat down from making a speech, questions from the floor are called for.

'Mr. Chairman, when the candidate says he is in favour of work for all, how does he propose to provide it?'

Donald groaned. The very first man had put his finger on one of the vital weaknesses. Sir Henry rose

'I am very glad indeed that the question has been asked,' he said 'and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the gentleman who asked it, and of congratulating him. Our policy roughly speaking is to see that jobs and adequately paid jobs are provided at once for everyone.' He sat down again amid applause.

Donald gasped. 'Good God! he though, 'they'll start throwing things'

The man who had asked the question rose again.

'Thank you very much' he said and sat down.

Beautifully observed satire, not least because it could, unfortunately be true.


Anonymous said...

England, Their England is a roman a clef, and the main characters are identified on this web-site:

It also contains some fascinating details on Macdonell's other works. You'd hardly believe that Dr Goebbels was one of his readership!

David P. Robinson said...

I was 16 at the time when our Eng Lit master used to introduce us to well written books suitable for, on occasion, expanding the minds of tender 16 year olds. He handed out a “cyclostyled” list of texts (I still have a slightly updated version of the list) and read a chapter from some of them. He was 6 feet plus – a gentle giant with a soft spoke West Country burr.
David P. Robinson