A book that furnishes no quotations is no book – it is a plaything.
~ Thomas Love Peacock
Snobbery tends to be a universal human tendency, so despite my comments below, I know that it’s not exclusive to the British. Apologies to my decent British friends right up front.
A particular brand of snobbery has been on my mind this week.
Netflix released Season 5 of “The Crown” on November 9, 2022. For Royal watchers, the treat lies not so much with the characters, but with what Prince Phillip called “The System,” the monarchy and, by default, the British class system.
The magnificent, massive houses, glimmering blood-red jewels, speed-of-light polo matches, and jockeying for Royal favors, it’s all there.
What’s also there is the snobbery, the assumption that others not of one’s ilk are lesser somehow, stupider, and not to be taken seriously, if they’re even thought of at all.
That’s nothing new, obviously. As I said, it seems to be wired into humans’ DNA, that desire to one-up another, lesser being. Or at least one perceived as thus.
If you think it’s bad now, imagine the attitude of British in their New World, African, and Asian colonies. Their disdain for people from their own country, much less enslaved people, speaks volumes. One might say the very same thing about the French, and other colonizing nations, including the United States.
But I digress.
Don’t believe me about snobbery in England, that “green and pleasant land”? Take a look at this comment from Lizzie Collingham’s The Hungry Empire:
It was something of an honour for Richard Ligon to be invited, as he occupied a delicate social position, somewhere between friend and socially inferior employee.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this sentence. Why?
The passage refers to a dinner held at the home of James Drax, a prominent British planter in Barbados and Jamaica after the 1630s. If a man of Ligon’s stature and education and experience found himself a bit on the outside looking in at people of his own race at the time, it is not difficult to imagine the derisive attitudes toward servants per se, much less enslaved people. The cheerful family-seeming relations in the Julian Fellowes series, “Downtown Abbey,” was nothing more than a myth, as many writers have pointed out. Extrapolate that to situations in America’s past, please.
Unfortunately, that dismissive attitude still prevails. Countlss articles attest to this – just do a Google search using the keywords “snobbery, British.”
Now I arrive at the incidence that set me rabbit-holing into the question of snobbery.
Several days ago, I asked a question in a Facebook group devoted to food writing, mostly in the UK. Seeking to clarify a point or two about Fair Use (called Fair Dealing in the UK) regarding those one-liner quotes often placed at the beginning of book chapters or articles, I was pleased by three or four female British writers who graciously answered my question, sharing tales of experiences, links to more information, and so on.
But then two British males stepped in. I soon found myself in the midst of a snobbery-fueled discussion.
The first, whom I will call GC, offered nothing more than that he doesn’t include quotes in his books because only people who aren’t good writers would use quotes. When I replied that such usage at the beginning of chapters is a common practice, after three or four more responses in the thread, he replied rather archly that because it is a common practice, he doesn’t do it. The word “common” seems to have done it.
Then LG joined the thread, piling on with a list of less-than-flattering quotes from several famous people, about the intellectual inferiority of writers who use quotes:
I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking. ~ Dorothy Sayers
One has to secrete a jelly in which to slip quotations down people’s throats – and one always secretes too much jelly. ~ Virginia Woolf
I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself. ~ Marlene Dietrich
These quotes, rather than displaying the erudion of said LG, all came from a quotations site also resplendent with positive quotations about using quotes, penned by prominent thinkers throughout history. So much for LG’s deep reading and profound erudition ….
By this time, I was finding these attitudes a bit nasty, not at all conducive to fruitful discussion. A stronger word than “twit” came to mind, but I refrained from making a scene. So I just deleted the whole post on the site.
I couldn’t understand why these two men had even bothered to join in the discussion, because they ignored my original question about Fair Use.
But in the course of the exchange, my inner antennae picked up a few hints, one being snobbery.
Call me sensitive. Maybe I am. But with those two, I sensed somehow their words were hiding something, a covert aroma of derision behind it all.