Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sent out of class

In a post entitled 'Class Reaction' Bournemouth Runner at The Art of Fiction muses that no British writer he can think of is able to write dispassionately about class, our great British subject. Everyone he can think of writes from 'inside' one class or another - mostly from inside the middle or upper classes, but Irvine Welsh too - writing, he claims, from inside the Scottish working class.

Yikes. Reading his thoughts makes me squirm. When I think of the times, when I first started writing, that I aspired to a middle-class certainty of tone and ambience because of my hunch that that was how I'd get published... And then when I grew up and learnt to write more honestly there were negative reactions from middle-class literary people ('What a strange book!' cried my first agent uncertainly, scratching his head; those editors who said politely that they failed to 'warm' to my work), and the sense then - however much I aspired to literary honesty - that, just as I had previously felt trapped by my fake middle-classness, I was now trapped once more in my lack of it. And I was still trapped by middle-classness anyway, since certain readers and reviewers, who defined themselves as working class, saw the middle-class status of the protagonist of my first book, The Birth Machine, (as opposed to the stance of the narrative) as making my book definitively middle class. And anyway, I was middle class now, just through - apart from anything else - the process of getting educated and being published, as Bournemouth Runner points out, and I started to see signs of it in the narrative, in spite of its lack of gentility in the eyes of some. And I think that the trouble I subsequently got into with the women's movement and which just about destroyed my writing career (a hairy saga for another time) was fuelled by perceptions of me as a poncey white middle-class writer.

My feeling then of wanting to escape it all - all these class prejudices and hang-ups - out to some kind of dispassionate classnessness which Bournemouth Runner seems to advocate, and one of the ways to do this, I felt, was an even greater irony than I had so far employed.

But then we can't always write satire, and if Poststructuralism offers us anything it's the knowledge that we can't ever get truly 'outside' our own experience and voices. In any case, we all speak with many voices and as writers we can use them all. Unless this is what Bournemouth Runner is saying...

1 comment:

Adrian Slatcher said...

I'll have to think some more on this, Elizabeth! More soon.