“There’s nowt so queer as folk” – Aristotle
“Snobs” is written by Julian Fellowes, the person behind Dowager Countess’ wit, flawless period aesthetics and emotion-rich storyline of Downton Abbey. A detailed and vivid account of different classes of England, more than his later production of the aforementioned famous masterpiece, Snobs is his debut novel. The book is narrated by a nameless person from a well-born upper-middle class, who had mixed enough with the gentry to know their customs, ways and die-hard habits. The main character is his friend Edith, a beautiful girl from a middle-class family with not much skill, talent or background, but an ambition of an arriviste instilled in her by her mother. Edith, quite aware of her late twenties, lack of direction in life does her best to have the landed Earl Charles Broughton fall in love with her. This is not something that is relished by the groom’s mother, Lady Uckfield. The ticket to the title earned by Edith, however becomes a restless and sore point of her elevated life shortly after the victory. She sets out to take care of the “unhappiness” which results in missteps that end up her being at risk of becoming a déclassé from the privileged one.
Snobs is a work of art when it comes to the plethora of information about all the classes of 1990s England. Fellowes’ hold on history, politics, culture, social classes, human brain (of both genders) and humor is evident throughout. One might think from the name that the book is an anti-aristocrat account – and a good part of it may be considered so, but it dissects the innards of social climbers quite as well, resulting from intermarriages, with or without love between the distinct classes. Fellowes, through his narrator stays quite neutral in judgement of all the classes or better put, he judges each class justly, as deserved. Quite impartial, he sympathizes with characters when in need and points out the vice in them accordingly – those who did wrong, betrayed, plotted, had their own say, and those who loved, were innocent, genuine and the victims of the evil, cruel schemes, all were allowed justification in their defense.
The book is a great read for people from other cultures to understand the “personality” of England. Especially those of us who are from countries with British impressions and later settle in the US. We come with this preconceived notion that all the West is same, without realizing that even in this day and age, each of the two countries has its own distinct identity. The book brought to surface so many acute characteristics that set the two cultures and their people farther apart than they geographically are. If I had read this book before I moved to the US, I would not have been that surprised of these characters with stiff upper lip, masked and frigid to their core. But after living in the US for more than 2 decades, apparently, I have absorbed a lot more of the American culture than I realize. I love England; it is one of my favorite places to visit, my passion for reading was instilled by the beloved English authors, and I adore the old charm and history it offers. But I can’t deny after reading the book, I prefer the practical Americans and their honest ability to own their forefather’s mistakes if it comes to that, to be loyal to what’s right, not what’s inherited, making life far less complicated that it already is. I consider myself a nostalgic person who loves history, but never would I like to be part of the revival of an erstwhile allure that gives a fake satisfaction of living in such era, that is not so gilded and not at all Victorian. Unlike England, where respectability and nobility comes from families and titles, the upper class in the US does not reach its status by birth or ancestry, but by the hard work. American gentry would rather have have an unpredictable and adventurous life, resulting from money earned hard and spent with vigor, not the social seasons, marriage markets and predictability of life as Lady Uckfield relates about Charles, “His whole existence is in farming calendar. For the next fifty years he will shoot and farm and farm and shoot and go abroad for three weeks in July. He will worry about tenants and have fights with vicar and try to get the government to contribute to rewiring the east wing. And his friends with very few exceptions, will be other people reroofing their houses and farming and shooting and trying to get government grants and used exemptions. This is his future.”
Snobs is not a very “heavy” story, but you may find yourself vested in it. The only thing that became tiring a bit here and there was the narrator’s voice and command he felt entitled to, but this is so common with many writers who chose to give the commentary rights to a raconteur whether they write satire, comedy or a whodunit. (Reminds me of my issue with another favorite author, Nelson Demile although I love his books). It brought the reading pleasure a notch down but knowing what I know about Mr. Fellowes, I rest my case that this is the author’s voice and maybe a third person account would not do the justice to the subject the same way.
If you are a lover of English books, Downton Abbey and Julian Fellowes, this is for sure going to agree with you!