nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk) wrote,

Things Jill Paton Walsh didn't write

This particularly annoying moment comes towards the end of A Presumption of Death*, a couple of pages after Peter has declared that he would prefer his children to be labelled "middle class of Paggleham" in the same sentence as saying that of course they'll need a good education. I really cannot stand the "Peter and Harriet play middle-class" quality of the JPW books (a problem, to be fair, that is not isolated in these continuations, but found in practically every faux Golden Age mystery novel**), which elides those class and other social attitudes the modern author presumably finds problematic, replacing them with a load of new assumptions that are more infuriating for being the product of now rather than an interesting socio-cultural artefact of then.

*The presumption presumably being a lower-class character daring to die at a time inconvenient to the powers that be.

**The honorable exception being the first book, at least (I've not read the next), of Catriona McPherson's, After the Armistice Ball.

‘But it’s a bit of a poser, don’t you know,' said the Duke of Denver, with a slightly embarrassed expression, 'when a snotty-nosed lad out of the East End starts asking about Caravaggio. Thing is, Peter, what should I do for him? If I wanted to give him a leg up?'

Peter, who had never been so astonished in his life, stared at his brother. ‘Are you serious, Gerald? Well, I’d start by using your position in the Lords to agitate for better universal education. Raise the school leaving age, for a start – oh, and introduce some sort of child payment to mothers so they don’t need the kids’ wages to feed ‘em. Improve the board schools so the poorer ones have a real shot at getting into grammar school, and introduce some sort of sub-grammar scheme for the less bright – like Harrow. Then you’ll need to work on university fees and scholarships – it’s no good getting them through to Matric if they can’t pay the tuition or their bed and board.

‘Of course, nothing’s going to happen during the war, so it won’t help this little blighter. Have a word with one of the teachers, see if they can’t drill him for the exam. If it’s nothing doin’, get Cousin Matthew to do it. He won’t mind one on his own even if the masses terrify him. Then if the brat doesn’t get in on his merits – and he might not, there aren’t many free places – pay for him. When he’s a bit older put him in touch with people so he can get to see stuff. Isn’t Lady Grummidge’s brother something at the Tate? And the people at the Slade, of course. You’ll need to make sure they’re receptive. Oh, and tell him now that you’ll cover a history of art course if he gets in. It’s a lot easier to be motivated by the thought of something that just might be possible,’ he added, with a sideways grin at Harriet.

He stopped to pause for breath and became aware that his brother, his wife, and his mother were all stood staring at him open-mouthed, looking rather like a comic picture.

‘What? Oh! Sorry, I forgot this scene was just meant to reassure the reader that we’re all middle class really – the ones with cash, of course. Look here, Denver, it isn’t complicated. Just chuck some small change at the lad, and then when he can’t possibly get into the Slade, forget about it; you’ll have salved your conscience and it’ll only have cost you a fiver. And you can blame Helen for being stingy about the money.’

There was an audible sigh of relief. Gerald turned on the radio with silent thanks. The bulletin, announcing that Chamberlain had resigned, glowed with hindsight.

A flustered Franklin in an apron – doing double-time and being paid no extra – announced that dinner was served, remembered that no thanks to this lot she had the vote, and resolved that after this war the bloody bastards would see some real change.
Tags: things dls didn't write, wimseyfic
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