July 24, 2009

Anglophilia and other social diseases, part I

I'm always surprised when people assume that because I studied and taught English, I must be an Anglophile. For one thing, lots of people study "English" without spending a whole lot of time reading English literature; lots of undergraduate English programs are set up to facilitate that--for better or worse.

Anyhow, if I remember correctly, I wrote my dissertation on some books written by an Irish writer ... and even though he was born a British subject and--correct me if I'm wrong--remained one by choice until (and presumably after) his death, he certainly wasn't English. Most 20th century British literature worth reading is likewise not precisely English.

So ... I haven't been to too many exotic and foreign places, and certainly the UK is someplace I'd like to visit, but I don't expect to love it exactly. I don't feel drawn there or anything. I just don't get that--it's not like I'd get to live in any of the books I've come to know and love of the years.

Once I read a paper to the ladies of a local Jane Austen Society chapter, and they were all dressed in some semblance of period costume for their post-lecture "high tea," during which I--trying modestly to avert my eyes from the little old ladies in their Empire dresses while leaning down close enough to hear their enthusiastic discussions--realized that they were engaged with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in a way that I just couldn't be. I could live in London for the rest of my life and never be invited to a party at the Dalloway home, is what I'm saying. I don't read the stuff because I want to experience it. Most of the stuff I read about I'd hate to experience firsthand.

It might be that pretend history is easier for people to swallow in places like in the very historical southern town I used to live near, because about that same time I also met a person who had a pronounced--yea, even mispronounced--British accent he had somehow picked up after spending ONE SUMMER in the UK as an ADULT, defying everything anybody knows about dialect acquisition. Embarrassing--to everyone but the one who should have been embarrassed.

That's the kind of thing that makes me leery, to say the least, of Anglophilia.

To be continued ...


NYMary said...

Does this mean I cannot count on you to attend this year's Halloween festivities dressed as Septimus Smith? Shit, that throws the whole party off-kilter!

JB said...

I might not make much of an entrance, but I make a hell of an exit.