Class War

Referring to my earlier post which asked whether Shakespeare could be read in Manchester reminded me of an important point cited by Alan Sinfield in Literature, Politics and Culture in Post-war Britain. He said that: ...from 1958 Basil Bernstein developed the idea that middle-class children were socialised into an 'elaborated' language, working class children into a 'restricted' one. (p.257)
Is this still relevant today, now that we are, according to some, all middle-class now? It has never been more relevant. It is one of the reasons why Burgess's A Clockwork Orange' and it's own mish-mash vocabulary is still a cult classic. If working class kids inherit a more restrictive language then it makes that much more interesting the tendency for working class kids to create their own language. This language is quickly absorbed into the mainstream media keen to speak to and capitalise upon today's 'yoof'. This moves onto another question - why are the working classes under represented in the novel, thus perpetuating the alienation one can feel with literature, the very medium through which one can become engaged with a more elaborate language? When it comes to the post war novel it is specifically the working class woman who is absent. Consider post war literary movements such as the Angry Young Men, such as David Storey, Alan Sillitoe, Stan Barstow and John Braine. Even kitchen sink drama was male dominated in terms of production. These latter two movements, unlike Burgess, perpetuated the restrictive language Bernstein referred to. Realism, or social realism has become, or has long been, the definitive narrative style. There have been 'radical' departures from realism, and when there has it has usually created huge enthusiasm from those who have hitherto felt excluded from the novel. Take Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, a perfect example of using dialect in an innovative way that subverts the standard narrative and in doing so revitalises it. What happened in terms of its political message once Hollywood got hold of the film rights is another issue. But what about novels to and from working class women, those who would count themselves lucky to have Woolf's recommended three guineas or a room of one's own. The major working class woman novelist would have to be Pat Barler. Her first three novels were all concerned with the lives of working class women in the eighties. However, it was only when Barker moved onto the themes of men and military that she achieved mainstream success. Telling.
To be continued.

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