"[Buruma's] own and his family's story is artfully woven through the various tales of Anglomania, making this both a memoir and a work of intellectual history."The New York Times Book Review
Anglomania: A European Love Affairby Ian Buruma
"Imaginative, originalwittily written."The Washington Post Book World
To some, England has long represented tolerance, reason, and political moderation. To others, it is a moribund bastion of snobbery and outdated tradition. In this lively and diverting social history, noted author Ian Buruma, himself the son of Dutch immigrants to/i>… See more details below
"Imaginative, originalwittily written."The Washington Post Book World
To some, England has long represented tolerance, reason, and political moderation. To others, it is a moribund bastion of snobbery and outdated tradition. In this lively and diverting social history, noted author Ian Buruma, himself the son of Dutch immigrants to England, provides an incisive look at anglophiliaand anglophobiaover the last two centuries.
From passionate enthusiasts like Voltaire and Goethe, to exiles like Garibaldi and Herzen, to colorful England-bashers like Napoleon, Marx, and Kaiser Wilhelm II, Anglomania gives a sharply satirical account of Europe's sometimes comical, sometimes deadly prejudices, and explains why England's individuality and her relationship with Europe is still vitally important as we enter the twenty-first century.
The New Republic
In the last scene of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Leslie Howard is crossing the channel after having saved dozens of French aristocrats from the guillotine. On sighting the White Cliffs he turns to his wife, played by Merle Oberon, and says with a sob in his voice, "Look, Marguerite ... England!"
It brings the house down every time, Ian Buruma claims in his intriguing new book, Anglomania, because deep down we're all closet Anglophiles. And by "we," he doesn't just mean Americans. In fact, that line was written by Alexander Korda, a Hungarian, and spoken by Leslie Howard, another Hungarian, in a screenplay based on a book by yet another Hungarian, Baroness Orczy. As Buruma demonstrates, Westerners from Voltaire to Isaiah Berlin have credited the English with all sorts of attractive traits, among them heroism, tolerance and an almost childlike sense of fair play. In this engaging mix of history and reportage, Buruma explains why.
His personal Anglophilia has its origins in his childhood. Raised in Holland by a Dutch father and an English mother, he spent school holidays in England. His maternal grandparents, second-generation German-Jewish immigrants who left the slums of East London to settle in Berkshire, were more English than Lord Peter Wimsey: "Sherry on the terrace; village fetes on the lawn; cooked breakfasts kept warm under silver covers." Buruma adored his grandfather with an intensity found only in "small boys and religious fanatics," and at an early age he became convinced of the absolute superiority of life in England.
OK, so Buruma's Anglophilia has emotional roots -- but where did the rest of us get the idea? Have we all been brainwashed by centuries of fabulous PR, courtesy of Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Rupert Brooke (not to mention Diana Rigg, for whom thousands of middle-aged men would lay down their lives)? Or does this myth, like so many, contain something real at its core?
Not to ruin the suspense for you, but Buruma thinks that Anglomanes are onto something: The English really are -- or, at least, were -- a special breed. Beginning with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, he writes, Britain exhibited "a remarkable combination of civility and freedom ... [it was] the only European power that had a free press, freedom of speech, and a freely elected government." Naturally enough, this atmosphere attracted intellectuals, who then passed their enthusiasm on to others.
Take the case of Voltaire, who fled to England in 1726, propelled by a brush with the Bastille over a poem that the French government considered seditious. He was enchanted: "The arts are all honored and rewarded," he wrote. "There is a difference between the stations of life but none other between men except that of merit."
When Voltaire returned to France in 1728, he brought l'anglomanie with him. English food became popular at Parisian dinner parties. French women began wearing English bonnets. Fussy French gardens were redesigned into English parks. Eventually our own Benjamin Franklin, whose love for all things French is legendary, contracted Anglomania from Voltaire. As Buruma observes, "the seed had been sown" for American Anglophilia. Could the Ralph Lauren Home Collection be far behind?
Similar patterns prevailed throughout Europe. The Germans caught Anglomania via Shakespeare, whom they adopted as a Nordic poet. In France, the Baron de Coubertin, reading about Rugby School in Tom Brown's School Days, decided that his nation could be reinvigorated by cold baths and cricket; he went on to start the modern Olympic Games.
Today, Buruma concedes, the sun is setting on Anglophilia. European unity demands that Britons abandon their image of themselves as the valiant defenders of freedom before it deteriorates into jingoism or self-parody. No longer an insular bastion of freedom peopled by the happy few, Britain will become just another cog in the European Union.
We Americans, of course, will still have PBS.
The New York Times Book Review
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.15(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.67(d)
Meet the Author
Ian Buruma is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Institute for the Humanities in Washington, D.C.
More from this Author
Read an Excerpt
AnglomaniaA European Love Affair
By Ian Buruma
Vintage Books USACopyright © 2000 Ian Buruma
All right reserved.
It was in 1960, or possibly 1961, at any hate before the first Beatles LP, that I went shopping for cheroots with my grandfather. He was over in The Hague on a visit from England. I was about ten. I was born in The Hague. My father was Dutch and my mother English. To me a visit to Holland by my grandparents felt like the arrival of messengers from a wider, more glamorous world.
My grandfather, who had served as an army doctor in India during the war, liked Burmese cheroots. These were hard to come by in Holland, but if there was one shop in The Hague that was likely to stock them, it was a tobacconist named de Graaff.
G. de Graaff was an old-fashioned family firm. A portrait of the founder, a man with elaborate whiskers and a stiff white collar, hung on the wall behind the counter. We were served by the founder's grandson, a small, dapper man in a three-piece suit, with the slightly fussy manners of an old-fashioned maitre d'. He opened some boxes of cigars for my grandfather to sample. One or two specimens were taken out, to be pinched and sniffed. A purchase was made. I don't know whether they were Burmese cheroots. But I can remember vividly the look on the tobacconist's face when he realized my grandfather was an Englishman.
De Graaff said he had something special to show. He smiled in anticipation of my grandfather's pleasure. "Please," he said, and pointed at the wall, where Cuban cigars were stacked. And there, in an open space, between pungent boxes of Coronas and Ideales, hung a framed glass case containing two long, cinnamon-colored cigars, dry as old turds; one had been partly smoked, the other was untouched. The case had been sealed with red wax. At the bottom was a copper plate bearing the simple inscription 1946, SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL'S CIGAR.
I found out more about the famous cigar on my second visit to the shop, almost forty years later. The old de Graaff was dead. His son, a tall man with a somewhat ostentatious gray mustache, showed me the glass case, the two cigars, and a letter from Queen Wilhelmina's court marshal, in which de Graaff was thanked for his supply of fine cigars. They had been presented at the queen's lunch for Winston Churchill. One of the cigars had been lit by Churchill himself and passed through his very own lips. The other came from the same box. The partly smoked cigar had been put away because lunch was served and the queen couldn't abide smoking in her presence. However, the two precious relics were saved for posterity by Churchill's butler, who passed them on to one of the queen's footmen, who presented them to de Graaff, who then had his solicitor draw up the document to vouch for their authenticity.
My grandfather would have been amused and, being a patriot, probably touched by this gesture. Then again, in those days he might have been accustomed to such small tributes being paid to being British. Through the late 1940s and 1950s, and even in the 1960s, the British were considered a superior breed in places like The Hague. For the British, together with the Americans and the Canadians, had won the war. So had the Soviet Union, but the Red Army was never anywhere near The Hague, and besides, the Red Army was, after all, the Red Army.
The British are no longer regarded as a superior breed, even in The Hague. The image of Britain as the land of war heroes is disappearing. Now when the British return to wage war in Europe, they come as soccer hooligans: history repeating itself as a beer-flecked horror show. But I still grew up with the image of British superiority, which gave me vicarious pleasure as well as the kind of slight resentment one might feel toward a very grand parent. It was an image that owed a great deal to snobbery, but to something else, too, something more political in origin: a particular idea of freedom. The characters in this bookEuropeans who loved or hated Britainwere either attracted by the ideal of British liberty or disgusted by it. Since I am one of my own characters, and the one I probably know best, I shall start with my own account, about growing up in The Hague, and about my grandfather, whom I worshiped with the intensity of which only little boys and religious fanatics are capable.
My grandfather, Bernard Schlesinger, was the son of a German-Jewish immigrant, which explains, perhaps, his particular brand of patriotism. I would watch him as a child, during the summer holidays, as he worked in his Berkshire garden, picking vegetables or pruning the fruit trees, dressed in corduroys and tweeds. Even though he was in fact a pediatrician in London, he seemed to belong to the landscape: the fields, smelling of hay; the villages, smelling of horse dung and smoke; and the large Victorian vicarage that my grandparents bought after the war, smelling of candle wax and polished oak. This was his home. He would talk to me about the importance of loving one's country, and how he loved England. I did not understand the depth or the nature of his love. I was never unhappy in Holland, but from quite an early age it was a place I always thought of leaving. The world seemed more promising elsewhere (a state of mind that, once entered, will never leave you in peace). But to my grandfather, England was not only the country he was born and raised in; after Hitler, it was, in his mind, the country that saved him, and his family, from almost certain death.
To be saved. Can the feeling of liberation ever be transmitted to those who have always been free? My father, who was forced to work in a German factory during the war, was liberated in Berlin by the Soviet Red Army. His memories of freedom regained are set to the sound of Russian dances and Ukrainian folk songs (alter the Stalin Organs and the Flying Fortresses). But his case was unusual. For most Dutch people, freedom came from the West. As a child I read stories of the so-called Engelandvaarders, the men who sailed for England, in yachts, dinghies, even rowboats, anything that would float across the North Sea, to freedom. In the storiesthough not in real lifethey invariably made it and came back as heroes in Spitfires. Our ideas of England, or America, or Canada, were inseparable from the idearather abstract, to usof freedom.
It is impossible to imagine quite what it must have felt like: the erotic rush of being freed. In the Netherlands, and elsewhere in Europe, the sexuality of liberation was not only subliminal; it was blatantly, frenetically acted out. Local men were pale and skinny from years of hiding, fear, and malnutrition. The sight of smiling GIs, lolling on the back of their jeeps, smoking Lucky Strikes and chewing gum, cannot have offered a greater contrast to the more familiar sight of marching German soldiers, stamping their boots and bellowing songs in perfectly drilled formations. Americans and Canadians, well fed, smartly turned out, and tanned from the Italian sunshine, liberated Holland to the swinging beat of Glenn Miller's "In the Mood: The British Tommies were perhaps weedier, knobblier, shorter. They carried less cash and could not show quite such immaculate teeth when they smiled their victory smiles. But the girls still adored them.
The summer of 1945 turned into an orgiastic celebration of liberty. At least seven thousand illegitimate children were spawned in one month in Holland alone. Everywhere, at street parties, in schools, in cafes and restaurants, there was the sound of swing and the smell of perfume, sweat, and beer. And sex: in short-time hotels, in rented rooms, in parks and abandoned houses, in jeeps, at dance halls, cinemas, and up against the walls of provincial back streets. Not until 1964, when girls jumped into the canals to touch the pleasure boat that bore the Beatles through Amsterdam's canals like conquering heroes was anything like it seen again.
It seems so long ago, that summer of 1945, which to me is not even memory but history. And not even history per se, but movie history. In my mind's eye, the liberators of '44 and '45 are not those anonymous men kissing girls on tanks in black-and-white photographs, but John Wayne, Kenneth More, Richard Burton, and Robert Mitchum landing at Normandy. I still weep at the scene in The Longest Day when the Frenchman, played by Bourvil, in his carefully preserved World War I helmet, waves a champagne bottle, like a madman, at the British and American troops who rush past him. "Welcome, boys!" he shouts. The soldiers laugh but have no time to stop. They are amused, but they fail to see the pathos of the situation; they cannot feel what he does. He is the one being freed. In the end, he is left on his own, in the rubble of his town demolished by artillery and bombs, still cradling his bottle of champagne, with no one there to share it.
When I stood in the center of Amsterdam, exactly fifty years after liberation, watching the British and Canadian jeeps pass by once more, perhaps for the last time, in celebration of Liberation Day, I had a whiff of what it must have been like back then. It was hot. The streets were packed. There was music: Glenn Miller on the square in front of the royal palace; Vera Lynn somewhere near the hot dog stands behind the Krasnapolsky Hotel. Young people danced to a rock and roll band, and over by the station somebody was playing "Hail the Conquering Heroes Come"
It was a sentimental, anachronistic reconstruction. How could I know what it had really been like? I wasn't hungry, for one thing. Yet it was impossible not to be moved as the jeeps rolled slowly down the Damrak toward the royal palace. Elderly Canadian and British veterans, dressed in uniforms that no longer fit, tried to keep their lips from trembling as men and women, especially women, along the route surged forward to touch their hands, the way they did fifty years ago, shouting, "Thank you! Thank you!" For a few hours, old men, whose stories had long worn out the patience of the people back home, were heroes again in the country they had liberated.
It is one of the great differences between Britain and the western seaboard of Europe, this divide between those who remember being freed and those who did the freeing. Since these experiences have passed into history, the actual memories have dimmed, but the divide remains. It is there, like a shadow, clouding every British debate on "Europe": Britain is free, Europe must be liberated or left to its own devices. It is disturbing to hear British nationalists ranting against "Europe" by invoking Churchill's war, precisely because I, and others of my generation, still respond to such rhetoric so easily. But to see the rhetoric of freedom as simply a product of Dunkirk nostalgia is to miss an important point. The idea of British freedom under threat from Continental tyranny goes back centuries. And it is not entirely spurious.
Britain has been a haven for refugees from many purges and tyrannies: Huguenots in the seventeenth century, aristocrats after the French Revolution, revolutionaries after 1848, Jews in the nineteenth century and again in the 1930s. This idea of freedomnot egalitarianism or fraternityis what has drawn people to the United States as well. And there are similarities between Anglo- and Americophilia. The French often lump les anglo-saxons together as a composite model of economic laissez-faire and shallow materialism. The idea of a special Anglo-American bond still has a sentimental appeal in Britain and among the eastern upper classes of America. And yet there is also a great divide in the camp of the liberators.
It was visible in June 1994, when the D-Day landings were remembered in Normandy. Veterans from many countries marched on the beaches, stiffly, proudly, aware that this might be their last reunion. Bands played; people cheered; neat rows of soldiers, buried in the war cemeteries, were thanked by public figures for having "laid down their lives" for freedom. Representatives from all the main Allied powers spoke. But I was struck, watching the proceedings on television, by the differences in style.
The United States was represented by its elected head of state. But President Clinton was too young to remember D-Day. And on this occasion the veterans' speeches carried more weight. They were elderly now, bald, white-haired, portly men, dressed casually in T-shirts and baseball caps. They did not stand stiffly to attention. These were the men who had lolled on the back of their jeeps, smoking Lucky Strikes, as they rode into the arms of thousands of girls in Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. Their speeches were not flowery, or poetic, or even very eloquent, but they spoke of liberty without a hint of old-world cynicism. They believed in it, and this gave them a dignity that no amount of pomp could contrive.
In British ceremonies and commemorations, the tone was set by royalty, nobility, and the clergy, dressed up in traditional finery. The duke of Edinburgh spoke about freedom and survival, and the veterans, wearing their wartime decorations, saluted the duke with quivering hands. They marched past the queen and saluted her too. Archbishops delivered sermons, and the chaplain-general carried out his duty with solemn grace. BBC reporters told their viewers in hushed tones "how well we still do these things." There is indeed a certain poetry in British pomp and something grand about the pride in continuity and the belief in traditioneven if the tradition is often not as old as it pretends to be. The ancien régime of Britain survived, heroically, while America liberated the world, or at least large parts of it.
No doubt many people, including Americans, would have found the British talk of freedom and the deference paid to social rank contradictory. Many British people, especially those on the left, would too. But not British conservatives, and not a certain kind of Anglophile. For they would argue that freedom and democracy are safeguarded by deference and traditionvox pop tempered by enlightened aristocracy. That was the Britain Winston Churchill stood for. It is the reason why a snobbish tobacconist in The Hague was so proud to own a stub of the great Englishman's cigar. If freedom is one component of Anglophilia, snobbery is another.
The Hague always was a snobbish town. As with many snobbish towns, there is not a great deal to be snobbish about The criminal underworld is large and brutal. The people are not especially friendly, and the local patois is rough and charmless. But The Hague is the official residence of the royal House of Orange. The government is there, and so are the embassies. From the seventeenth until the late nineteenth century, the town had a certain cosmopolitan elegance, with a fine municipal theater built in the French style, and several good concert halls. Mozart played there as a child prodigy. Voltaire spent time in The Hague. The leafy center, near the medieval parliament building, was a place for fin-de-siècle flâneurs to be seen, strolling among the trees of the Lange Voorhout, on their way to the Hotel des Indes, where Anna Pavlova, the ballerina, died in her suite in 1931. (Round the corner lived Mata Hari, who entertained her gentleman friends at the same hotel.)
The Hague was a smallish town with aspirations to a grand style. This style was inspired by (when not a direct imitation of) foreign manners and fashions. The architecture of Louis XIV was copied at the end of the seventeenth century. Two hundred years later, and in some cases long after that, smart people still spoke French at home. Adopting the manners of a foreign elite is a way for local society to feel distinguished. Since Amsterdam was the only real city in Holland and Rotterdam the center of commerce, a grand style was essential for The Hague to dress itself up as being something more than a provincial capital. This lends to parts of The Hague a peculiar staginess: the perfect setting for people who like official decorations, protocol, and the subtleties of placement at diplomatic dinner parties.
There were still remnants of the grand manner when I grew up in The Hague. Upper-middle-class matrons would insist on pronouncing certain Dutch words à la française O.ld colonials from the Dutch East Indiesmost of whom settled in The Haguewould dress up in tropical suits and order rijsttafels at old-fashioned restaurants as though they were still at the club in Batavia. And gossip was still exchanged in drawing rooms around the Lange Voorhout, or an area known as Benoordehout, literally "North of the Woods," about this ambassador or that. But the predominant style among "Our Kind of People" (Ons Soort Mensen, or O.S.M.) had become English instead of French.
North America was respected for its wealth and power, but Britain held a singular fascination for the snobs, that is to say, much of The Hague's elite. Churchill's Britain had fought off a Continental tyranny to preserve its liberal institutions. But something else had survived in Britain, or perhaps I should say England, something Shakespeare called degree and we call class. Class distinctions exist everywhere in Europe, but after World War II there were few traces left of an ancien régime, even in the Continental monarchies, no aristocratic upper houses, no great landowning dynasties. Some of the names had survived, but they played no significant part in public life. What was unique, and therefore so fascinating about England, was not the mere survival of aristocracy but the survival of an aristocratic style aspired to and imitated by the upper middle class.
Elements of the Dutch bourgeoisie, perhaps more than was later admitted, were attracted before the war to the German idea of a Nordic Herrenvolk, as indeed were some English aristocrats. North of the Woods Anglophilia might be superficially related to this. But I don't think so. What the Anglophiles admired was not so much aristocracy, let alone a racial elite, but something both more liberal and more bourgeois than that: the gentleman, whom André Malraux once called England's grande création de l'homme. A bourgeois man with aristocratic manners, a tolerant elitist who believes in fair play: the image of the English gentleman, bred rather than born, appeals to snobbery and liberalism in equal measure. North of the Woods bristled with would-be English gentlemen.
North of the Woods is not a grand place. There are no particularly grand houses. It is much like those English suburbs mocked in Bateman cartoons. I associate the summers of my childhood with the monotonous swish-swish of garden sprinklers and the smell of freshly cut grass. Winter or summer, the streets always looked immaculate and dull. But there, mowing those lawns and working those sprinklers, were the doctors, dentists, lawyers, and bankers in their blue blazers, English brogues, and club ties: the Anglophiles. Grown men would sit in the wooden pavilion of The Hague Cricket Club with transistor radios pressed to their ears, following the latest Test Match results in England. "Cowdrey's out!" one would shout, or "Trueman's got a wicket?" All this exclaimed in Dutch, but with the drawl of North of the Woods gentility. It is a sound easier to imitate than to describe on paper: something between a goose's honk and a duck's quack.
The Anglophiles took the badges of their peculiar identity seriously. They were almost fetishistic about them. It is possible to write a study on the significance of the club tie alone. The yellow and black cotton HCC tie was readily available at designated sports shops. But there was more prestige in wearing the yellow and black tie of Clare College, Cambridge, which was made of silk and had to be bought in England. Anyone traveling to England would get so many requests to purchase this item at a special club tie shop in Margaret Street, London W1, that he would come back laden with neckwear, like a traveling salesman.
Brogues were another sartorial fetish. Many shoe manufacturers made these shoes with ornamental holes, originally designed to let water drain out when one went sloshing through Scottish peat bogs in the rain. But not every kind of brogue would do. Only the classic English brogne was acceptable. Oddly, other types of English shoes, more popular in England, were not. The elastic-sided Chelsea boot, for example, was considered too eccentric. A young HCC cricketer once came back from England with a pair of suede Chelsea boots. No matter how he tried to convince his friends that these were absolutely fine in England, in their eyes they still looked ludicrous.
The English style was never adopted wholesale. Authenticity was not the point. I was an oddity as a boy in The Hague because my mother liked to dress me up in long flannel shorts and knee socks, like an English schoolboy. Authenticity, divorced from its context, is absurd. To my peers, my Marks and Spencer outfits made me look like Little Lord Fauntleroy. When I was at secondary school, in the middle 1960s, the fashion in North of the Woods was to wear imported British college scarves with colored stripes. I had one of those, with black and yellow Clare College colors, worn wrapped around my neck with studied nonchalance. But then my grandmother bought me a double-breasted overcoat at a school outfitters in London. This was a step too far. It was the sort of coat only elderly bankers might have worn in Holland, before the war.
Anglophilia is of course a fantasy, like all forms of "philia," which can easily degenerate into a form of pretending to be something you are not. My view of England was no less fantastic than that of my friends at the HCC, but it was fed by knowledge they didn't have, by Boy's Own annuals and comics about British schoolboys winning football matches and British heroes winning the war, killing cartoon Germans who were all named Fritz. I consumed British fantasies about Britain, without being British. This caused a certain amount of confusion, more to do with nationality than with class. In my case, the fetishism of the club tie was infinitely expanded: I made a fetish of nationhood itself. To be more English I would spend hours imitating my mother's handwriting, as though something of the effortless English superiority, something of my grandfather's Berkshire landscape, some vital if undefinable essence of Englishness would rub off.
But what was my grandfather's landscape, this English way of life glimpsed during school holidays, which seemed so much more glamorous and desirable to me than our perfectly good life in The Hague? My grandparents' house: I still go there sometimes to look at what is left of it. I park my car furtively in the drive and gaze at the old Victorian vicarage, so white, so large, so warm in my memory, and so remote now. It has had several different owners since my grandparents sold it, and several coats of paint. The color changed from white to gray, and back to white again. It seems to have shrunk since I was there as a boy. Details have been fixed. The gardener's cottage is now a weekend house with glazed windows. The chicken coops, where I used to collect eggs, are gone. And the garden that seemed to stretch for miles up to "the fields," where cows grazed beyond a row of beech trees, looks smaller, more fenced in, than the way I remember it. The M4 cuts through the fields now. You can hear and see the traffic rushing past a petrol station and "service center" built on the old runway of a wartime aerodrome, which, when I first saw it, was already overgrown with weeds.
Impressions come flooding back, which, when I think about them, seem too quaint, too stereotypical, too Merchant Ivory, to have been true: people drinking sherry on the terrace; village fêtes on the lawn; my grandmother, in brown gardening shoes caked with fresh mud, carrying hampers filled with vegetables; cooked breakfasts kept warm under silver covers; The News of the World and the smell of stale sweat and cigarettes in the cook's tiny backstairs room; cavernous linen cupboards; a larder smelling of cheese and butter; picture books of Lancaster bombers, left behind by uncles who were children during the war; the crunching sound of cars rolling up the drive. When the sun wasn't shining, it was snowing. It was never simply dreary. For it was a childhood idyll that memory has turned into a vision of Arcadia, like a sentimental Christmas card.
And it was there, in that Arcadian house, that I first realized that foreigners were funny. Our name was funny, our accents were funny. Amongst ourselves, my sisters and I spoke Dutch, which was particularly funny. I also concluded another thing, not entirely unrelated to the funniness of foreigners, something that was never openly stated, at least not by my own family, or at least not until my grandfather's mind started wandering and his opinions coarsened. It was something I could not but conclude from the huge lawns, three-course breakfasts, four-course lunches, daily high teas, and stacks of presents at Christmas: the absolute superiority of life in England.
There was, however, something unusual about this childhood Arcadia. My grandparents were both children of German immigrants. Their parents had once been foreigners too. The very English life I observed at the house in Berkshire had been the result of conscious decisions, considerable effort, and a kind of stoicism. My great-grandparents decided to give their children the most English education available. My grandparents had broken out of a narrow Jewish émigré community in North London. And they had been stoical when others chose to see them as being less British than they did themselves. My own Arcadian view of England was linked to these decisions and these efforts, for I learned to look at England largely through my grandparents' eyes.
This was not something my fellow North of the Woods Anglophiles could share. Their concern was, as I said, class snobbery, to which I myself was by no means immune. I sat up on the balcony of the cricket club pavilion with the other boys, calling out "rug merchant," before withdrawing our heads like turtles, whenever Mr. W. walked by in his cavalry twill trousers and his Clare College tie, with a copy of The Daily Telegraph rolled up in the pocket of his immaculate blue blazer. Mr. W. was a handsome man with dark shimmering hair. He was perhaps a little overgroomed, a little louche even, with a fondness for hair oil and tinted glasses. His older wife was a large and overdressed woman who had inherited several grand hotels. The rumor got around, even to us younger boys, that Mrs. W. had married her husband for his looks, and that before his turn of fortune Mr. W. had been in charge of laying the carpets in one of her hotels. We sniggered at the rolled-up English newspaper, which he never appeared to read. We sneered at his lounge lizard hairdo. We mimicked his accent, which, to our exacting ears, was a touch off. The sin of Mr. W. was not that he lacked Englishness, despite all the trappings, so painstakingly assembled. His sin was that he lacked class.
We were much more forgiving toward real Englishmen. Members of visiting English cricket teams rarely lived up to the idealized image of the English gentleman. They were Rotarians from the Midlands, car dealers from Kent, or policemen from the outer suburbs of London. Few, if any, matched their hosts in the blazer and brogues department. There might have been the odd club tie, but that was it. And if they didn't look like David Niven, they didn't speak like him either. But this did not really matter. British guests were not expected to live up to the semiotics of Dutch class divisions.
Excerpted from Anglomania by Ian Buruma Copyright © 2000 by Ian Buruma. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >