Snobs

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Overview

"Snobs is narrated by a journeyman actor who moves comfortably among the upper classes, while chronicling their foibles. And what a tale he has to tell." "Edith Lavery, the attractive only child of a moderately successful accountant and his social-climbing wife, earns a living answering the telephone in a fashionable Chelsea estate agent. While visiting his parents' house as a member of the public, she meets Charles Broughton, Earl Broughton and heir to the Marquess of Uckfield, who runs the family estates in East Sussex and Norfolk. To the
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Snobs

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Overview

"Snobs is narrated by a journeyman actor who moves comfortably among the upper classes, while chronicling their foibles. And what a tale he has to tell." "Edith Lavery, the attractive only child of a moderately successful accountant and his social-climbing wife, earns a living answering the telephone in a fashionable Chelsea estate agent. While visiting his parents' house as a member of the public, she meets Charles Broughton, Earl Broughton and heir to the Marquess of Uckfield, who runs the family estates in East Sussex and Norfolk. To the gossip-columns he is one of the most eligible young aristocrats around." "When he proposes Edith accepts. But is she really in love with Charles? Or with his title, his position and all that she thinks goes with it?" Partaking in events and never shy of commenting is Charles Broughton's mother, the shrewd Lady Uckfield, known to her friends as 'Googie'. Edith, she decides, is a young woman on the make. And when a television company descends on Broughton Hall to make a period drama. 'Googie's' worst fears are fully justified.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
First-time novelist Julian Fellowes, who wrote the screenplay for Gosford Park, here shines his literary light on the quirky, exasperating, yet enchanting world of the English aristocracy and the subtle distinctions that set its denizens apart from the lesser mortals of the mere upper middle class.

Snobs is narrated by a young, vaguely struggling actor who was born into the world of stately manors and bumbling, idiosyncratic peers. At Ascot, he introduces his beautiful but more common friend Edith to Charles, current Earl Broughton and heir to the Marquess of Uckfield. Charles falls in love, and while Edith does not, she cannot quite render herself impervious to the attractions of becoming a countess and leaving her job as a clerk. So, they marry. Inexorably, Edith discovers that the charms of big houses and myriad social privileges don't always bring happiness. And when a company of actors -- led by the handsome but vacuous Simon -- arrives to shoot some footage at Broughton Hall, Edith grabs at the chance to live a more exciting life.

Fellowes evokes the spirit of Evelyn Waugh and other Bright Young Things in this clever, relentlessly funny send-up of the delicately stratified milieu of the English nobility -- a carefully cloistered and oddly captivating world. (Spring 2005 Selection)

Jonathan Ames
When you read a book, you're lost in time. All the more reason to read Snobs. It will distract you pleasantly. It's like a visit to an English country estate: breezy, beautiful and charming.
— The New York Times
The New Yorker
Fellowes, a late bloomer who wrote the script for “Gosford Park,” again portrays the British upper class in his début novel. One Edith Lavery marries up, snagging the Earl of Broughton, a man who lives for his country estates and thanks his wife after each of their brief sexual encounters. Edith soon takes up with a handsome actor and runs for cover from her mother-in-law, the formidable Googie. The polite firefights that ensue are very readable, but their presentation is somewhat muddled. Fellowes, who, the dust jacket reveals, has a son named Peregrine and a dachshund named Fudge, may identify too closely with this social stratum. Although he convincingly portrays the habits of the entitled, they escape the skewering that the title leads us to expect. The result is a watered-down satire that eventually becomes an apologia for Edwardian England, where everyone knew his place and no one was tacky.
Publishers Weekly
Wodehouse gets a modern twist in this brilliantly acerbic tale of snobbery and marital tomfoolery in 1990s London. Our nameless protagonist, a jovial, perceptive sort of 30-something fellow hanging affably about the fringes of society, introduces his middle-class but sleek and beautiful friend Edith Lavery to the earnest but dull Lord Charles Broughton. Much to the dismay of "civilized" society, Charles falls in love and proposes to the social-climbing but largely indifferent Edith. Even after she is married, Edith is snubbed and humiliated at every turn (in the slyest, politest possible way, of course), until she moves out in a huff with her married lover, Simon Russell, an actor/ego-on-legs who is eating up the publicity that comes with being seen with a countess and eager for this entr e into society (he doesn't realize Edith has been cast into the societal dung heap). To Edith's consternation, the glittering world of theater turns out to be just as small-minded and dull as that of society, with the added disadvantage of it not involving much money. Gossipy and dishy, this debut by the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Gosford Park is a merciless and hilarious sendup of snobbery and social jealousy, revealing the pettiness and self-absorption of both the envious and the envied. Agent, Cathy King at ICM (U.K.). (Feb. 10) Forecast: Fellowes's satire of the English class system, a bestseller in the U.K., translates well for American readers. Anglophiles in particular will be in Brit-hit heaven. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Fellowes, who won the 2001 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Gosford Park, gives readers another glimpse into life among the upper classes in this delightfully satirical tale of the blond and beautiful Edith Lavery. Desperate and on the brink of turning 30, she chooses a husband for his money and status and almost immediately regrets her decision, as Charles turns out to be decent and honorable but totally boring (in and out of bed). The narrator, an actor friend of the social-climbing bride, describes Edith's growing frustration with married life and her ill-advised decision to run off with a sexier man, only to discover that her old life held many charms-not the least of which was oodles of money and parties at Ascot. What's a girl to do? The satire is biting but not distasteful, and Fellowes offers up a host of interesting characters-especially Googie, Edith's aristocratic mother-in-law, who would make a great subject for a novel-plus an insider's view of England's class system. Highly recommended wherever British fiction is popular. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/04.]-Nancy Pearl, formerly with Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An archly amusing first novel that returns to the territory Fellowes staked out in his Oscar-winning screenplay for Gosford Park: class snobbery among England's aristocrats and arrivistes. This story of "a latter-day Cinderella" couldn't be simpler. Egged on by her rapacious mother, estate agent Edith Lavery sets her sights on an available earl, lands him, leaves him for a dishy actor of no great eminence, and then wonders whether she wasn't better off surrounded by a world that never accepted her as one of its own and a husband considerably slower and stupider than she is. Nor are the characters especially compelling; the nameless narrator, a well-born actor who floats through the tale as a suspiciously useful confidant and omniscient intelligence, is particularly devoid of interest, even when he's becoming a husband and father. The distinction of the novel is in its practiced eye for class distinctions (e.g., "that fatal, diffident graciousness that marks the successful social climber") and the long-bred behavior that keeps the aristocracy tethered in place despite the determined assault of numberless parvenus (so that the phrase "'not quite a gentleman'" becomes "the stock response to original thought"). Edith's tug-of-war with her quietly iron-willed mother-in-law, Marchioness Uckfield, over the dull but invincibly goodhearted Charles Broughton stands out from the narrator's tireless commentary, but the commentary itself, as patient and tireless as Trollope's in recording tiny social slights and oversights, is the real treat here. If you can call it a treat, since Fellowes's merciless dissection of the snobs he adores, unfolding in a series of brilliantly epigrammatic paragraphs, isin cumulative doses tiresomely repetitious, even boring, in its insights. A wonderful commonplace book of wit and wisdom on snobs and aspiring snobs-there are no former snobs-disguised as a novel that's perhaps both too rich and too dry to take in all at a sitting. Author tour. Agent: Susan Howe/Orion
From the Publisher

"Like a visit of an English country estate: breezy, beautiful, and charming."
- The New York Times Book Review

"[A] guilty pleasure of a novel [that] seems authentic down to the wallpaper and the Wellingtons. Hilarious…sharp, entertaining, and unforgiving."

- Anna Quindlen

"Snobs, by Julian Fellowes, is an hilariously snobbish novel about hilariously snobbish people involved in a society scandal. Froth at its best. His writing is as stylish as his story. Mr. Fellowes knows his turf well."
- Dominick Dunne

"I couldn't put Snobs down: Who could resist a great story of a beautiful, ambitious girl on her climb to the turreted top of the castle-hopping set? As witty as he is smart, Julian Fellowes is the Oscar-winning, Oscar Wilde of the minute."
- Plum Sykes

"Julian Fellowes's witty, wise depiction of the lives and lunacies of upper-class English life is just my cup of tea...."
- Jane Stanton Hitchcock

"Snobs is everything you would hope for from the writer of Gosford Park. A delicious thoroughbred delight, a guilty treat that is awake to every maddening and appallingly attractive nuance of English social life. The novel somehow contrives to be moral without being preachy or losing for a minute its gracefully shameless delight in the well bred and their satellites. A kind of Louis Auchincloss for our times, Julian Fellowes has written a book that is destined to grace all the bedside tables of all the better houses in the land."
- Stephen Fry

"This is the kind of book Edith Wharton would have written if she were around today."
- Arnold Scaasi

"Snobs is an insightful, funny satire of English upper-crust country life in the tradition of Mitford or Waugh....The best chick-lit book of the season was written by a man."
- The Globe and Mail

"Sparklingly rompish...As long as this world does still exist, Fellowes is a delectable guide to its absurdities."
- Sunday Times (London)

"Illustrated with some cherishably nasty, Gosford Park--style scenes of aristocratic point-scoring, and far more illuminating than a copy of Correct Form...one of those books one imagines being sent up to Balmoral...where it will be proclaimed divinely funny and quite amazingly true to life."
- The Guardian

"Deliciously waspish satire...Snobs is terrific entertainment, deepened by the sad ache of truth."
- Literary Review

"Fellowes's attractive, faintly cynical voice has overtones of Trollope, Waugh, and Mitford."
- The Independent

"A delicious comedy of manners on the nuances of English social life, which raises laughter and an occasional wince of recognition."
- Daily Mail

"Provocative, titillating, and seductive...Julian Fellowes tells this anachronistic morality tale with such wit, verve, elegance, and schadenfreude that it never loses momentum."
- The Spectator

"Fellowes doesn't try to hide his love of the funny, sealed, above-stairs world of dukes, duchesses, marquesses, nusery maids, herbaceous borders, and breakfast kedgeree under its own silver lid, all of which is what makes Snobs such a good, fresh read."
- Telegraph

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250020369
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/8/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 220,686
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.06 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Meet the Author

Julian Fellowes is the Emmy Award-winning writer and creator of Downton Abbey and the winner of the 2001 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Gosford Park. He also wrote the screenplays for Vanity Fair and The Young Victoria. He is the bestselling author of Snobs and Past Imperfect. His other works include The Curious Adventure of the Abandoned Toys and the book for the Disney stage musical of Mary Poppins.
As an actor, his roles include Lord Kilwillie in the BBC Television series Monarch of Glen and the 2nd Duke of Richmond in Aristocrats, as well as appearances in the films Shadowlands, Damage, and Tomorrow Never Dies. He lives in London and Dorset, England.

 

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Chapter Two

Edith Lavery was the daughter of a successful chartered accountant, himself the grandson of a Jewish immigrant who had arrived in England in 1905 to escape the pogroms of the late, and to Edith's father, unlamented Tsar Nicholas II. I do not think I ever knew the family's original name, Levy, perhaps, or Levin. At any rate, the Edwardian portraitist, Sir John Lavery, was the inspiration for the change, which seemed, and almost certainly was, a good idea at the time. When asked if they were connected to the painter, the Laverys would answer, "Vaguely, I think," thus linking themselves with the British establishment without making any disputable claims. It is quite customary for the English, when asked if they have met so-and-so, to say, "Yes, but they wouldn't remember me," or "Well, I've met them but I don't know them," when they have not met them.

This is because of a subconscious urge on their part to create the comforting illusion that England, or rather the England of the upper-middle and upper classes, is criss-crossed with a million invisible silken threads that weave them together into a brilliant community of rank and grace and exclude everybody else. There is little dishonesty in it for as a rule they understand each other. To an Englishman or woman of a certain background the answer, "Well, I've met them but they wouldn't remember me" means "I have not met them."

Mrs. Lavery, Edith's mother, considered herself a bird of quite different feather to her spouse, fond as she was of him. Her own father had been an Indian army colonel but the salient detail was that his mother had been the great-niece of a banking baronet. Although kindly in many ways, Mrs. Lavery was passionately snobbish to a degree verging on insanity and so her frail connection to this, the very lowest hereditary rank filled her with the warming sense of belonging to that inner circle of rank and privilege where her poor husband must ever be a stranger. Mr. Lavery did not, for this reason, resent his wife. Not in the least. On the contrary he was proud of her. She was, after all, a tall, good-looking woman who knew how to dress and if anything he was rather entertained by the idea that the phrase "noblesse oblige" (one of Mrs. Lavery's favorites) could have the slightest application to his household.

They lived in a large flat in Elm Park Gardens, which was almost at the wrong end of Chelsea and not quite to Mrs. Lavery's taste. Still, it was not exactly Fulham nor, worse, Battersea, names that had only recently begun to appear on Mrs. Lavery's mental map. She still felt the thrill of the new, like an intrepid explorer pushing ever further from civilization, whenever she was invited for dinner by one of her friends' married children. She listened perkily as they discussed what a good investment the "toast rack" was or how the children loved Tooting after the poky flat in Marloes Road. It was all Greek to Mrs. Lavery. So far as she was concerned she was in Hell until she got back over the river, her own personal Styx, that forever divided the Underworld from Real Life.

The Laverys were not rich but nor were they poor and, having only one child, there was never any need to stint. Edith was sent off to a fashionable nursery school and then Benenden ("No, not because of the Princess Royal. We simply looked around and we thought it the most inspiring place.") Mr. Lavery would have liked the girl's education to have been continued at university but when Edith's exam results were not good enough, certainly not for anywhere they were interested in sending her, Mrs. Lavery was not disappointed. Her great ambition had always been to bring her daughter out.

Stella Lavery had not been a debutante herself. This was something of which she was deeply ashamed. She would seek to conceal it under a lot of laughing references to the fun she'd had as a girl and, if pushed for specifics, she might sigh that her father had taken rather a tumble in the thirties (thereby connecting herself with the Wall Street Crash and echoes of Scott Fitzgerald and Gatsby). Alternatively, fudging her dates, she would blame it on the war. The truth, as Mrs. Lavery was forced to admit to herself in the dark night of the soul, was that in the less socially free-wheeling world of the 1950s, there had been clearer demarcation lines between precisely who was in Society and who was not. Stella Lavery's family was not. She envied those of her friends who had met as debutantes with a deep and secret envy that gnawed at her entrails. She even hated them for including her in their reminiscences about Henrietta Tiarks or Miranda Smiley as if they believed that she, Stella Lavery, had "come out" when they knew, and she knew they knew, she had not. For these reasons she had been determined from the outset that no such gaps would shadow the life of her beloved Edith. (The name Edith incidentally was chosen for its fragrant overtones of a slower, better England and perhaps, half-consciously, to suggest that it was a family name handed down from some Edwardian beauty. It was not.) At all events, the girl was to be propelled into the charmed circle from the first. Since by the nineties Presentation at Court (which might have posed a problem) was a thing of the distant past, all Mrs. Lavery had to do was to convince her husband and her daughter that it would be time and money well spent.

They did not need much persuasion. Edith had no concrete plans for how she was to pass her adult life and to delay the decision-making process with a year-long round of parties seemed a pretty good idea. As for Mr. Lavery, he enjoyed the vision of his wife and his daughter in the beau monde and was perfectly happy to pay for it. Mrs. Lavery's carefully tended connections were enough to get Edith into Peter Townend's list for the opening tea-parties and the girl's own looks won her a place as a model at the Berkeley Dress Show. After that it was plain sailing. Mrs. Lavery went to the mothers' lunches and packed her daughter's dresses for balls in the country and on the whole had a wonderful time. Edith quite enjoyed it, too.

The only reservation for Mrs. Lavery was that when the Season was over, when the last, winter Charity Balls had finished and the Tatler cuttings had been pasted into a scrap-book along with the invitations, nothing much seemed to have changed. Edith had obviously been entertained by the daughters of several peers-including one duke, which was particularly thrilling-indeed, all of these girls had attended Edith's own cocktail party at Claridge's (one of Mrs. Lavery's happiest evenings), but the friends who stayed on after the dances had ceased were very like the girls she had brought home from school, the daughters of prosperous, upper-middle-class businessmen. Exactly what Edith was herself in fact. This did not seem right to Mrs. Lavery. She had for so long attributed her own failure to reach the dizzying upper echelons of London Society (a group she rather archly labeled "the Court") to her lack of a proper launch that she had expected great things from her daughter. Perhaps her enthusiasm blinded her to a simple truth: the fact that the Season had opened its arms to her daughter meant it was no longer in the 1980s the exclusive institution it had been in Mrs. Lavery's youth.

Edith was aware of her mother's disappointment but while she was certainly not immune, as we would find out, to the charms of rank and fortune, she did not quite see how she was expected to prosecute these intimacies with the daughters of the Great Houses. To start with they all seemed to have known each other from birth and anyway she couldn't help feeling it would be difficult to cater for their pleasures in a flat in Elm Park Gardens. In the end she remained on nodding terms with most of the girls in her year but returned to a very similar groove to the one she had occupied on leaving school.

I learned all this quite soon after first meeting Edith at the Eastons' because it so transpired that she took a job answering the telephone in an estate agent's in Milner Street, just round the corner from where I had a basement flat. I started bumping into her in Peter Jones, or having a sandwich in one of the local pubs, or buying a five-thirty pint of milk in Partridges and gradually, almost without noticing it, we became quite friendly. One day I saw her coming out of the General Trading Company at about one o'clock and I invited her for some lunch.

"Have you seen Isabel lately?" I asked, as we squeezed into a banquette in one of those little Italian places where the waiters shout.

"I had dinner with them both last week."

"All well?"

It was, or well enough. They were engaged in some school drama about their child. Isabel had discovered dyslexia. I pitied the headmaster.

"She asked after you. I said I'd seen you," said Edith.

I remarked that I didn't think Isabel had as yet forgiven me for failing to tell her I knew Charles Broughton, and Edith laughed. It was then that I heard about her mother. I asked if she'd told Mrs. Lavery about our time at Broughton. It so happened that Charles was rather on my mind as that morning I'd seen one of those idiotic magazine articles about eligible bachelors and Charles had led the pack. I blush to say I was rather impressed with the list of his assets.

"Not likely. I wouldn't want to give her any ideas."

"She must be very susceptible."

"She certainly is. She'd have me up the aisle before you could say knife."

"And you don't want to get married?"

Edith looked at me as if I were mad. "Of course I want to get married."

"You don't see yourself as a career girl? I thought all women want careers now." I do not know why I slid into this kind of pompous anti-feminism since it does not in the least reflect my views.

"Well, I don't want to spend the rest of my life answering the telephone in an estate agent's office if that's what you mean."

I was duly reprimanded. "That's not quite what I had in mind," I said.

Edith looked at me indulgently as if it were necessary to take me through my three times table. "I'm twenty-seven. I have no qualifications and, what is worse, no particular talent. I also have tastes that require, at the very least, eighty thousand a year. When my father dies he will leave what money he has to my mother and I don't anticipate either of them quitting the scene much before 2030. What do you suggest I should do?"

I do not know why but I felt rather muted by this Anita Loos-style practicality emanating from the little rose before me, with her Alice band and her neat, navy blue suit.

"So you intend to marry a rich man?" I asked.

Edith looked at me quizzically. Perhaps she felt she had given away too much, perhaps she was trying to ascertain if I was judging her and if so, whether or not she was coming out ahead. She should have been reassured by what she saw in my eyes for it has always seemed to me that if one can face up early on to what one really wants in life, then there is every chance of avoiding the seemingly inevitable modern disease of mid-life crisis.

"Not necessarily," she answered, with a trace of defensiveness in her voice. "It's just that I cannot imagine I would be very happy married to a poor one."

"I do see that," I said.

Edith and I did not meet for some time after this luncheon. I was cast in one of those unwatchable American mini-series and I left for Paris and, of all places, Warsaw for some months. The job involved the supremely depressing experience of celebrating Christmas and New Year in a foreign hotel where they give you cheese for breakfast and all the bread is stale, and when I returned to London in May, I certainly did not feel I had very much advanced my art. On the other hand, I was at least a bit better off than when I left. Quite soon after I arrived home I received a card from Isabel asking me to join their party for the second day of Ascot. She must have forgiven me in my absence. I thought I would have to refuse as I had done nothing about applying for my voucher to the Enclosure but it turned out that my mother (who with such gestures would betray a defiant denial of the work and the life I have chosen) had applied for me. Today, in these more graceless times, it would not be possible for her to apply for someone else, even her own child, but then it was. She had in fact undertaken this annual responsibility in my youth and she proved reluctant to give it up. "You'll be so sorry if you have to miss something fun," she would say whenever I objected that I had no plans to attend the meeting. And this time my mother was proved right. I accepted Isabel's offer with the half-smile that the prospect of a day at Ascot always brings to my lips.

Like many famous institutions, the image and the reality of the Royal Enclosure at Ascot bear little or no relation to each other. The very name "Royal Enclosure" (to say nothing of the glutinous coverage in the lowbrow press) conjures up visions of princes and duchesses, famous beauties and Rand millionaires strolling on manicured lawns in haute couture. Of this picture, I can, I suppose, testify to the quality of the lawns. The vast majority of the visitors to the Enclosure appear to be middle-aged businessmen from the more expensive suburbs of London. They are accompanied by wives wearing inappropriate outfits, generally in chiffon. What, however, makes this disparity between dream and truth unusual and amusing is the willfully blind support of the fantasy by the participants themselves. Even those members of Society, or rather those members of the upper-middle and upper classes, who do actually go to the meeting, take a touching delight in dressing and behaving as if they were at the smart and exclusive event the papers talk about. Their women wear just as inappropriate but more becoming fitted suits and swan about greeting each other as if they were at some gathering at Ranelagh Gardens in 1770. For a day or two every year these working people allow themselves the luxury of pretending that they are part of some vanished leisure class, that the world they mourn and admire and pretend they would have belonged to if it still existed (which as a rule they would not) is alive and well and living near Windsor. Their pretensions are naked and vulnerable and for that reason, to me at least, rather charming. I am always happy to spend one day at Ascot.

David collected me in his Volvo estate and I climbed in to find Edith, whom I had expected, and another couple, the Rattrays. Simon Rattray seemed to work for Strutt and Parker and talked a lot about shooting. His wife, Venetia, talked a little about her children and even less about anything else. We nosed our way down the M4 and through Windsor Great Park until we finally reached the course and David's slightly obscure car park. It was a perennial source of irritation to him that he could not get into Number One and he always vented his annoyance on Isabel as she was pointing out the signs. I never minded; it had become part of Ascot for me (like my father shouting at the tree-lights every Christmas-one of my few really vivid childhood memories), I had after all been with them several times.

Before too long the car was safely on its numbered place and the lunch was unpacked. It was clear that Edith had had no hand in it as it was Isabel and Venetia who assumed control, fussing and clucking and slicing and mixing until the feast was spread in all its glory before our eyes. The men and Edith watched from the safety of the folding chairs, clutching plastic glasses of champagne. As usual, there was a certain poignancy in all this preparation, given the brevity allotted to the food's consumption. We had hardly drawn up our seats to the wobbly table when Isabel, as predictable as David's worry over the car park, looked at her watch. "We mustn't be long. It's twenty-five to two now." David nodded and helped himself to strawberries. Nobody needed an explanation. Part of this day, Mass-like in its ritual, was getting to the steps in the Enclosure in time to see the arrival of the Royal house-party from Windsor. And getting there early enough to secure a good vantage point. Edith looked at me and rolled her eyes, but we both obediently gulped down our coffee, pinned on our badges and headed for the course.

We passed the stewards at the entrance, busily dividing the wheat from the tares. Two unfortunates had just been stopped, though whether it was because they didn't have the right badge or were wrongly dressed I do not know. Edith squeezed my arm with one of her secret smiles. I looked down. "Something funny?"

She shook her head. "No."

"Well then."

"I have a soft spot for getting in where others are held back."

I laughed. "You may feel that. Many do. But it is rather low to admit it."

"Oh dear. Then I'm afraid I'm very low. I must just hope it doesn't hold me back."

"I don't think it will," I said.

What was interesting about this exchange was its honesty. Edith looked the perfect archetype of the Sloane Ranger girl she was, but I was beginning to understand that she had a disconcerting awareness of the realities of her life and situation when such girls generally make a show of pretended ignorance of these things. It was not that her sentiments marked her apart. The English, of all classes as it happens, are addicted to exclusivity. Leave three Englishmen in a room and they will invent a rule that prevents a fourth joining them. What made Edith different is that most people, and certainly all toffs, put on a great show of not being aware of it. Any suggestion that there is pleasure in being a guest where the public has to buy tickets, of being allowed through a gate, of being ushered into a room, where the people are turned away, will be met by the aristocrat (or would-be aristocrat) with blank looks and studied lack of comprehension. The practiced matron will probably suggest with a slight movement of the eyebrows that the very idea denotes a lack of breeding. The dishonesty in all this is of course breathtaking but, as always with these people, the discipline in their unwavering rules commands a certain respect.

We must have dawdled, as the others were all at the steps, which were fast filling up, and waved to us to join them. A distant roar announced that the carriages were on the way and the footmen or stewards or whatever they are rushed forward to open the gates from the course. Edith nudged me and nodded towards Isabel as the first coach carrying Her Majesty and some dusky premier of an oil-rich state swept through the entrance. Like the other men I took my hat off with a perfectly genuine enthusiasm but I could not ignore the look on Isabel's face. It was the glazed, ecstatic expression of a rabbit before a cobra. She was hypnotized, enraptured. To be included in the Ascot house-party, Isabel, like Pervaneh in Hassan, would have faced the Procession of Protracted Death. Or at least she would have considered it. It only goes to show, I suppose, that for all the educated classes' contempt of mass star-worship, they themselves are just as susceptible to fantasy when it is presented in a palatable form.

Actually, the procession that year was a bit disappointing. The Prince of Wales, Isabel's paradigm of perfection, was not there and nor were any of the other princes. The only junior Royal was Zara Phillips, brightly attired in revealing beachwear. Edith had been murmuring irreverent criticisms in my ear, much to the annoyance of Isabel and a woman with blue hair standing next to her, so, rather than continue to spoil their fun, we turned to go when I heard a voice right behind me: "Hello, how are you?" I looked round and found myself face to face with Charles Broughton. This time there was no awkwardness over names, the best part of the Enclosure being that everyone has to wear a badge with their name written on it. There you will find no fumbling of introductions or pretending that people have already met. Just a cursory glance at the lapel or bosom of the unknown one and all is well. Would that such labeling was compulsory at all social gatherings. Charles's badge proclaimed "The Earl Broughton" in the distinctive, round handwriting of the well-bred girls of the Ascot Office.

"Hello," I said. "You remember Edith Lavery?" I had employed the correct English usage for presenting a person whom one is fairly certain will have been forgotten, but in this instance I was wrong.

"Certainly I do. You're the safe one who lives in London."

"Well, I hope I'm not as safe as all that." Edith smiled and, either on her own initiative or on Charles's invitation, took his arm.

The Eastons and the Rattrays were bearing down on us and I could almost see the whites of their eyes when I suggested a visit to the paddock. It seems hard and probably reveals a deep insecurity in me but I felt embarrassed for poor old Isabel in her eagerness, and David's ambition looked nearly malevolent in its intensity. Mercifully, Charles, who was after all quite a polite fellow, nodded a greeting to Isabel that dismissed her but showed at least that he was aware they had been introduced. David, seething, hung back and the three of us headed off towards the paddock where the horses were being paraded before the first race.

Predictably Charles turned out to know quite a lot about horses and before long he was happily engaged in informed chatter on fetlocks and form, none of which interested me in the least, but I was kept amused by observing Edith gazing up at him with fascinated, flattering attention. It is a technique that such women seem to acquire at birth. She was wearing a neat linen suit of pale bluish color, I think the correct term is eau-de-nil, with a little pill-box hat tipped forward over her forehead. It made her look frivolous but, in contrast to the Weybridge matrons in their organza frills, unsentimental and chic. It was an outfit that added a dash of wit and humor to her face, which, I was by this stage aware, was extremely beguiling. As she studied her card and made notes against the names with Charles's pencil, I watched him watching her and it was perhaps then that I first became aware of a real possibility that he was attracted to her. Not that this was very surprising. She had all the right attributes. She was pretty and witty and, as she had said herself, safe. She was not of his set, of course, but she lived and spoke like his own people. It is a popular fiction that there is a great difference in manner and manners between the upper-middle and upper classes. The truth is, on a day-to-day level they are in most things identical. Of course the aristocracy's circle of acquaintance is much smaller and so there is invariably with them the sense of the membership of a club. This can result in a tendency to display their social security by means of an off-handed rudeness, which doesn't bother them and upsets almost everybody else. But these things apart (and rudeness is very easily learned) there is little to tell between them in social style. No, Edith Lavery was clearly Charles's kind of girl.

We watched a race or two but I could sense that Edith, in the nicest possible way, was trying to shake me off and so when Charles inevitably suggested tea in White's, I excused myself and went off in search of the others. Edith threw me a grateful look and the pair of them walked away arm in arm.

I found Isabel and David in one of the champagne bars behind the grandstand, drinking warm Pimm's. The caterers had run out of ice. "Where's Edith?"

"She's gone off to White's with Charles."

David looked sulky. Poor David. He never did manage to be taken into White's at Ascot, neither in their old tent nor, so far as I am aware, in their new, more space-age accommodation. He would have given an arm to be a member. "Jolly good," he said through gritted teeth. "I wouldn't have minded some tea."

"I think they were going to meet up with the rest of Charles's party."

"I'm sure they were."

Isabel in contrast said nothing but kept sipping at the tepid liquid with its four bits of floating cucumber.

"I said we'd meet up at the car after the second last race." "Fine," David said grimly, and we lapsed into silence. Isabel, to her credit, still looked more interested than irritated as she stared into her unappetizing drink.

Edith was already leaning against the locked car when we got there and I could see at once that the day had been a success.

"Where's Charles?" I said.

She nodded towards the grandstand. "He's gone to find the people he's staying with tonight. He's coming tomorrow and Friday." "Good luck to him."

"Haven't you enjoyed yourself?"

"Oh yes," I said. "But not half as much as you."

She laughed and said nothing, and at that moment David arrived to unlock the vehicle. He did not mention Charles and he was noticeably grumpy with Edith, so it was not as a general announcement but in a whisper that she informed me that Charles had asked her out for dinner the following Tuesday. It was of course more than she could do to keep it to herself.

Copyright ©2005 by Julian Fellowes

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Reading Group Guide

"The English, of all classes as it happens, are addicted to exclusivity. Leave three Englishmen in a room and they will invent a rule that prevents a fourth joining them."

The best comedies of manners are often deceptively simple, seamlessly blending social critique with character and story. In his superbly observed first novel, Julian Fellowes, winner of an Academy Award for his original screenplay of Gosford Park, brings us an insider's look at a contemporary England that is still not as classless as is popularly supposed.

Edith Lavery, an English blonde with large eyes and nice manners, is the daughter of a moderately successful accountant and his social-climbing wife. While visiting his parents' stately home as a paying guest, Edith meets Charles, Earl of Broughton, and heir to the Marquess of Uckfield, who runs the family estates in East Sussex and Norfolk. To the gossip columns he is one of the most eligible young aristocrats around.

When he proposes. Edith accepts. But is she really in love with Charles? Or with his title, his position, and all that goes with it?

One inescapable part of life at Broughton Hall is Charles's mother, the shrewd Lady Uckfield, known to her friends as "Googie" and described by the narrator—-an actor who moves comfortably among the upper classes while chronicling their foibles—-"as the most socially expert individual I have ever known at all well. She combined a watchmaker's eye for detail with a madam's knowledge of the world." Lady Uckfield is convinced that Edith is more interested in becoming a countess than in being a good wife to her son. And when a television company, complete with a gorgeous leading man, descends on Broughton Hall to film a period drama, "Googie's" worst fears seem fully justified.

In this wickedly astute portrait of the intersecting worlds of aristocrats and actors, Julian Fellowes establishes himself as an irresistible storyteller and a deliciously witty chronicler of modern manners.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 25 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 28, 2012

    Like Puff Pastry, "Snobs" Has Many Yummy Layers

    It should be no surprise that Julian Fellowes's prose in "Snobs" is elegant. As a confection taking on the English upper crust, it is seasoned with just the right amount of salt, honey, and spice. I loved every bite, excuse me, page of it, and I don't think it requires much experience with the foibles of the Brits to enjoy it. However, about midway through the book, I realized that one could enjoy it without any knowledge of England at all. Fellowes has simply used his own world as the example of a universal fact: any society of humans will eventually settle into classes of haves, have-nots, and moving-in-betweens, and the classes will each have their own inviolable rules and protocols. Consider the divisions of people in the equally delightful novel and film "The Help." Compare Imperial China to Maoist China; only the names changed, not the actual bowing to strict class structure. Snobs are everywhere! It is true, however, that snobbery is more tolerable with a British accent - at least to a Yank like me.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2011

    Fun!

    Jullian fellowes is fun to read. His characters are well developed and likeable, and it is really enjoyable to glimpse into the English upper class.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 14, 2009

    Snobs was a delicious peek into the class boundaries that still exist and lives of the British people..the haves and the have-nots.

    An easy but packed read with lots of quirky and fun details about the characters lives and loves; showing just how persnickety people can really be regardless of their station in life. Fellowes let's you in and allows you to become involved with the characters and their thought processes. This was a highly entertaining look at the snobbish gentry in the UK offering up their foibles as well as their redeeming qualities. Loved the book, had a hard time putting it down.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2007

    anglophile here! I loved it!!

    I am surprised by some of the disappointed reviews here. I spent a year in England so maybe there is a little something I see that the average American may not. I loved this book, the premise is stretching it a bit but it is still very entertaining. Many characters and scenes come right off the page. Mr Fellows is a good writer. I love British writing/ writers: Anita Brookner, Barbara Pym, Monica Ali. Even if the story isn't perfect, the change in culture adds a layer that an American novel of the same quality would lack.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2006

    eh?

    The first two chapters were awful and I had no idea what was going on. I was able to skip a lot of those chapters and not miss anything. It starts picking up around 3 & 4. Almost finished this book. It's ok.. It was on sale and I thought what the heck. Worth the 5 dollars

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2005

    Above the Rest

    ¿Snobs¿ is a quirky and lively look at the side-by-side worlds of hypocritical snobbery in the social set of London and the equally hypocritical snobbery of the theater scene populated by egos on legs. A brilliantly written, sly book full of insight and delicious entertainment. I would also recommend: ¿My Fractured Life¿, ¿Saturday¿, ¿The Right Address¿ and ¿Bridget Jones Diary¿

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2013

    Loved it

    -

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2012

    Anonymous

    Really rather tedious - especially the earliest chapters, which would have benefitted from some editing, and the book should have been titled 'Class' not Snobs. Mr Fellowes does much better with the upper classes historically - and should stick to screenplays.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2012

    Not what I would have expected

    I have been a fan of Julian Fellowes for years but was bitterly dissapointed by his novel. For a man who championed the love of Young Victoria and highlighted the relationships in Downton Abby I expected love and integrity to win out over class and station. I feel betrayed that I bought this book on my admiration of his work in film adeptation but I would like my money back. I was left with no heart but all bitterness.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 15, 2012

    Boring

    My book group chose this novel, but I couldn't stop putting it down. I often read works by Brits, but this read like unrefined travelogue. Unless you are a dyed in the wool Anglophile, skip it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    Deftly written and economically presented, this novel delivers a fine study of contemporary English class structure and does so with Trollopian wit and humor.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2007

    Sadly...

    For the first time I have to write a bad review. I couldn't even get through the first few chapters. I saw it as a bargain priced book and thought, what the heck? I sat reading it for about an hour and had no clue as to what was going on.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2007

    Simply Horrible!

    All the reviews for this book claimed it have a hunorous side and I failed to find that interpretation anywhere in the book. Was not entertaining at all. Characters had little depth. Thankfully I purchased this novel on clearance!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2005

    Snobbery for Dummies

    A poisonous little novel by an author/actor/aristocrat that examines the nuances of the social system in Britain. Though he mocks it, the author ultimately buys into the whole ugly process. Story line is minimal and predictable. Lady Uckfield is the most vividly drawn character. No compelling reason for the 'happy' ending. This is no 'Vile Bodies'.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2005

    A FROTHY, FUNNY LOOK AT ENGLAND'S ARISTOCRACY

    It's a hoot. 'Snobs' is a frothy, funny, in the cross-hairs look at life among the distant, devious, and sometimes demented British upper classes. Dare you to read a page or two and put it down. Impossible! However, this rib-tickling romp is what we've come to expect from the Academy Award-winning author of Gosford Park. What else from the man whose son is named Peregrine and his dachshund Fudge? Fellowes well knows the pretentiousness of the privileged but describes it with such warmth and wit that readers, rather than feeling antipathy toward the titled, simply come to look upon these folks as a tad daft and highly amusing. There doesn't seem to be a malicious word in this author's vocabulary - only merriment. A jovial, easy-going sort, the narrator is an actor who knows the right people, although he was not born to be one of them. He's about 30 years of ago with a bright outlook on life and a good friend, the young, beautiful, clear complexioned Edith Lavery. 'She was a type, albeit a superior example of it: the English blonde with large eyes and nice manners.' As the story opens Edith is employed, rather unhappily so. Her future, she believes, rests in finding a wealthy husband. She's learned her lesson well from her mother, Stella, who was once a debutante but did not marry well. Stella yearns, longs, and dreams of the day when somehow she will gain entry into the upper echelons of London society. What will open these gilded doors for her? Daughter Edith. As luck or fate would have it, Edith does find a wealthy husband. He's not only rich but he's Lord Charles Broughton. His ancestral home is Broughton Hall, a portion of which is now open to paying guests. Much to the distress of his overbearing mama Charles proposes to Edith, they marry, and he brings her to live in the hallowed Hall. Barely eight months into their marriage Edith sees Charles as perhaps more frog than Prince Charming. She finds his friends supercilious and small-minded, his mother a harridan, and her duties as the wife of a future Earl endlessly boring. He is rather dull, plodding, and lacking in imagination. But, he adores her and she now has every luxury of which she dreamed. We read, 'She was...sufficiently honourable about the Faustian pact she had made to wish to keep it.' That was before she met Simon Russell, an ego driven actor who was'astonishingly good-looking, but in truth the trailer was better than the feature.' Simon believes a liaison with Edith will better his career considering all the publicity such an affair would engender, so he sets about winning her. She's hardly a challenge. Before long the two run off together, breaking Charles's heart and setting forked tongues wagging. What Simon did not realize was that Edith's currency would be worthless once she left Charles, and what Edith did not realize was that Simon's theatre friends would be quite as stand-offish and exclusive as the upper class had been. The already married Simon who believes that 'moral laws are designed for for lesser mortals' is blessed with almost total self-absorption, and goes his merry way. On the other hand, Edith, sharing a small flat with Simon, finds that Broughton Hall did have great advantages, after all. She is miserable once again. What is she to do and how can she go about doing it? 'Snobs' is a smile provoking, stylish story - don't miss it. - Gail Cooke

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2005

    WRY, WITTY and WONDERFUL

    A real treat for lovers of the English language and humour

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    Posted June 18, 2011

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    Posted April 18, 2014

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    Posted February 3, 2011

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    Posted March 29, 2011

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