these english

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By WALNICE NOGUEIRA GALVÃO*

Comments on narratives of British life in literature and film

1.

In high literature, or seriously, anyone who wants to know about the English and American elites of the belle époque can read Henry James and Edith Wharton. As for the French, no one disputes Marcel Proust's award, the greatest of all, king of snobbery/counter-snobbery.

Contemporary Englishmen take care of their ruling classes, revealing the fascination they feel for the royal family, from scandal to scandal, nourishing the tabloids. The dimensions of the production of studies and artifacts on the royals it's amazing. See how the already numerous chapters of the series proliferate The crown. And, to stay on the serious agenda, new doctoral theses appear every year with biographies of earthly monarchs, even the most insignificant ones – practically constituting a literary genre. The reviews multiply in serious bodies such as the London Review of Books e The Economist.

In the pop sphere, they are plentiful and fun. Suffice it to recall the snobbery of Agatha Christie and the English detective novel in general. Not forgetting the autobiographies of intelligent people, like the “queen of crime” herself, or above-average actors, like Alec Guinness (three different books!) or David Niven (two).

In addition to these, there are English writers and screenwriters who are specialists in snobbery, who are very successful with books, films and television series. They deal with spicy subjects, full of glamor and inside knowledge of the rites and protocols of the nobility. And they cultivate what is called “English humor”, a peculiar humor, full of understatements, litotes or double negation, and self-derision. Everything is very subtle, avoiding hyperbole and any kind of overindulgence, betting on less is more.

Bedroom secrets, palace intrigues, adultery and incest abound. The pen is sharp and so sharp, so cruel that it turns into a scalpel, but with great decorum and respect for writing conventions. A far cry from the bare guts and blood gushing of today's prevailing convention.

Figurehead is Julian Fellowes, writer of the series Downton Abbey and de Gosford Park, imitation of The Rules of the Game, by Jean Renoir, one of the greatest films ever made. He is also the author of bestsellers such as snobs, with such an appropriate title, The gilded age and mainly Belgravia, which tells 200 years of history of the English ruling classes, spent in the mansions that surround this very exclusive square in London. It begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, in Brussels, at the ball given by the Duchess of Richmond to Wellington, commander-in-chief of the counterrevolutionary coalition, victorious the next day. It is said that many left the ball straight for combat, wearing their gala uniforms.

Here was a puppy, and properly said: niece Jessica Fellowes wrote another bestseller, The world of Downton Abbey, with a preface by his uncle, telling the backstage of the filming and drawing a parallel with the history of England at the beginning of the XNUMXth century. XX, passing through the First War, technological innovations and changes in customs. Among other titles, Jessica Fellowes wrote The murder on the train, crime novel in the classic way that establishes the Mitford sisters as characters in a very successful series, with the general title of The Mitford murders. There are six books, one for each sister.

A word about them: the six Mitford sisters, daughters of a baronet, did exist. Notorious at the time and belonging to English high society, one of them married the leader of the Nazis in England, Sir Oswald Mosley, who would spend almost the entire Second War in jail. The eldest, Nancy Mitford, author of The pursuit of love e Nobility obliges, among many others, in addition to an adventurous life, made a career as a writer and journalist.

He sought the material for his various books from the inside out of the functioning of a gentry family, seen from the inside with a caustic and funny look. And everything is already permeated by a grain of insanity. Unforgettable like her father, a fox-hunting maniac, this greatest ritual of gentry, played with the six daughters. On horseback and armed, he galloped with his trained pack after the girls, who, in the role of foxes, were responsible for running and hiding in the bush while their father pursued them. And it was an innocent pastime...

2.

Richard Curtis is a screenwriter of successful films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, A Place Called Notting Hill e Simply love. He was also director of the latter.

With the first, he had an unprecedented success with the public, taking English cinema out of the doldrums with no future. Exhibiting protocols and rituals of the ruling class, he put on stage a group of his offspring in their thirties, single, with no profession and failures in general – all extremely charming. He launched Hugh Grant, handsome and defenseless, who stutters and blinks, as he fears, like his friends, growing up and taking responsibility. A wealthy American model appears and wants him for herself – something he finds hard to believe and which he avoids anyway. From ceremony to ceremony in high society, as the title implies, the camera follows the group. The infallible recipe would reverberate in other sharp films.

Criticism for his class parti-pris led the screenwriter to do penance in the next film, A Place Called Notting Hill, transferring the setting to the bohemian areas of London, with people of modest extraction. Another group of friends, all low-skill workers, all for whom something has gone wrong in life. Once again Hugh Grant, who is still handsome, stutters and blinks at another wealthy American who wants him: none other than the highest-paid actress in the world at the time, Julia Roberts.

He lives on Portobello Road, the same one from the splendor of the 60s, and he owns a small bookstore of tourist guides, always empty. We see the character of Julia Roberts, hitherto a millionaire star in cheap films, in which she plays astronauts, working in England on a period film based on high literature. Dissatisfied with her destiny as a millionaire and celebrity, she is looking for a more authentic life that can still be found in England etc. – and, tacitly, it is inferred, no longer in the United States. A life in which money and fame are not decisive... And the film adds an anti-imperialist note.

Then Richard Curtis would write the screenplay and direct Simply Love, with the unfailing Hugh Grant, who had gone to Hollywood to earn money and become a star of the first magnitude. No longer a failure like in the two aforementioned films, he – and look how he rose in life – is the prime minister of England. Curdled with stars, another success is given. But there is no lack of success in the life of Richard Curtis, who is also a producer of TV programs, leading humanitarian causes and far-reaching charitable initiatives. Everyone knows its countless strengths: Bridget Jones, the Mr. Bean with Rowan Atkinson etc.

What can bring Richard Curtis and Ian Fleming together, whose books have the spy James Bond as protagonist? The stylization of England as the opposite of materialistic and vulgar North America – of course. The curious thing is that the entire James Bond series is clearly compensatory, created just when England had just lost imperialist hegemony to the United States after World War II.

Ian Fleming also went to Eton and Sandhust, like all of them, but the Second War prevented him from going to Oxford and Cambridge. However, by family and connections, he was a member of the old boy system. Just look at the accentuated snobbery of the James Bond series, which never prevented its success, quite the contrary: 100 million copies worldwide, 26 films to date. In addition to his very refined habits in terms of cars, tobacco, drinks, clothing and women, there are great tirades. Like the scene in which Bond's investigations take him to the Institute of Heraldry, where he, as quick with the retort as he is the trigger, identifies himself as: "James Bond, of the Bonds of Bond Street..." And the only time he does married, was with a countess.

Ian Fleming was a secret agent, in different positions, and used training to benefit his spy. His life was so full of outlandish adventures that 007 would be the envy... That's why he earned so much in cinema and TV. You can check it out at Spymaker – The Secret Life of Ian Fleming and in the TV series in 4 episodes fleming, of 2014.

3.

These English are really irresistible. Starting with Julian Barnes and his bestseller The man in the red coat: Who could resist a biographical fiction book that brings together Count Robert de Montesquiou, Prince Edmond de Polignac and Dr. Pozzi, high-society gynecologist and womanizer famous for her beauty? The first is the protagonist in Marcel Proust, who portrays him as the Baron of Charlus: there are those who think he is his greatest creation.

The book begins with a fully documented shopping trip to London, where the three go to stock up on fabrics for personal clothing and curtains. Not forgetting a visit to Liberty, because it was the time of the Liberty style, the name of the store and its owner. The Doctor. Pozzi is the man in the red coat, as illustrated on the cover by a splendid painting by Sargent, a reinterpretation of another by El Greco, The knight with his hand on his heart. What stands out is the delicate hand of surgeon and lover, amidst the scarlet shedding of the dressing gown. The reference to El Greco is accentuated by the collar and white lace cuffs. While talking about the three friends, the author expands his lens and draws a panorama of the belle époque in the two metropolises, then the center of the world.

As the aristocracy was disappearing in the rest of the planet, the English were appropriating it as a source of income. slow delectatio, making it a very salable commodity. The lode would well yield… A milestone in this trajectory was Brideshead revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. The author, a graduate of Oxford, was conservative, even reactionary, imperialist, white supremacist, converted Catholic. The Book Gave Puppies: The Movie desire and power (2008), with Emma Thompson playing the formidable matriarch, and a hugely successful multi-episode TV series with Jeremy Irons (1981). The series brought in key secondary roles great figures of the Shakespearean stage such as John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom.

brideshead revisited it is a veritable handbook of snobbery. Champagne is drunk all the time, which by the way they call pop, while in other circles they would call it bubbly – euphemisms that understate familiarity. The narrator studies at Oxford, of course, but he doesn't belong to the highest strata, with which he is dazzled. There are two protagonists belonging to them: Sebastian and Anthony Branchan, both sons of lords.

Anthony is an extremely snobbish model. And, as the hero soon discovers, full of mythomania and delusions of grandeur. Sebastian, from Brideshead (family domain name), abuses the visas too. He has a teddy bear, named Aloysius, to whom he attributes opinions and thoughts. The problem is that Sebastian, in addition to being very rich and aristocratic, is of a unique beauty and therefore attracts lovers of both sexes. The fact that he is mysteriously unhappy and doomed only adds to his charm.

Between snobbery and jealously nurtured eccentricity, almost to the limit of veneta, these Englishmen gradually attract their readers and spectators. The combination was highlighted by Edith Sitwell, who wrote in 1933 a charming book, The English eccentrics. She herself was given to show: tall, angular and gangly, she emphasized these features with extravagant dressing, along with her two brothers, Osbert and Sacheverell, all three members of the nobility, sons of a baronet and a lady.

The Sitwells weren't exactly from the Bloomsbury Circle, to which Virginia Woolf belonged, but they touched it frequently. Prestigious writers, the three constituted a literary family and were a notable presence in the artistic avant-garde events in London in the 1930s, persisting, long-lived as they were, even beyond the Second World War.

How not to admire the eccentricities of these Englishmen, even without snobbery? The photo of Bertrand Russell – mathematician, philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, etc., an English nobleman with the title of earl – was carried by policemen for sitting in the middle of the street, protesting against nuclear proliferation. And he was 90 years old...

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reading and rereading (Sesc\Ouro over Blue).


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