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Author Topic: Hive mind: Help me understand... the aristocracy!  (Read 1946 times)

Grant Goggans

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Hive mind: Help me understand... the aristocracy!
« on: 01 December, 2014, 02:06:41 PM »
I hope this isn't too loaded a topic for discussion, but I was wondering something...

I'm almost finished with another of my rereads of Dorothy L. Sayers, which I do every few years, and was thinking about how people in her books relate to and communicate with Lord Peter Wimsey.  Everybody that he meets, in every walk of life, speaks to him with a courtesy and a formality, with "my lord," and "your lordship" rather than "you" when addressing him directly.  That's not to say that everybody is deferential and bends over for him, but it suggests to me that people in the 1930s, everywhere from London to rural Scotland, or East Anglia, or seaside "watering hole" towns, were accustomed to occasionally meeting peers in pubs or in church, and immediately used this more formal language when speaking with them, otherwise the books would have felt wrong to readers in the 1930s.

I'm curious, is this still the case?  Are you taught (for lack of better terms) "informal" and "formal" address in school?  Do you occasionally bump into peers in village pubs and use it?  Are any lords and dukes out there getting their thrillpower fix to chime in, or are they all collecting inferior American comics?

Ghost MacRoth

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Re: Hive mind: Help me understand... the aristocracy!
« Reply #1 on: 01 December, 2014, 02:14:13 PM »
I'm curious, is this still the case?  Are you taught (for lack of better terms) "informal" and "formal" address in school? 

Certainly not while I was there.  We were indeed aware of such people, but where I grew up, they would not have soiled their shoes to visit.

Do you occasionally bump into peers in village pubs and use it? 

Have worked a few jobs where we are using a country estate as a location.  In such cases we are informed by production to address the residents by their formal title if they have one, however, I prefer to simply speak directly about whatever point it is I need to make with them, sidestepping the 'lord this or that' nonsense. 
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Dandontdare

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Re: Hive mind: Help me understand... the aristocracy!
« Reply #2 on: 01 December, 2014, 03:10:04 PM »
I don't think people were accustomed to meeting the aristocracy in the 30s, which is probably why they were so deferential when they did, as these people would seem to come from another planet. In those days, that deference would also extend to the police and courts, so if some lordship got his manservant to give you a slap for not addressing him correctly, whilst it would be just as illegal back then as it is now, you'd have little chance getting any redress (think black person addressing a white person in Georgia in the 30s and now).

Nowadays, you can generally tell the dickishness of a titled person by how insistent they are on people using the correct term of address - Sir Ben Kingsley for example is notorious for flying off the handle if addressed as Mr Kingsley.

I, Cosh

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Re: Hive mind: Help me understand... the aristocracy!
« Reply #3 on: 01 December, 2014, 03:36:13 PM »
I'm curious, is this still the case?  Are you taught (for lack of better terms) "informal" and "formal" address in school?
Ha ha! No.
Do you occasionally bump into peers in village pubs and use it?
Not knowingly. If I had I would've deliberately not used the title because I'm bolshy like that.

That's not to say that everybody is deferential and bends over for him, but it suggests to me that people in the 1930s, everywhere from London to rural Scotland, or East Anglia, or seaside "watering hole" towns, were accustomed to occasionally meeting peers in pubs or in church, and immediately used this more formal language when speaking with them, otherwise the books would have felt wrong to readers in the 1930s.
Big caveat: I have never read any of these books, but I don't intend to let that stand in the way of my pontification. I think you are making a fundamental error in that this sort of class mixing is not something which would ever have been common so the forms of address are an idealised thing on the part of the writer and it's the fact that it would be outwith the normal experience that makes it believable to the contemporary reader.

In a more general sense, the stereotypical, forelock-tugging "yer Lordship" form of address may very well be correct in a specific instance (Lord Peter Wimsey, for example) but is usually intended to convey a general notion of deference and propriety than an intimate knowledge of Debrett's. Similarly, I'd be sceptical about taking the familiar fictional concept of the Lord of the Manor at face value. This may just be a geographical thing though.

It might be better to think of the aristocrat pitching up in your local as similar to the City Slicker getting off the train in a Western. Someone whose clothes and speech instantly mark them out as alien, not us and whose concerns are more high falutin'. That the standard American response to this character is ridicule rather than respect does your great nation proud.

TL;DR: what Dan said.
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James Stacey

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Re: Hive mind: Help me understand... the aristocracy!
« Reply #4 on: 01 December, 2014, 04:25:07 PM »
It seems to be a country thing and I've met people who who do indeed speak that way about the peers who own the land they live or work on. I'm not sure it would be used to address anyone of rank (if you even knew too) but certainly in cases where they directly affect you I've seen it happen.

TordelBack

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Re: Hive mind: Help me understand... the aristocracy!
« Reply #5 on: 01 December, 2014, 04:37:47 PM »
While the break-up of large estate holdings was well under way in the 1930s, many if not most rural people would have worked directly or indirectly on land owned by members of the aristocracy. I don't know the figures in Britain (I imagine they are much lower), but in Ireland over 50% of population still worked on the land between the wars. Add to that high rates of rural churchgoing, where the lower aristocracy would be on regular display.  On that basis I'd imagine a definite familiarity with modes of address isn't unlikely. 

Outside of a rural situation, assuming that a well-dressed plumily-accented dilettante was a Lord and addressing him as you heard it done in stories would seem like a sensible move for the trades and service industries.  The Great War would also have thrown many millions of ordinary men into contact with the junior aristos that made up much of the officer class.

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Re: Hive mind: Help me understand... the aristocracy!
« Reply #6 on: 01 December, 2014, 04:57:42 PM »
A family of stage performers walk into a theatrical agent's office...
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I think that the aristocracy don't really like to mix with those outside their circles and never really have (they're afraid we'll steal their wealth, I suppose). In my view, this mixing in country pubs is probably more of a myth brought about by literature and old Ealing comedies than anything else. I think that they'll want to mix even less these days due to the false view that they must have purloined all our money - I think they are becoming ever more afraid of us, which is a crying shame, to be honest.
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My view of the aristocracy is that they are a subset of society; human beings with the resources to do whatever they want - some try to do good things, some try to do bad things and most just don't give a shit, much like the rest of us.
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Daveycandlish

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Re: Hive mind: Help me understand... the aristocracy!
« Reply #7 on: 01 December, 2014, 05:29:53 PM »
I think these books, like PG Wodehouse and Midsomer Murders on TV, depict an idyll that never actually was, and judging by the bolshy oiks around here, the aristos would never be addressed formally if happened upon by this lot!
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Frank

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Re: Hive mind: Help me understand... the aristocracy!
« Reply #8 on: 01 December, 2014, 05:55:43 PM »
assuming that a well-dressed plumily-accented dilettante was a Lord and addressing him as you heard it done in stories would seem like a sensible move for the trades and service industries.

clothes and speech instantly mark(ed) them out as alien, not us and whose concerns (were) more high falutin'. That the standard American response to this character is ridicule rather than respect does your great nation proud

Hear, hear. The culture of deference instilled in my Gran (born 1917) meant she never addressed her GP as anything other than 'Doctor', stressed with the respectful awe normally reserved for deities. The local quack would have been the only middle class professional folk like her ever came into contact with during their entire lives, so meeting an actual aristocrat would have induced an uncontrollable frenzy of curtseying and forelock tugging.

Up until the sixties, working class men basically wore a uniform which identified their social station *, and the cut of a gentleman's suit (as well as its age and state of repair) was an infallible indicator of his standing. Bearing and a cut glass RP accent would have done the rest, but another thing to consider is that the media of the day followed the adventures of even minor nobility with the same fascination today's scriveners lavish upon the celebrity class.


* flat cap, coarse suit, and tie

I, Cosh

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Re: Hive mind: Help me understand... the aristocracy!
« Reply #9 on: 01 December, 2014, 06:22:29 PM »
It seems to be a country thing and I've met people who who do indeed speak that way about the peers who own the land they live or work on. I'm not sure it would be used to address anyone of rank (if you even knew too) but certainly in cases where they directly affect you I've seen it happen.
Interesting stuff. It's a bit late now but I was going to heavily caveat that bit of my post with a lengthy personal anecdote. Still, no time like the present!

I grew up in about as rural a place as you can get in Central Scotland: not exactly St Kilda, but not many buses either. Other industries had taken their place but, for much of the 20th Century, farming and mining were the big land uses there. My granny moved to the village in, I think, 1908 and lived in the same house on the same smallholding for the next 80-odd years.

All of this scene-setting is slowly getting us to this point. I have never heard anyone of any age from that community or similar ones in the area, refer to a local lord, or even big landowners. Neither as someone due respect or scorn have stories of local aristos circulated. Maybe it's about different patterns of ownership: if there are tenant farmers, it's to other farmers. Maybe absenteeism plays a part. Maybe it's something about the radical politics of the mining communities in the early part of the century.

Something to ask the old boys about over a Christmas pint I guess.
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M.I.K.

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Re: Hive mind: Help me understand... the aristocracy!
« Reply #10 on: 01 December, 2014, 06:27:21 PM »
Having lived in a rural environment the vast majority of my life, I can tell you that the 'upper' classes do indeed intermingle with the 'lower' classes and are often referred to by no more than their title.

In an area where you can bump into someone and be the only two people in sight for miles, everyone says hello to everyone else whether they know each other or not. You can always recognise someone who haven't grown up in the countryside by their lack of acknowledgement when you walk past them on an otherwise deserted road.

I wouldn't say calling horribly posh folk by their title is an act of deference, though, (I've known plenty of people who'd ridicule them to their face while still referring to them by their title), it's just a bit formal. Calling him Mister Wimsey would be wrong, so he'd get called 'Your Lordship' instead, like the aforementioned doctor would be referred to as "Doctor", a nun would be "Sister", the Major who used to live down the road from me got called "Major", and a milkman would be "Milkman" and he's not even posh.
« Last Edit: 01 December, 2014, 06:30:55 PM by M.I.K. »

The Legendary Shark

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Re: Hive mind: Help me understand... the aristocracy!
« Reply #11 on: 01 December, 2014, 07:08:59 PM »
I remember getting regularly blasted at school for calling our headmaster Mr Winthrop instead of Dr Winthrop. The rest of the staff reacted as if I'd called him Shitbag Winthrop  (which he wasn't, he was a decent enough sort), especially when they found out I was doing it on purpose. To his credit, it never seemed to bother him when I called him Mr to his face. It would be nice to relate that, on my last day of school, I shook him by the hand and finally called him Dr - it never happened, though; I couldn't get out of that shithole fast enough.
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Um, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, what M.I.K. said. (It was Lord Hesketh around here but I don't recall meeting anyone who had ever met him - he was a semi-mythic figure, always there but never around.)
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Dog Deever

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Re: Hive mind: Help me understand... the aristocracy!
« Reply #12 on: 01 December, 2014, 10:07:19 PM »
I was brought up in the rural NE of Scotland and there's a lot of 'auld money' up this way as well as new- plus loads of titled folks who may or may not be less well heeled. I was a window cleaner for about 16 years and we were the biggest firm in the area so got most of the prime jobs, which meant a lot of old country houses- I've cleaned the windows of two Lord-Lieutenants of Moray and one of Banff, The Laird of Drummuir, The Laird of Brodie, the Gordon-Lennox's,  and probably several of their extended families without my knowing who they were.  I also cleaned the windows of Gordonstoun School too.

I've generally found the toffs, especially maybe the older ones, to be an alright sort really, on a personal level - haven't been horsewhipped by any of them anyway. In general we'd usually assume that they wouldn't want the likes of us dirty, scruffy and unshaven yokels talking to them, but more than a few of them surprise you and make a point of talking- not much common ground, and I'm fairly sure some of them had only the vaguest idea what we were actually saying- but they meant well enough. I think some of them, usually the older ones, like the 'couthy' local lingo. We just called them 'min' like anybody else, as in "ahright, min? Fit like?"

Anyway:
it's hard tae doff yer bunnet tae the Laird o' Drummuir just efter he's bared his erse at ye...*

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