Tag Archives: poverty

Middlemarch and Sherwood

What links a Lincoln green clad arrow pinger, a mine magnate’s niece who’s chased by horses and her teacher, and a bonnet wearing philanthropic clergyman’s wife?

If you’ve read the blurb to my novel, you’ll know that I like making unlikely comparisons. If you’ve read the rest of this blog, you will see more of them.

The answer to the first question is firstly geography – for they are all located in the East Midlands; secondly, literature and film; – and lastly – well off people fighting to support the cause of the poor.

Thus Sherwood and Eastwood and Middlemarch are not so far apart.

I wrote my thoughts on Eastwood’s famous son – and the escapades of Ursula Brangwen – on Good Reads.

The rest of this concentrates on Sherwood – whose forest’s inhabitants need no introduction – and the fictitious manufacturing town invented by George Eliot, filmed in Stamford.

I like to read and watch and visit in themes, so if you want to know what my days out to Nottinghamshire and Stamford (and elsewhere in the East Midlands) involved – read them here.

Robin Hood and Dorothea Brooke are further linked by the fact that they are in some ways superhuman archetypes. Robin is borderline superhero, and in some versions (such as 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood) he has a higher calling from a deity, the son of a god, the fulfilment of a long promised title: he is, as the theme song goes, The Hooded Man. (Does anyone else find the otherwise excellent Clannad’s keyboards tinny and dated?). Dorothea – ‘of the gods’ – is likened to not only famous mystic and theologian Theresa of Avila, but saints, angels and the Virgin Mary. (I ruefully acknowledge that Schmoop pointed that out to me).

Robin too has a special Mary in his all male band of called followers, who live rough and itinerant and give, in their way, good news to the poor and freedom for the prisoners and the oppressed… strange how closely Robin’s mission matches Isaiah 61, Jesus’ own self confessed mission statement. Robin descends from the higher echelons to save the people.

Dorothea also cares about the poor, about justice – and mercy – letting sheep stealers off fatal sentences, providing better homes for tenants, doing good with her money, such as supporting overlooked but genuine clergy and would be world changing doctors.

Both though are truly human as well as divine.

There is much in common with 1195 – the years leading to Magna Carter, 1832 – the Reform Bill – and now. All these are the cusp of a sea change  against long oppression and imbalance. Hence these stories keep coming round again. The 2006 BBC Robin Hood (with Jonas Armstrong) made explicit parallels to the middle eastern wars funded at the expense of the poor and where fair justice was dispensed with, and that there was no need to travel to Arab countries to see evil – “the real cancer is right here”.

Hence my satisfaction that seemingly disparate reading and watching material has a common thread.

I’ll talk more about Middlemarch in my next piece, but I wanted to round up by a final parallel which is more than pedantry.

It’s about accents in the TV versions.

In his otherwise excellent site Bold Outlaw, Allen W. Wright says that Kevin Costner’s infamously poor/non English accent in the 1994 Prince of Thieves film doesn’t matter, because we don’t know how people talked in Robin Hood’s day, and some say that the modern American accent is more likely than today’s English one.

As a North American, he would say that.

As an English person, I feel that Americans not adopting the accent of the characters they play is not only cultural laziness but symptomatic of America becoming a synecdoche for all the English speaking western world. If actors of other nationalities play an American part, they change their voice – but not in reverse. Many dramas exported to America are remade, or redubbed.

Only one Robin Hood so far has used the right accent for Robin, going by what we today recognise as Nottinghamshire, and that again is the 2006 BBC series with Richard Armitage.

All the others do what Middlemarch also did – as well as so many films. The rich have a British gittish queen’s English accent, and the serfs and villagers and tradesfolk have the general lazy west country bumpkin voice that I have moaned about so many times. It’s not even true of the West Country! It’s not how people in the Midlands speak. And that accent serves to delineate class via accent and associate the country one with being not only rustic but stupid, poor, ill educated, lower, subordinate.

Thus class – a distinction and divide that Robin and Dorothea are working to erase – is demarcated for yet another era, and that shorthand is perpetuated and spread across not only Britain but all the countries who watch our dramas.

I shall be back with more about Middlemarch (or truly, Lowick and Tipton) shortly.

Leave a comment

Filed under heritage, history, literature, society, television

Dickens’ Christmas Carol

I feel sorry for Scrooge.

His workspace is intruded on by presumptive, manipulative money grabbers.

Christmas cheer is an irritating concept and to many, salutations can be cloying, especially if said without meaning, and if your season is anything but merry.

Scrooge, as the Muppets point out, is alone and has been for many years. It is pointed out that he thinks of no-one, but who thinks of him? His partner is long dead and he since youth has never had any of the romantic kind; friendless, his business is all he has to focus on.

His cruelty is stuff of pantomimes, throwing people out of homes and jobs at Christmas and almost relishing it.

I enjoyed the insight into Scrooge’s past – a lonely boy sent to school by a volatile father. What really turned him so nasty?  Love of money does not seem suffice.

Scrooge makes an interesting point: he gives to a system – why should he give again to charity canvassers? Does he mean through taxes, or is he referring to private gifts?

Such an attitude to workhouses and prisons for the poor is not at all far from government and right wing thinking – work or starve… it is very close to how we think about animals, including those in ‘rescue shelters’. It is frightening that an old story often filmed, dramatised and even Muppetised feels so fresh.

Dickens’ Christmas Carol feels very apt this year especially. It is easy to update Scrooge. But he seems more complex than the villain who has given his name to meanness, who goes from hard master to a giddy weak character, enjoying silly games. His is not a religious conversion and if he finds a true meaning in Christmas it is a surfacey one, having little to do with the Nativity and more to do with fear of death, loneliness and being reviled. He gives into Christmas by buying large carnivorous gifts, joining in party games, and smirking benignly at all he meets, by making a large donation to the poor, and drinking. That sounds like commercial festivities rather than anything profound.

Scrooge is a charismatic man, who we enjoy booing but don’t really hate, although our modern real Scrooges incite a different reaction.

It is right that a change of heart is what Scrooge most needs and an understanding of what people really think and what his decisions do to poorer people. But the twee, unspiritual end of conforming to a false jollity is not a satisfactory wrap. What then instead? Perhaps a question for the Occupy camps as well as the literary adapters and analysts.

Leave a comment

Filed under literature, society, theatre

Hatred of housing benefit claimants

I am incensed by another example of irresponsible, crowd whipping reporting from my local rag. Archant owns most local rags in England now, and has been behind other thoughtlessness in the same group of papers about overweight campaigns (see next blog) and got a man reburgled due to describing his home in such detail and the ripeness of the opportunity at his secluded, treasure ridden abode. Mostly I find the headlines so incendiary in their mix of rustic low brow and propaganda that I rarely read it. I could give other examples from around the country, including the way that this journalism monopoliser treats its staff.

A front page headline of a multiple million pound housing benefit overpayment is designed to make those not in the welfare system angry, saying that the overpayment is not only caused by deliberate fraud but those who fail their responsibility to tell the council of changes of circumstances. Reading on – as far as I could bear – it is clearly meant to couple this large figure with all the anger the public feels about the recession and the cuts in Britain. It lists other local amenities being lost due to the cuts, as if it is housing benefit claimants’ fault, saying that the council’s announcement has come against a ‘backdrop’ of all the other suffering.

I would like to remind what that backdrop really is. It’s worldwide greed and disproportionate power and wealth, forgetting what it really is to be human. Our governments and banking systems, along with others, are the manifestation of this.

The next day, the sister paper also carried an article. It revealed that it had (mis)used the freedom of information act to find this out.

On one page, the opinion is clearly against cuts and for caring and being humane. Yet on another, we get this contradictory message. The council is quoted to say that most people on HB actually need it, but the last word of the article makes clear what the paper and journalist thinks – that our council’s deficit is due to wasted welfare.

It is actually evil to lay such problems at the feet of those too poor to be able to pay their own way in a society of ever rising costs and make them the scapegoat. Estate agents forever pushing prices up, insurance companies making legally sanctioned money through fear, large newspaper groups who buy up independents, and councils who not only unquestioningly conformed to the cuts they were given from their capital but have implemented them in a thoughtless and underhand way – these would be fairer groups to cast aspersions on.

I would also like to inform – without causing personal embarrassment or scrutiny for those concerned – that this particular council is 6-7 weeks behind with housing benefit changes of circumstances. It then freezes the money whilst it investigates, leaving many claimants in the high risk of getting evicted. I found one who actually had been, due to the severe underpayment due to the council not making a change of circs in the opposite direction. In April, HB cuts were brought in nationally and without warning to individuals that meant most claimants are now not having their full rent covered. Yet claimants are meant to declare and lose any extra money they earn.

Is it any wonder if some claimants do not declare? Honesty should never make one worse off, and neither should working.

The problem is also that in a target driven office with the fear of job loss that claims are not being handled properly and that is why overpayments occur. More staff, better treated and with less pressure would alleviate this.

People on welfare are among the very vulnerable most affected by cuts, while council chiefs earn high salaries and government ministers who have no idea about what it’s like to be on low or no income make emotive statements and making cutting – in all ways – decisions affecting these people’s lives. (I have already the response of a chief minister about this matter, most unsatisfactory).

This same council has been one of the worst I’ve lived under, failing to deal with many aspects of its role, including regularly missing bin collections – one of its most simple functions.

I wrote before about Welfare here (https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/the-truth-about-benefits) and it remains something I care about, as does our right to speak out without being silenced or punished and our right to remaining private.

This is also a call for responsible journalism who should be a voice for the people, not a right wing rag to incite anger against those who need support.

Strangely enough, this leads nicely into my post on Dickens…

Leave a comment

Filed under society