Recently, I joined a Book club and they send me a book a month to read and I don’t know what book I will receive. This may sound a bit odd – indeed it does sound odd when I read what I’ve just written – but it does mean I read books on subjects I wouldn’t normally read.
Such is the case with Respectable by Lynsey Hanley, a book that to me is about social class and social mobility. This book describes the journey from a working-class background as a young person to a middle-class status as a mature adult, with the steps taken along the way. Hanley is Socially Mobile and yet psychologically divided between her place of origin and her current status, which is where she ended up by being encouraged to improve herself by teachers and family.
A class system needs socially mobile people and socially immobile people in order to prove its own existence. This book describes the pressures that are exerted on working-class people to both stay where they are and to also strive to escape their background. These pressures are exerted by different groups of people in various ways.
The book uses as a guide “The Uses of Literacy” by the cultural critic Richard Hoggart written in 1957, a book that describes apparently huge changes in society which were in truth only superficial. Hoggart was aware that every educational exam he passed took him further away from where he’d begun in a working-class neighbourhood to a modern comfortable middle-class existence where he felt loneliness.
Hanley used “The Uses of Literacy” as the backbone of her book and as is the way with all good books such as “Respectable”, it’s opened up another path of reading for me. I will be reading Richard Hoggart’s book in the near future.