CLASS IN ENGLAND, despite the '60s, struggles on, as clearly demarcated as it was in the old U and non-U days (said designation, by the way, coined not by Nancy Mitford, as is widely supposed, but by Alan S. C. Ross, and in the Bulletin de la Societe Neo-philologique de Helsinki at that).
Cooper is not satisfied with the simple you-either-are-or-you-aren't, and, in her book, breaks everybody down -- and her readers, not at all inadvertently, up.
Cooper's U's are the Stow-Crats, who, when a relative dies, know that, "although it is more upper class to be buried than cremated," also know that, "it is frightfully smart to have to be cremated because your family tomb is so full of your ancestors going back to the year dot that there is no room for you." Harry and Caroline Stow-Crat's dogs, too, are distinguished by having "two addresses on their collars: one for London and another for the country." Be it houses or silver, the Stow-Crats don't buy, they inherit.
Beneath the Stow-Crats are the Upwards, Gideon and Samantha, Samantha "just emerging from her Third World ethnic phase," resulting in "a sloppy bra-less, long-straight-haired intellectual earth mother look." They're U-middle, and Cooper dubs them "the most intelligent and highly educated of all the classes and therefore the silliest."
The Weybridges don't come in for much criticism in Class, being middle-middle, but the Teales, Bryan and Jen, being lower-middle, have a hard time of it here. The Teales "like a dainty word for everything." The Teale household "smells of Lavender Pledge and Freshaire." And Jen Teale has achieved what to her is the highest honor: "Friends say her whites are spotless." Not tennis whites, by the way.
The Nouveau-Richards behave and are excoriated predictably, and it is Mr. Nouveau-Richards' presence in the hunting field, along with that of actors and rock stars, that has rendered foxhunting very much a non-U sport.
The Definitely-Disgustings (the working classes) take a lot of guff from Cooper, some funny, some merely snotty: "It is a working class characteristic to be touchingly grateful for any kind of hospital care, enjoying the rare treat of a rest and three free meals a day cooked by someone else." Cooper makes this jab when Mrs. Definitely-Disgusting puts a notice in the press following the birth of Sharon (whose name came from the TV Times).
Nonetheless, Cooper has an eagle eye for telling detail, noting, for example, where weddings are concerned, that "the less virginal a girl is, the more covered up she wants to look," or, "the more well-bred a cat, usually the more common the owner." Nor does she miss the fact that at a "do," "the working classes never stand because of their corns." The working classes, we're also told, never have "dos" anyway, and only mingle at weddings and funerals.
Cooper quotes a range of other authors in her book and her selections are choice. In the introductin, for instance, she retells what Barara Cartland said when asked by a Today show interviewer whether class barriers in England had indeed dissolved. "Of course they have," Cartland is reported to have responded, "or I wouldn't be sitting here talking to someone like you."
Similarly, on the probably passing U rage to appear working class, Cooper gives us journalist Nicholas Monson's prediction of an upcoming edition of Burke's Peasantry.
Anecdotes, too, aboun in Class, as for example, this one illustrating the Stow-Crat accent (based on using "vowels that will hardly move his face at all"): Stow-Crat goes into the village shop and asks for some "pepper," and, when the shopkeeper asks if Stow-Crat wants red pepper or black, he retorts, "'Don't be ridiculous. I mean lavatory pepper.'" The upper classes, Cooper informs us, have similarly frightful accents when they lapse into a foreign tongue. She says the U's are told, "Speak French fluently, darling, but not like them."
Cooper has also garnered some great statistics, to wit: "A recent survey of ballet audiences broke them down as 61 per cent upper-middle-class males, 19 percent middle-class, 15 per cent lower-middles and only 5 per cent working-class, who presumably are the rough trade accompanying the upper-middle homosexuals."
And off-the-wall facts: We learn what the Queen drops into the weekly collection at church (a single pound) and what the Queen Mother reads (Dick Francis).
Class is obviously fun stuff. I can't think of any book I've read recently which I wanted to read to people: And it took some doing. (Of course The Official Preppy Handbook did, too, but just about everyone I know feels that he could have done that book, had he but thought of it before Lisa Birnbach did). Not so Class -- it just touches too many bases.
Class is a guaranteed fun subject, though. I suspect we read about as a kind of test, to see where we really do fit in. However, the book left me with one haunting question: Is anyone over there speaking to Jilly Cooper?