I will soon be back in town, and life in the French Riviera is becoming a tad boring. On top of this, my Mum’s house is a complete mess and I can’t say or do anything about it because she would be upset. Anyway, all is not bleak : my husband has managed to find some time in his busy schedule and is spending the Easter week-end with us. Actually, he is catching up with sleep as I write. But let’s not complain: he didn’t forget to bring with him a copy of “The Illustrated London News” , which is good. For those of you who don’t know, I found some old newspapers in my attic, when we were renovating our house in London, and I am trying to read them in the hope that it will help me to understand the British…
Today, we are Saturday, March the 19th, 1898. On the front page, there is a huge illustration of the Queen’s visit to the Riviera ” Her Majesty’s departure from Nice railway station for Cimiez”. Well, it looks like I am in the right place. Lucky me.
But my joy is short-lived. The newspapers is full of good, old fashioned generalisations and judgemental comments.
1. Against the French
“Why are Frenchmen so unwilling to quit their native country and spread themselves as pioneers over unoccupied parts of the earth, like the English? A French writer ( no name is given of course) mournfully confesses that it is the fault of French mothers. They are adorable women; they inspire the life-long attachment of their children….English prejudice is fond of attributing to the French a lack of moral fibre; but it is the very ardour of the domestic virtues which disqualifies most Frenchmen for the labours of colonisation.”
2. Against the Germans
“Mr. Forbes-Robertson, who is playing Hamlet in Germany, has discovered that Shakspere (that’s how it is written)is a German author. The critics have judged his performance not only from the standpoint of German dramatic art, but also through the refined and lucid medium of the German language. Shakspere in English is unsatisfactory to German ears accustomed to his wood-notes wild in their native Teutonic. It is, perhaps, the most singular delusion of English egotism to suppose that Shakspere was an Englishmen, whereas it is well known to all educated Germans that he was born at Postdam, and that his dramas, which are occasionally seen on the London stage, are played in a corrupt English translation.”
3. Against female nurses
“The hospital nurse is more intent upon flirtation than upon healing.”
4. Against Korea, “that singular and sequestered country”
5. Against people in general
“Great number of people travel by the Underground. It makes you wonder where in the world they all come from.”
It made me wonder something else: why do people in general and British in particular have this need to prove that they are and know better? It is not new: it was already the case more than 110 years ago apparently. Why do we have this need to comment and judge? Is it because it makes us feel better? Probably. The sense of belonging to a group of like-minded people is powerful. It is as if we belong to some sort of elite. It is also because the group may have followed the same education, the same initiation rites. There is a long section, in today’s newspapers, about “whipping boys”. The section starts as follows:
“When Dr. Markham asked George III how he wished his son educated, “like the sons of any private English gentleman ,” his Majesty replied. “if they deserve it, let them be flogged; do as you used to do at Westminster .”
Maybe, when you are a private English gentleman, this sense of belonging to the same group is extremely strong ( courtesy of extensive flogging during childhood) and somehow gives you the right to believe that you are superior to the whole world. Maybe. Well, I believe that it is high time to be more open minded!
And finally, a couple of nice ads:
-” harlene”, the great hair producer and restorer. The finest dressing. Specially prepared and perfumed. Fragrant & Refreshing. Is a luxury and a necessity to every modern toilet.”
-“asthma cure” Grimault’s Indian cigarettes. Difficulty in expectoration, asthma, nervous cough, catarrh, sleeplessness and oppression immediately relieved by these cigarettes”
See you next week!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London