Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Class and Morality

This morning's episode of Michael Buerk's series The Choice (Radio 4) was not one of the better ones. It was about a man from a well-to-do English family discovering that his grandparents were Jewish. I don't think I'd find it at all traumatic if I discovered that any of my ancestors were Jewish. I'd probably just shrug and think that might explain why I like Jewish humour so much.

This man, now a Rabbi, was also gay and my reason for mentioning the programme is a wonderful quote from his mother when he revealed his sexuality to her:
"Why can't you be a normal man? Get married to a woman and keep a boy in Soho."
It's a wonderful example of the distinctive moral norms of the English upper classes.

Historically, mistresses were tacitly accepted as the prerogative of aristocratic married men and were also a 'royal prerogative'. I say 'historically' but of course it's a tradition that was continued by our own dear Prince of Wales - and Camilla is a descendant of the mistress of one of his predecessors.

Divorce was also available to the upper classes - at a cost - long before it became a universal right.
Even the Catholic church has its own version of divorce, called 'annulment', which is not widely known about and this too was most likely to be used by wealthy, upper class Catholics.

The same pattern is manifested in relation to prostitution. When my father was in the RAF during the war, a public school friend of his told him that when he was a teenager his father took him to his own regular prostitute in Mayfair. This was considered as normal a rite of passage as being taken to the family tailor in Savile Row to be measured for his first suit.

When we hear wealthy Conservative politicians in preaching mode, prattling about the 'broken society' and 'broken families', it's worth remembering that class in this country is not just about wealth and privilege but about brazen and hypocritical double standards in morality.


At 12:03 PM, Blogger mike said...

... and a posh heterosexual fiftysomething acquaintance of ours lost his virginity to his father's mistress at the age of 14, and still cheerfully boasts about it. It's a rum old world!

At 6:02 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

mike: you may remember that the late Alan Clark seduced the 14 year old daughters of a family friend. I won't say "allegedly" because he's dead and can't sue me and he never brought a libel action against the girl's mother.
Yet he had the nerve to appear on television opposing a reduction in the age of consent for gay men.
As you say, it's a rum old world.


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