Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"God save Tudor houses, antique tables, and billiards"*

So back at the end of January, I was invited to write a guest post on the blog Brit Fancy. I ended up writing a explanation of sorts about my love of all things British. At the time, I only posted a link to the entry in this blog, but now I think that it might be nice to have a copy up here too.
(NB.: Brit Fancy is currently on hiatus for the summer, but her readers anticipate that she will be back posting again in the fall.)

Origins of an Anglophile

When Brit Fancy invited me to make this guest post, I immediately knew what my topic was going to be: “origins of an Anglophile”, basically a bit of self analysis about what made me the kind of person who fancies all things British. I am American, and our family doesn’t have any English heritage (in fact, we are Irish) so there isn’t a readily apparent reason that I should be as enamored of England as I am. My dad refers to it as being “Britified”, and, trust me, I am completely Britified. Case in point: instead of going to a Super Bowl party one year, I went to an “Ab Fab” marathon party, where I drank close to an entire bottle of champagne, consumed a significant portion of a Terry’s chocolate orange, and laughed myself silly. (I still have no idea who won that Super Bowl, but I think that our local team, the Patriots, may have been playing. Whoops!)

I was wondering if there was one definitive thing that started me down the path to Anglophilia, and the more I thought about it, I realized that really it all started with Walt Disney. That a uniquely American institution such as Disney turned me into an Anglophile seems preposterous, but listen to my argument. I grew up listening to Disney records: the long playing storybook version of their films, the kind where you could look at drawings from the film and read along with the record. I played those records over and over again; they never lost their charm. My favorites included: Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Robin Hood, The Jungle Book, and Mary Poppins. As I grew older, this love transitioned to the actual movies. Thanks to the Wonderful World of Disney and then later the Disney Channel, I fell in love with Winnie the Pooh, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Three Lives of Thomasina, and Treasure Island. And there we have a foundation laid for some major “Britification”. (Thanks, Walt!)

As I grew older and began to inhale books, I was drawn to stories in English books for children. I was right behind Mary Lennox when she opened the door to the secret garden, enjoyed Turkish Delight from the White Witch with Edmund Pevensie, and accompanied the Fossil sisters to their ballet classes. Later on, there were Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie mysteries, “All Things” James Herriott, Jane Eyre and Jane Austen, and, by the end of high school, Dickens and Shakespeare.

I was always passionate about history, and, in college, I was able to fuse my love of literature with my love for the past. Novels became contextualized within time periods, and the worlds in the books became more concrete and understandable. Books were reflective of their particular times, but also influenced their times. Times changed, but the English character (and characters) stayed the same. I spent a lot of time sophomore year with my friend JeGlide watching and rewatching A Room with a View and eating Nice biscuits and Lemon Coolers (which, sadly, no longer exist!), wondering what my chances were of running into a George Emerson at a weekend keg party. (Non-existent.)

Through the books, plays, and films (too numerous to list here), I felt that I was given an inside look into English life, and I found it wonderfully warm, homey, and cosy. A garden party on a Sunday afternoon at the vicarage. A stiff upper lip when faced with disappointment. The pomp and circumstance of the monarchy. A brolly and Wellies to wear in the rain. (The different names for things were exotic and enchanting to me, making things like the “lorry” and the “lift” much more exciting than the plain old “truck” and “elevator” said by Americans.) Driving Mini Coopers on the left hand side of the road. Teas with scones and clotted cream. Trains that ran on time and the Underground to take you around London. This was not my life, but it was what I thought I wanted my life to be. (I grew up having to wear a school uniform so that whole public school thing wasn’t as appealing as the rest.)

I knew that it was only a matter of time before I got to England. The bigger question was posed to me by my favorite professor: would they be able to get me back to America afterwards?

In her book, 84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff writes that someone once told her that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for, and she says that she would go looking for the England of English literature. In one way or another I have encountered this on each of my trips to England, whether it be strolling down Baker Street past the Sherlock Holmes museum, looking for Platform 9 ¾ (or at least platforms 9 & 10) at King’s Cross Station during rush hour, hunting down Lincoln’s Inn Fields and the old Court of Chancery on a Sunday morning, trapsing through Bloomsbury on a crisp November evening, happening upon an actual Eleanor cross at Charing Cross, or taking the train to Stratford to visit Shakespeare’s birth place and Anne Hathaway’s cottage. These things are real, they have endured, and they have managed to retain their distinctly English character.

I work at a university that is ramping up for its sesquicentennial in 2011. One hundred fifty years seems like a long time in America. (Well, unless you are Harvard, but not everyone can be Harvard, and, honestly, would you really want to be?) That number was put into perspective the other day when we received a piece of mail from Cambridge University. The return address was embossed to commemorate that university’s anniversary this year: the big 800. I looked at the envelope, showed it to my coworker and said, “Kind of puts things in a different perspective, doesn’t it?”

What started out for me as a child’s interest in some stories grew into a love for a country and a way of life on a little island in Europe (smaller than the state of New York). It might be a little island, but it has an accumulated wealth of culture, tradition, history, and character that can be traced back to ancient times. It continues to fascinate and appeal to me, and I expect it will do so for the rest of my life.

Sorry for the repetition, readers. It was nice for me to read this again, especially as I start mentally planning my next trip to the UK. As you can see, in the original post I didn't go into any detail about my love for British music/musicians or for British television. This was mainly because I didn't want to go on for another four paragraphs about all things Britpop (especially Blur vs. Oasis) and BritComs, mysteries and "Doctor Who". I may just save that material for another post in the near future.

* Today's post title comes to us from lyrics by The Kinks.

1 comment:

  1. I just don't know what to squee about first Brit Fancy or there is a communitythat will accept my anglophile madness! Psi am Irish an English too!



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