Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Poverty of British Life

I've been reading a volume of letters by the British poet Philip Larkin. It always amazes me when I read stuff by mid-20th century British writers -- Larkin, C.S. Lewis, Dylan Thomas, etc. -- how they had such a shoddy standard of living. Running a little paraffin stove to help heat the bedroom -- no central heating, of course. "Better to come visit me in the summer, when I can spare enough blankets for you off my own bed." The stock Briticism, "butter is dear," and margarine hardly any more affordable. Going to great trouble to get an ordinary fountain pen repaired instead of buying a new one. A university library (this was early 1950s) with not a single typewriter in it, not even for Larkin who was the head librarian.

And these were middle class writers who were pulling in a tolerable income from full-time job plus writing. I get the impression that I enjoy a far higher standard of living than they did.

Great Britain, mid-20th century: what I always think of is bad teeth and no central heating.

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