A Peek at the Peerage with Julian Fellowes’ ‘Snobs’

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If you have an Instagram account, the chances are high that you’ve been inundated with posts about Glastonbury this past weekend. Did Kanye exceed expectations or fail to deliver? Did Gigi and Kendall really arrive via helicopter following Taylor Swift’s concert in Hyde Park? All riveting questions, but if you’ve come to this blog for the answers, I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place. Today, I’d like to take a look at a different type of Anglophilia: that of the British Aristocracy.

I’ve long been fascinated with the English. My father went to school (Tower House and Cranleigh) in England, and my step-grandmother was a regular patron of Annabel’s in the 1960s, something of a ‘Sloane Ranger’ in her day. My first memory of watching television is at age four in 1997, the day Princess Diana died, and my first memory of travel is a trip to London during the subsequent year. I’ve long been obsessed with the Tudors (much to many of my friends’ dismay – though it continues to shock me that they don’t share my interest in the fascinating figure of Anne Boleyn, they assure me they will not be converted), and regularly pay the absurd import prices to buy Tatler and Hello in the American magazine shops. However, Alison Weir and Peter Ackroyd (these references will likely fall flat if you aren’t interested in the Tudors, so apologies again) aside, I have had a hard time finding lit on the Brits that I truly adore.

I came across Snobs in a rather unconventional manner – I was recently reading Kevin Kwan’s second novel in the Crazy Rich Asians series (the guiltiest of guilty pleasures but one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to even the least regular readers – you’ll finish in a day), China Rich Girlfriend, and happened upon a scene in which an ‘image consultant’ presents her hapless client with a reading list intended to help her penetrate the cold barrier of Hong Kong’s upper class. The first book on the list, Snobs, had come to my attention a few weeks earlier as Amazon had recommended it to me. It seemed like fate, so upon returning to New York, and having triumphantly finished The Bone Clocks, I thought I was due a breezy read. I went directly to Barnes and Noble to purchase it, and I was not disappointed.

If you’re at all interested in the upper classes, royalty, England, society, or show business – and if you aren’t, what are you interested in? – then this book is certainly worth a read. Fellowes tells the tale through an unnamed narrator, a C-level actor with a snug, if not immensely impressive, position in British society, of Edith Lavery, a young and beautiful blonde who has everything but noble birth, which, as it happens, is the only thing you need to ‘succeed’ in England (we’ve all seen their teeth – no offense, Dad). On a visit to a stately home with some social climbing friends who live nearby, Edith meets Lord Charles Broughton, an eligible man of her age – and he is, much to the surprise and dismay of his ‘circle’ instantly taken with her. The story explores the ups and (mostly) downs of their relationship and eventual marriage, all the while serving as a guidebook of sorts on ‘How To Impress England’s Upper Classes’ – the conclusion at the end of the book is that it’s nearly impossible. The book is chock full of hilarious and (from what I know of English relatives and family friends) accurate depictions of English mannerisms and social conventions. The plot itself isn’t particularly heavy, and the novel is certainly a light read, perfect not for the beach but the weekend you shun the traffic and head instead to your house in the (preferably English, but Upstate New York will do) countryside. With Fellowes’ lively cast of characters, no matter who you’re physically with, you’ll find yourself in good company.

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