Monday, January 31, 2011

Another Attack of Anglophilia

Keith here.

It’s happened again. Like recurrent malaria, I’ve just suffered another attack of Anglophilia.

I’m not sure what brought it on, but it became particularly acute this week as I watched the six hour English-made miniseries Downton Abbey on PBS. There’s a beautiful estate, a righteous nobleman, a couple of headstrong daughters, a rich American wife, a downstairs filled with servants who have intrigues and loves of their own, and an acerbic harridan of a mother (played by the inimitable Dame Maggie Smith!).

I cannot pinpoint precisely when the mosquito-vector carrying Anglophilia bit me for the first time. I did love Sherlock Holmes as a boy. The first time I went to England I stayed a block from 221B Baker Street (or at least where it should be). After college, I studied English history over there along with cricket and lawn tennis and pubs and garden parties. What a life.

I remember Blackwell’s, my favorite bookstore in the world, located on Broad Street in Oxford. I know women who go shopping for shoes to cheer themselves up. Me? During my two years in England, when the least bit bored or out of sorts, I’d just drop by Blackwell’s and leave in the best of spirits. Back then, you didn’t even have to worry about paying for your books. On the way out of the store, I’d just wave a volume and call out my name. At the end of the quarter, a bill would show up. When it came time to move back to the States, I dropped off all my books at Blackwell's and they packed and shipped them to me. (My memory says there were four dozen cartons, but reason tells me there could not have been that many.)

In the last month or so I’ve read memoirs by Ivana Lowell about her privileged (and crazy) upbringing as granddaughter of a marquess and by Dame Antonia Fraser, historian, mystery novelist, daughter of an earl, and widow of Harold Pinter. I’ve also knocked off The Lessons by Naomi Alderman, which is set against a background in Oxford, and Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question, the Man Booker Prize winner that explores being a Jew in England – which I was, at least for two years.

The United States has a population over 300 million compared to England’s 51 million, but do we write six times more novels worth reading? And why do the English do television so much better than we do? In addition to Downton Abbey, thanks to Netflix, I’ve recently watched the fabulous mini-series The Politician’s Wife and State of Play; the movie version of the latter with Russell Crowe couldn’t hold a candle to the original.

I wish I could say the books I write have been influenced by my Anglophilia. Nope, not that I can tell. My two published books are set right smack dab in Silicon Valley where I grew up and live now. The action in my latest manuscript is centered in Washington, D.C. I think I’d better start following the example of pal and fellow Inkster G.M. Malliett, who is setting another series in England. (Her Wicked Autumn featuring an MI5 agent who has retired as an English vicar will be out, when else, this autumn.) Ah, her research trips must be wonderful. Maybe I should take a chance and get myself over there and wait for inspiration to overtake me. But in the meantime, I’ll just keep reading those English novels and memoirs and watching those English TV programmes until this latest bout of Anglophilia subsides.

Cheers!

19 comments:

Darrell James said...

Good post, Keith! I'm feeling a case of Anglophilia coming on now (sweaty palms, the need to read something proper). Must be catching!

Keith Raffel said...

Darrell, have a pint of bitter and call me in the morning.

Lois Winston said...

Keith, I've been in mourning ever since I read that my favorite English author, Ariana Franklin, passed away last week. I absolutely loved her Mistress of the Art of Death series. If you haven't read it, you should put it on your list. It tells of what it was like to be a Jew in England during the time of Henry II.

Alan Orloff said...

" why do the English do television so much better than we do?"

It's their accents.

Deborah Sharp said...

I say, old chap, that's a nice bit of writing in this post. You're right, the English make wonderful tv, movies, and literature (I always say my books are like Agatha Christie, if she had a couple of cousins named Bubba) But, oh, those English breakfasts: fried tomatoes and fried bangers? Gag!

Keith Raffel said...

Lois, I'll have to check out the Mistress series. Nothing worse than having a favorite author die and know nothing else is coming. I'm sorry.

Alan, no comment.

Deb, what's the matter, you don't like undercooked bacon? My favorite breakfast story was told by a friend who visited Oxford's covered market which has probably been in the same place since medieval times. Susan asked the proprietor why their fried bread tasted better than hers. That got nowhere so she asked how often they changed the oil. The proprietor tilted his head in confusion and asked, "Change the oil?"

Lois Winston said...

All this talk about England reminds me of a family story. My FIL was English, crossed the pond when he was 12 and landed with his family in Hartford, CT. The Board of Ed gave him a test to determine which grade he belonged in. When asked, who was George Washington, my FIL responded, "A traitor to the King." Needless to say, they put him back a grade!

Julia Buckley said...

Keith, I consider myself and Anglophile even though I've never been to England. I do love English tv (although I think some American tv is fantastic). My all-time favorites are Upstairs, Downstairs and All Creatures Great and Small.

I didn't know Antonia Frasier was married to Harold Pinter! How interesting.

Keith Raffel said...

Lois, I thought we lived in the time of the "special relationship?"

Julia, if you liked Upstairs, Downstairs, you must watch Downton Abbey. Must.

Cricket McRae said...

Dang it, Keith, now I'm feeling an attack coming on. I love Blackwells! The last time I was in Oxford I was reading Colin Dexter. Following Morse's footsteps, I discovered Holywell Cemetery and Kenneth Grahame's grave for the first time. What a treat.

Must take a look at Downton Abbey.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Oh, I love Masterpiece Theater! I've enjoyed Downton Abbey so far...especially Maggie Smith.

Kathleen Ernst said...

I've been enjoying Downton Abbey also, Keith! 'Fess up, now: do you relate best to those upstairs, or downstairs?

Keith Raffel said...

Cricket, let's meet for a pint at the King's Arms.

Elizabeth, can't wait for Season 2.

Kathleen, I'm an American, neither master or servant, so I don't identify with upstairs or downstairs. But I find what's happening upstairs much more interesting.

Vicki Doudera said...

Keith, it's eight here but only five there so you're probably still reading posts...

I had an English boyfriend in college and the only thing that drove me completely up the wall was the way he said "Tidy up" all the time. He had been away at school since age 5 and I found that heartbreaking. Moms out there: can you imagine?

It is interesting that my protagonist Darby also has a English boyfriend, Miles Porter. I don't think I'll ever have him say "Tidy up."

Keith Raffel said...

Vicki, unsurprisingly, I had an English girlfriend in England. We've been in touch and I learnt she sent her 3 daughters to boarding school starting at age 10. Any parent of teenagers can see an argument in favor of that approach even if we didn't do the same. BTW, she never said, "Tidy up," although if memory serves she was quite tidy.

G.M. Malliet said...

Blackwell's! Yes, how I miss Blackwell's. A visit was an instant cheer-me-up, as you said.

Thank you for the mention of Wicked Autumn! You are right about the research trips. Pure pleasure, and things I don't even realize are research at the time turn up later in something I'm writing.

Needless to say, Downton Abbey is a favorite.

G.M. Malliet said...

p.s. Maggie steals every scene. Isn't she grand?

Keith Raffel said...

Gin, if you can believe it, I saw Dame Maggie in a Xmas pantomime in London when I lived over there. She played - ready for this - Peter Pan!

G.M. Malliet said...

Good heavens (as Maggie might say). How long ago was this?