Novelist and critic Philip Hensher in today’s Daily Telegraph previews a new TV series adapted by Julian Fellowes based on a novel by Anthony Trollope. This is Doctor Thorne, the third novel in the Barchester Chronicles, which begins a three-part broadcast Sunday in the UK. In his article, Hensher contrasts the Victorians’ views of class distinctions, as evidenced in Trollope’s works, with those of today’s Englishmen, as exemplified by Julian Fellowes and Evelyn Waugh. According to Hensher, although Trollope wrote during a period of rising wealth from trade and industry, he identified a person’s class as “a thing determined by birth.” Today, on the other hand, “social class would increasingly be seen as revealed not by birth or parentage but by intricately observed behavior.” Hensher offers one example, in the person of a character from Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, where “the nouveau riche Rex Mottram reveals his social class and is roundly condemned for drinking brandy out of too large a glass.” (Penguin, p. 171)
Hensher goes on to compare the Victorian industrial age, in which Trollope wrote, to 1940s and 1950s, both periods of great social mobility. It was the latter period
that produced Waugh’s baroque studies of aristocratic behaviour. as well as Nancy Mitford’s U and Non-U, which taught a generation not to say “pardon” or “settee”. The eighties were inspired by a famous dramatisation of Brideshead Revisited, the Sloane Ranger Handbook, and Jilly Cooper’s book Class, which among other observations taught us thet Tchaikovsky and Grieg were lower-middle-class composers. It is the conviction that external behaviour marks social class that distinguishes Trollope’s Doctor Thorne from Fellowes’.
The Fellowes adaptation of Doctor Thorne begins Sunday (7 March) on ITV at 9pm GMT and may thereafter be viewed online with itvPlayer. A proxy server will be needed to view it online outside the UK.