Alex Massie Alex Massie

What is Middle-Class Elitism? And What’s Wrong With It?

The Guardian is a great* newspaper but also an uncommonly infuriating rag. Take, for instance, this paragraph in what was an otherwise unobjectionable article about Elizabeth David:

Now I should be quite clear from the outset that I’ve always been a little ambivalent about David. She famously moved food writing out of the dark didactic corners of domestic science and began to write beautifully and poetically about food as a sensual experience, but she also in her early career wrote unashamedly for the posh and focused attention away from British cuisine and on to Mediterranean food. I find it hard to read her work without enjoyment but it also defines a kind of “holidays-in-Provence” middle-class elitism.

Right on! Middle-class elitism is itself a curious concept – paradoxical at best, downright nonsensical at worst. And, of course, absurd when it is condemned in a newspaper read by the middle class. Then there’s the sillyness of the supposition that one should feel guilty about enjoying Mrs David’s writing as though this were, in its way, awfully infra dig. Equally, complaining that the author of “Mediterranean Food” focused attention upon, well, mediterranean food is as daft as complaining that Ulysses focuses attention upon Dublin, not London. That’s rather the point.

For that matter, the “posh” in this instance were people who had visited France or Italy and were interested in cooking at home the food they’d experienced on their travels. The shameful aspect of this quite escapes me. And, of course, “posh” is a needlessly pejorative term; inquisitive or well-travelled would be more accurate.

The author – Tim Hayward – might also consider that, back in the 1950s and 60s, “holidays-in-Provence” (or Tuscany or Rome one might add) were not nearly as expensive as they are today.

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