Today is the anniversary of Jane Austen’s death; after Shakespeare she would have to be the quintessential English writer, at least for, as it is called, “chick lit”. Her novels are filled with nuances of behaviour and manners, with perfumed clothes. I am reminded that this year the waist coat of Captain James Cook has been found, form fitting and decorated adventurously with floral motifs. The link between the the two is that Austen’s politely mannered family made its income in the slave trade of the New World. Likewise, Cook began the tradition of massacres in the Australian outback of its indigenous people.
But it has to be said the Austen was not the only English writer of her time to ignore the brutal reality on which English culture was based; the only person to speak out was the poet William Blake in his shrieking poetry: the children of Albion, the children of the New World. The best way that his contemporaries silenced him or at least discredited him was to pronounce him “mad”.
All of this springs to mind watching the excellent BBC sit com Unforgotten, about the transition of Brit culture from rock n roll through hippy to punk, homophobia, 1970’s mob criminals. Curiously, the pursuers of justice slowly come to resemble the worn, sad, wretched, certainly haunted faces of the criminals. What struck me though, was the extraordinary beauty of one African actor; perhaps Jude Law in the series Young Pope once matched his looks? One hopes for him an exemplary career.