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VARIOUS TEXTS: THE ARISTOCRACY by Jilly Cooper

All the world loves a titled person.

According to sociologists, the aristocracy is such a tiny minority - about 0.2 per cent of the population - as to be statistically negligible. The ones that do not work or who run their own estates are not even listed in the Census. They are like the scattering of herbs and garlic on top of a bowl of dripping or, more poetically, like water lilies who float beautiful, and some would say useless, on the surface of a pond. Being a lord, of course, doesn't make you an aristocrat. Only about half the nobility are aristocracy, the rest being life peers. These are commoners elevated to the peerage so that they may sit in the House of Lords, but their titles die with them. And only about a third of the aristocracy are ennobled, the rest being families of younger sons or country squires, some of whom have had money and influence far longer and can trace their families back much farther than many a duke or earl. In fact so many of the aristocracy don't have titles that they regard Burke's Peerage, which covers the landed gentry as well, as a far more important source book than experienced Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage. One peer told his secretary she must get an up-to-date copy of Burke's 'so you'll know all the people I'm talking about.' The point about the aristocracy is they all know each other. Traditionally, (...) they didn't work for their living, and although many of them have jobs to-day, they find difficulty in applying the same dedication and materialism as the middle classes.
They used, of course, to be terribly rich. At the turn of the century, if you were asked to stay at Woburn, one chauffeur and a footman would take you as far as Hendon, where another chauffeur and a footman would be waiting to take you to Woburn. As a gentleman never travelled with his luggage, another two cars were needed to carry this. So it meant two chauffeurs and two footmen to get you and your luggage as far as Hendon, and two more chauffeurs and footmen to take you to Woburn. Eight men to transport one guest, in heaven knows how large a house party, down to the country. Then there was the Marquess of Hertford, who had a house in Wales he'd never been to, but where every night a huge dinner was cooked by a fleet of servants in case he did turn up. (....)
Today, as a result of death duties and capital transfer tax, however, most aristocrats desperately broke, certainly by comparison with their grandfathers, and are reduced to renting off wings as apartments, selling 6o paintings, turning their gardens into zoos and amusement parks, and letting the public see over their houses. Anyone who has the nightmare of showing a handful of people over their own house when they put it up for sale, will understand the horror of having a million visitors a year peering into every nook and cranny. (...)
One of the characteristics of the aristocrat is the extreme sentiment he feels towards his house, and his inheritance. His wife is expected to feel the same. Because our own aristocracy were so anxious to preserve their inheritance, they tended only to marry their own kind. The middle classes married for love. The upper classes married to preserve their rank. All twenty-six dukes are, as at present, related to one another. And as long as rank was protected, and money obtained in sufficient quantities to support this rank, infidelity after marriage was taken for granted.(....)
Between aristocrats and other classes there is certainly a barrier of rank. My mother and father used to live near Hampton Court Palace, where widows of distinguished men, some of them aristocrats, have apartments. My mother met a peer's widow at a drinks party, and they got on so well that my mother wrote to her next day asking her to dine. Back came a letter of acceptance, but with a P.S. 'I hope you don't mind my pointing out, Elaine dear, that the palace should be the first to issue invitations.' ( ...)
In order to write this book, 1 have dealt in archetypes. The aristocracy and upper classes are respresented by the HON. HARRY STOW-CRAT. Son of the fifth Baron Egliston, educated at Eton, he served in the Coldstream. He now runs his diminishing estate, selling the odd Van Dyck to make ends meet, but does more or less what he pleases. He lives in a large decaying house in the North Riding of Yorkshire, and has a flat in Chelsea. He has a long-suffering wife, CAROLINE, who does a great deal for charity, an eldest son, GEORGIE, a daughter called FIONA, and several other children. He has numerous mistresses, but none to whom he is as devoted as to his black labrador, SNIPE. He has had many moments of frustration and boredom in his life, but never any of self-doubt.
840 words

From: Class - A View from Middle England, 1979

Assignments:
1. Which two types of aristocrats are there in the nobility? State the differences.
2. What is/was life of a genuine aristocrat like?
3. How do aristocrats distinguish from members of the middle class?
4. What difficulties, do you think, do today's aristocrats face in modern Britain?


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