England, Their England by A. G. Donell is a novel classed as “social satire” set in 1920s England and written in 1933. I bought it having read a short positive critique of it by John Carey in his book The Reluctant Professor. The central character is Donald Cameron, a Scotsman, who has been invalided out of the army towards the end of WW1 and returned home to Scotland where his father “bans” him from living there and sends him to England. Once there he begins writing for a number of London newspapers before being commissioned to write a book by a Welshman. The book, he is told, is to be about the English, their social life and their related institutions, and written in such a way as to be enlightening for foreigners. By now you should be getting the idea……. that England, Their England is going to be farcical to say the least!
There are chapters that focus on a single aspect of English life including The Dinner Party, The Cricket Match, The Golf Club, Parliament, Theatre, The Hunt, The Pub for example.
“The cricket field itself was a mass of daisies and buttercups and dandelions, tall grasses and purple vetches and thistle-down, and great clumps of dark-red sorrel, except, of course, for the oblong patch in the centre—mown, rolled, watered—a smooth, shining emerald of grass, the Pride of Fordenden, the Wicket. The entire scene was perfect to the last detail.”
“All round the cricket field small parties of villagers were patiently waiting for the great match to begin—a match against gentlemen from London is an event in a village—and some of them looked as if they had been waiting for a good long time. But they were not impatient. Village folk are very seldom impatient.”
“At last the ball came down. To Mr. Hodge it seemed a long time before the invention of Sir Isaac Newton finally triumphed. And it was a striking testimony to the mathematical and ballistical skill of the professor that the ball landed with a sharp report upon the top of his head. Thence it leapt up into the air a foot or so, cannoned on to Boone’s head, and then trickled slowly down the colossal expanse of the wicket-keeper’s back, bouncing slightly as it reached the massive lower portions. It was only a foot from the ground when Mr. Shakespeare Pollock sprang into the vortex with a last ear-splitting howl of victory and grabbed it off the seat of the wicket-keeper’s trousers. The match was a tie.”
The style of the book echoes other novels by Evelyn Waugh, P. G.Wodehouse and Jerome K Jerome. It describes England at a time when everyone knew their place in a class ridden society, one dressed for dinner parties and played bridge after port and cigars; when there was no political correctness to worry about and expressions like “old bean”, and “I say old chap” were quite commonplace, and doors were opened for ladies. It’s an easy read, no central plot, a bit like a series of short stories in each location or scenario but where the central theme is a Scotsman trying to understand what makes the English so …….. English!