The foundations of the nascent school of English Cultural Studies were laid in two deeply elegiac texts, Raymond Williams's The Long Revolution (1961) and Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy (1957). Williams's work is a fundamentally optimistic call to arms, creating a blueprint for a new English novel with the ability to restore "an anciently liberal and humane universe" as social action. Hoggart was more pessimistic, ethnographically depicting the "bloodless revolution" of the mid-century period. He foregrounds the time lag between historical transition and lived experience, emphasising the persistence of an "older order": those left behind by the new prosperity of the 1950s.
His work is part anthropological investigation, part memoir and part elegy. The first section is a description of working-class life and culture in parts of the urban North, seen through the autobiographical filter of his boyhood in Hurst, near Leeds—Hoggart is the scholarship boy of Chapter Ten. This is a kind of auto-ethnography, the attempt to illustrate working-class experience from within, in order to avoid intellectual misrepresentation. The second section is an analysis of "some features of contemporary art which seem to encourage working-class people to adopt different attitudes or modify the old," forms of mass entertainment that threaten the older order: pop music, paperback novels, jukebox joints and magazines. Straddling a twenty-year timeframe, Hoggart posits a transitional moment between the "full, rich life" of the 1930s and the new mass culture of the 1950s. His exploration of traditional lived culture centres on "that little bit extra," the filigree ornamentation on everyday life. This is baroque living, characterised by the cornucopia, Oriental splendour, and "sheer abundance and lavishness of colour," an aesthetic which manifests itself from home to town centre, from the lace curlicues of the d'oyley on the Welsh dresser to the gaudy neon-lit window dressing of the ladies' outfitters.
The seaside charabanc trip is one "specific act of baroque living." Hoggart describes the fleet of buses swarming, in ostentatious style, down arterial roads to the north-east coast on summer mornings. The "extraordinary Bartholomew Fair of a mess" permeates all aspects of the excursion: the end-of-pier extravaganzas, the day trippers in their overdressed Sunday best, the bric-a-brac stalls around the harbour. The seaside holiday, in all its baroque excess, is part of the working class's artful approach to everyday life, seeking to intensify rather than escape it with the belief that "ordinary life is intrinsically interesting."
The division between the first and second parts of the book is meant to contrast the culture "of the people" with a "world where things are done for the people": the working-class culture of the 1930s is self-created and enjoyed communally, whilst the mass culture of the 1950s is imposed from without. It is in this dichotomy that Hoggart's study falls short. In order to stress the "shiny barbarism" of commercialised 1950s popular culture, he vetoes the continuing existence of a self-created culture amongst the working-class, thereby undermining his own political commitment to the vitality of proletarian traditions.
This weakness is primarily due to his study's partially autobiographical structure. The first section is steeped in childhood memories and, as such, cannot avoid rose-tinted nostalgia. The second, however, is the result of research into a community to which, as a tenured university academic, he no longer belongs. Indeed, Hoggart anticipated these problems; he assures us of his awareness that "nostalgia was colouring the material in advance," and that he has "done what he can to remove its effects." As it is the result of a structural error, this proves impossible. It might be argued that Hoggart's condemnation of 1950s working-class culture discredits his overall political objective. One could even cite Raymond Williams from 1965 to portray Hoggart himself as a victim of the scholarship boy syndrome:
"In our own generation we have a new class of the same kind: young men and women who have benefited by the extension of public education and who, in surprising numbers, identify with the world to which they have been admitted, and spend much of their time, to the applause of their new peers, expounding and documenting the hopeless vulgarity of the people they have left: the one thing that is necessary now, to weaken belief in the practicability of further educational extension."
It is possible, however, to overstate the adverse effects of Hoggart's strategy. His problematic structure is certainly testament to the perils of attempting to write from inside a culture, and to the peculiar -and persistent- workings of class and nostalgia in England. In the end, although Hoggart fails to pinpoint the mid-century transitional moment in English working-class culture, the fault-line in his study takes nothing away from the parts of its sum.--Jennifer Hodgson