From the creator of the Emmy Award-winning Downton Abbey...
"The English, of all classes as it happens, are addicted to exclusivity. Leave three Englishmen in a room and they will invent a rule that prevents a fourth joining them."
The best comedies of manners are often deceptively simple, seamlessly blending social critique with character and story. In his superbly observed first novel, Julian Fellowes, creator of the Masterpiece sensation Downton Abbey and winner of an Academy Award for his original screenplay of Gosford Park, brings us an insider's look at a contemporary England that is still not as classless as is popularly supposed.
Edith Lavery, an English blonde with large eyes and nice manners, is the daughter of a moderately successful accountant and his social-climbing wife. While visiting his parents' stately home as a paying guest, Edith meets Charles, the Earl Broughton, and heir to the Marquess of Uckfield, who runs the family estates in East Sussex and Norfolk. To the gossip columns he is one of the most eligible young aristocrats around.
When he proposes. Edith accepts. But is she really in love with Charles? Or with his title, his position, and all that goes with it?
One inescapable part of life at Broughton Hall is Charles's mother, the shrewd Lady Uckfield, known to her friends as "Googie" and described by the narrator---an actor who moves comfortably among the upper classes while chronicling their foibles---"as the most socially expert individual I have ever known at all well. She combined a watchmaker's eye for detail with a madam's knowledge of the world." Lady Uckfield is convinced that Edith is more interested in becoming a countess than in being a good wife to her son. And when a television company, complete with a gorgeous leading man, descends on Broughton Hall to film a period drama, "Googie's" worst fears seem fully justified.
In Snobs, a wickedly astute portrait of the intersecting worlds of aristocrats and actors, Julian Fellowes establishes himself as an irresistible storyteller and a deliciously witty chronicler of modern manners.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.52(w) x 8.06(h) x 0.77(d)|
About the Author
Julian Fellowes is the Emmy Award-winning writer and creator of Downton Abbey and the winner of the 2001 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Gosford Park. He also wrote the screenplays for Vanity Fair and The Young Victoria.He is the bestselling author of Snobs and Past Imperfect. His other works include The Curious Adventure of the Abandoned Toys and the book for the Disney stage musical of Mary Poppins.
As an actor, his roles include Lord Kilwillie in the BBC Television series Monarch of Glen and the 2nd Duke of Richmond in Aristocrats, as well as appearances in the films Shadowlands, Damage,and Tomorrow Never Dies.
He lives in London and Dorset, England.
Read an Excerpt
SNOBS (Chapter One)
I do not know exactly how Edith Lavery came first to be taken up by Isabel Easton. Probably they had a friend in common or sat on some committee together, or perhaps they just went to the same hairdresser. But I can remember that from quite early on, for some reason, Isabel decided that Edith was rather a feather in her cap, someone that little bit special to be fed to her country neighbours in rationed morsels. History was of course to prove her right, although there was no tremendously compelling evidence for this when I first met her. Edith was certainly very pretty then but not as she would be later when she had, as designers say, found her style. She was a type, albeit a superior example of it: the English blonde with large eyes and nice manners.
I had known Isabel Easton since we were children together in Hampshire and we enjoyed one of those pleasant, undemanding friendships that are based entirely on longevity. We had very little in common but we knew few other people who could remember us on our ponies at the age of nine and there was a certain comfort in our occasional encounters. I had gone into the theatre after leaving university and Isabel had married a stockbroker and moved to Sussex so our worlds scarcely crossed, but it was fun for Isabel to have an actor to stay occasionally who had been seen on television (though never, as it happens, by any of her friends) and for me, it was pleasant enough to spend the odd weekend with my old playmate.
I was in Sussex the first time that Edith came down and I can testify to Isabel's enthusiasm for her new friend, later queried by her less generous acquaintance. It was quite genuine: 'Things are going to happen for her. She's got something.' Isabel was fond of using phrases that seemed to imply an inside knowledge of the workings of the world. Some might have said that when Edith climbed out of the car half an hour later, she didn't appear to have got very much beyond her appearance and a rather beguiling, relaxed charm, but I was inclined to agree with our hostess. Looking back, there was a hint of what was to come in the mouth, one of those cut-glass mouths, with the clearly defined, almost chiselled lips that one associates with the film actresses of the forties. And then there was her skin. To the English, skin is, as a rule, the compliment of last resort, to be employed when there is nothing else to praise. Good skin is frequently dwelt on when talking of the plainer members of the Royal Family. Be that as it may, Edith Lavery had the loveliest complexion I have ever seen: cool, clear, pastel colours under layers of flawless wax. I have all my life had a weakness for good-looking people and in retrospect, I think I became Edith's ally in that first moment of admiring her face. At all events, Isabel was destined to become a self-fulfilling prophet for it was she who took Edith to Broughton.
Broughton Hall, indeed the very House of Broughton, was a wounding seam that marbled every aspect of the Eastons' Sussex life. As first Barons and then Earls Broughton and lately, since 1879, Marquesses of Uckfield, the Broughtons had held mighty sway over this particular section of East Sussex for a great deal longer than most potentates of the Home Counties. Until little more than a century ago their neighbours and vassals had mainly consisted of lowly farmers eking a living out of the flat and boggy marshland at the base of the downs but the roads and the railways and the invention of the Saturday-to-Monday had brought the haute bourgeoisie flooding to the area in search of ton, and, like Byron, the Broughtons awoke to find themselves famous. Before long, the local mark of whether one was 'in' or 'out' was largely based on whether or not one was on their visiting list. In fairness I must say that the family did not seek its celebrity, not at first anyway, but as the major representatives of the anciens riches in an upwardly mobile area their power was forced upon them.
They had been lucky in other ways. Two marriages, one to a banker's daughter and the other to the heiress of a large section of San Francisco had steered the family craft through the turbulent seas of the agricultural depression and the Great War. Unlike many such dynasties, they had retained some if not all of their London holdings, and various tricks with property in the sixties had brought them to the comparatively safe shores of Mrs Thatcher's Britain. After that, when the socialists did start to regroup they turned out, happily for the upper classes generally, to have been reborn as New Labour and so would prove much more accommodating than their rapacious political forebears. All in all, the Broughtons were the very acme of the 'surviving' English family. They had reached the 1990s with their prestige and, more significantly, their estates practically intact.
Not that any of this was a problem for the Eastons. Far from resenting the family's privileges they positively worshipped them. No, the difficulty was that despite living two miles from Broughton Hall itself, despite Isabel's telling her girlfriends over lunch in Walton Street what luck it was having the house 'practically next door', still, after three and a half years, they had never set foot in it, nor succeeded in meeting one single member of the family.
Of course, David Easton was not the first upper-middle-class Englishman to discover that it is easier to demonstrate a spurious aristocratic background in London than in the country. The problem was that after years of lunches at Brooks's, Saturdays at race-meetings and evenings at Annabel's, mouthing his prejudices against the modern, mobile society, he had entirely lost touch with the fact that he was a product of it. It was as if he had forgotten his father had been the managing director of a minor furniture factory in the Midlands and it was with some difficulty that his parents had put him through Ardingly. By the time I met him I think he would have been genuinely surprised not to have found his name in Debrett's. I remember once reading an article in which Roddy Llewellyn was quoted as complaining that he had not been to Eton (as his elder brother had) because it was at Eton that one picked up one's lifelong friends. David happened to be passing my chair. 'Quite right,' he said. 'That's exactly how I feel.' I looked across the room to catch Isabel's eye but I saw at once in her sympathetic nod that she did not want to be in my conspiracy but rather in her husband's.
To an outsider it seems a vital ingredient of many marriages that each partner should support the illusions of the other. Protected, as he had been, by a combination of Isabel's kindness and most London hostesses' indifference to anything beyond their guests' ability to talk and eat the food, it was now bitter indeed to sit at smart dinner tables and be asked about Charles Broughton's trip to Italy or how Caroline's new husband was shaping up and to have to murmur that he didn't really know them. 'But how extraordinary,' would come the answer. 'I thought you were neighbours.' And even in this admission there was a certain dishonesty, for it was not that David did not really know them. He did not know them at all.
Once at a cocktail party in Eaton Square he had ventured an opinion about the family only to hear his companion ask, 'But isn't that Charles over there? You must introduce me and we'll see if he remembers where we met.' And David had had to say he felt sick (which was more or less true) and go home and miss the dinner they had all been going on to. Lately he had taken to assuming a slightly dismissive air when they were mentioned. He would stand, loudly silent, on the edge of the discussion as if he, David Easton, preferred not to know the Broughtons. As if he had tried them and discovered they were not quite to his taste. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In fairness to David I would say that these frustrated social ambitions were probably as secret from his conscious mind as they were supposed to be from the rest of us. Or so it seemed to me as I watched him zip up his Barbour and whistle for the dogs.
Fittingly perhaps, it was Edith who suggested the visit. Isabel asked us at breakfast on Saturday if there was anything we'd like to do and Edith wondered whether there was a local 'stately' and what about that? She looked across at me.
'I wouldn't mind,' I said.
I saw Isabel glance at David deep in his Telegraph at the other end of the table. I knew and understood the Broughton situation and Isabel knew I knew, though, being English, we had naturally never discussed it. As it happens, I had met Charles Broughton, the rather lumpish son and heir, a couple of times in London at those hybrid evenings where Show Business and Society congregate but, like the crossing of two rivers, seldom mingle. These encounters I had kept from Isabel for fear of salting the wound.
'David?' she said.
He turned the pages of his newspaper with a large and insouciant gesture.
'You go if you want to. I've got to drive into Lewes. Sutton's lost the petrol cap of the lawn-mower again. He must eat them.'
'I could do that on Monday.'
'No, no. I want to get some cartridges anyway.' He looked up. 'Honestly, you go.'
There was reproach in his eyes, which Isabel dealt with by pulling a slight face as if her hand was being forced. The truth was they had an unspoken agreement not to visit the house as 'members of the public'. At first David had avoided it because he had expected to know the family quite soon and he did not want to run the risk of meeting them from the wrong side of the cordon. As the months and then years of disappointment had unfolded, not visiting the house had become a kind of principle, as if he did not want to give the Broughtons the satisfaction of seeing him pay good money to see what should, by rights, have been his for nothing. But Isabel was more pragmatic than her husband, as women generally are, and she had grown accustomed to the idea that their position in the 'County' was going to be deferred for a while. Now she was simply curious to see the place that had become a symbol of their lack of social muscle. She did not therefore require much persuading. The three of us packed into her battered Renault and set off.
I asked Edith if she knew Sussex at all.
'Not really. I had a friend in Chichester for a while.'
'The fashionable end.'
'Is it? I didn't know counties had fashionable ends. It sounds rather American. Like good and bad tables in the same restaurant.'
'Do you know America?'
'I spent a few months in Los Angeles after I left school.'
Edith laughed. 'Why not? Why does one go anywhere at seventeen?'
'I don't know why one goes to Los Angeles. Unless it's to become a film star.'
'Maybe I wanted to be a film star.' She smiled at me with what I have since come to recognise as a habitual expression of slight sadness, and I saw that her eyes were not blue as I had at first thought, but a sort of misty grey.
We turned through a pair of monumental stone piers, topped with lead stags' heads, antlers and all, and started down the wide gravel drive. Isabel stopped the car. 'Isn't it marvellous!' she said. The vast mass of Broughton Hall sprawled before us. Edith smiled enthusiastically and we drove on. She did not think the house marvellous, no more did I, although it was in its way impressive. At any rate, it was very large. It seemed to have been designed by an eighteenth-century forerunner of Albert Speer. The main block, a huge granite cube, was connected to two smaller cubes with stocky and cumbersome colonnades. Unfortunately a nineteenth-century Broughton had stripped the windows of their mullions and replaced them with plate glass so now they gaped, vacant and sightless, across the park. At the four corners of the house squat cupolas had been erected like watch-towers in a concentration camp. All in all, it did not so much complete the view as block it.
The car crunched comfortably to a halt. 'Shall we do the house first or the garden?' Isabel, like a 1960s Soviet military inspector in the heart of NATO, was determined to miss nothing.
Edith shrugged. 'Is there a lot to see inside?'
'Oh, I think so,' said Isabel firmly, striding towards the door marked 'Enter'. It crouched in the embrace of the ponderous horseshoe flight of steps leading up to the piano nobile. The rusticated granite swallowed her and we meekly followed.
One of Edith's favourite stories would always be that she first saw Broughton as a paying guest, barred by a red rope from the intimate life of the house. 'Not,' as she would remark with her funny half-laugh, 'that the place has ever had much intimate life.' There are houses with such a sense of the personalities that built them, an all-pervading smell of the lives lived there, that the visitor feels himself a cross between a burglar and a ghost, spying on a private place with hidden secrets. Broughton was not such a house. It had been designed down to the last fender and finial with one single aim: to impress strangers. Consequently its role at the end of the twentieth century had hardly changed at all. The only difference being that now the strangers bought tickets instead of tipping the housekeeper.
For the modern visitor, however, the splendours of the state rooms were deferred, and the cold, dank room by which we entered (later we would know it as the Under Hall) was as welcoming as a deserted stadium. Hard-looking footmen's chairs stood around the walls, conjuring up a vision of endless hours of boredom spent sitting on them, and a long, black table filled the centre of the discoloured stone floor. Apart from four dirty views of Venice, a long way after Canaletto, there were no pictures. Like all the rooms at Broughton, the hall was perfectly enormous, making the three of us feel like the Borrowers.
'Well, they don't believe in the soft sell,' said Edith.
From the Under Hall, clutching our guide-books, we climbed the Great Staircase with its carved oak flights clambering up around a burly and rather depressing bronze of a dying slave. At the top, after crossing the wide landing, we came first to the Marble Hall, a vast, double-storeyed space with a balustraded gallery round all four sides at second-floor level. Had we entered by the exterior horseshoe stair this would have been our (intentionally flattening) introduction to the house. From this we progressed to the Saloon, another huge room, this time with heavy mahogany mouldings picked out in gold and walls hung with crimson flock wallpaper.
'Chicken tikka for me,' said Edith.
I laughed. She was quite right. It looked exactly like a gigantic Indian restaurant.
Isabel opened the guide-book and began to read in a geography-mistress voice: 'The Saloon is hung with its original paper, one of the chief glories of Broughton's interior. The gilt side-tables were made for this room by William Kent in seventeen-thirty-nine. The maritime theme of the carved pier glasses was inspired by the appointment of the third earl to the embassy in Portugal in seventeen thirty-seven. The Earl, himself, is commemorated in this, his favourite room in the full-length portrait by Jarvis, which hangs, together with its companion of his countess by Hudson, on either side of the Italian fireplace.'
Edith and I stared at the pictures. The one of Lady Broughton made a little stab at gaiety by posing the heavy-featured young woman on a bank of flowers, a summer hat trailing from her large hand.
'There's a woman at my gym exactly like that,' said Edith. 'She's always trying to sell me Conservative raffle tickets.'
Isabel droned on. 'The cabinet in the centre of the south wall is by Boulle and was a gift from Marie-Josèphe de Saxe, Dauphine of France, to the bride of the fifth earl on the occasion of her marriage. Between the windows ...'
I drifted away to these same, tall windows and looked down into the park. It was one of those hot, sulky days in late August when the trees seem overburdened with leaf and the green upon green of the countryside is stuffy and airless. As I stood there, a man came round the corner of the house. He was wearing tweeds and corduroys despite the weather and one of those tiresome brown felt derbies that Englishmen in the country imagine to be dashing. He looked up and I saw it was Charles Broughton. He barely glanced at me and looked away, but then he stopped and looked up again. I supposed that he had recognised me and I raised my hand in greeting, which he acknowledged with some slight gesture of his own and went on about his business.
'Who was that?' Edith was standing behind me. She had also abandoned Isabel to her orisons.
'A son of the house?'
'The only son of the house, I think.'
'Will he ask us in for tea?'
'I shouldn't think so. I've met him precisely twice.'
Charles did not ask us in for tea and I'm sure he wouldn't have given me another thought if we hadn't run into him on our way back to the car. He was talking to one of the many gardeners who were drifting about the place and happened to finish just as we started back across the forecourt.
'Hello,' he nodded quite amiably. 'What are you doing here?' He had clearly forgotten my name and probably where we had met but he was pleasant enough and stood waiting to be introduced to the others.
Isabel, taken short by this sudden and unexpected propulsion into the Land Where Dreams Come True, fumbled for something to say that would fasten like a fascinating burr inside Charles's brain and result in a close friendship springing up more or less immediately. No inspiration came.
'He's staying with us. We're two miles away,' she said baldly.
'Really? Do you get down often?'
'We're here all the time.'
'Ah,' said Charles. He turned to Edith. 'Are you local, too?'
She smiled. 'Don't worry, I'm quite safe. I live in London.'
He laughed and his fleshy, hearty features looked momentarily quite attractive. He took off his hat and revealed that fair, Rupert Brooke hair, crinkly curls at the nape of the neck, that is so characteristic of the English aristocrat. 'I hope you liked the house.'
Edith smiled and said nothing, leaving Isabel to reel off her silly gleanings from the guide-book.
I stepped in with the pardon. 'We ought to be off. David will be wondering what's happened to us.'
We all smiled and nodded and touched hands, and a few minutes later we were back on the road.
'You never said you knew Charles Broughton,' said Isabel in a flat tone.
'Well, you never said you'd met him.'
Although, naturally, I knew I hadn't. Isabel drove the rest of the way in silence. Edith turned from the front passenger seat and made a that's-torn-it expression with her mouth. It was clear I had failed and Isabel was noticeably cool to me for the rest of the weekend.
SNOBS Copyright © 2004 by Julian Fellowes
Reading Group Guide
MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julian Fellowes is a English writer, actor, and film director who was born in Egypt and educated at Ampleforth College, Yorkshire. He went on to Magdalene College, Cambridge University, and the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.
As an actor, his roles include Lord Kilwillie in the BBC Television series Monarch of the Glen and the 2nd Duke of Richmond in Aristocrats, as well as appearances in the films Shadowlands, Damage, and Tomorrow Never Dies.
As a screenwriter, his first feature film was Gosford Park, directed by Robert Altman, which won awards for the best original screenplay from the National Film Critics Circle, the National Society of Film Critics, the Writers Guild of America, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He has since worked on the new film version of Vanity Fair starring Reese Witherspoon, as well as adapting Piccadilly Jim by P. G. Wodehouse.
He made his debut as a film director with Separate Lies, starring Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson, and Rupert Everettt, for which he also write the script; and he wrote the book for the acclaimed Cameron Mackintosh/Walt Disney stage musical of Mary Poppins, which opened in London at the end of 2004.
In 1990 Julian married Emma Kitchener. They have a son called Peregrine, a dachshund called Humbug, and a border collie called Meg; and divide their time between London and Dorset.
Snobs is his first novel.
JULIAN FELLOWES ON CLASS
Q: Your own background is not so different from some of the aristocrats you write about in Snobs. Is this book an indictment of the British upper class? Affectionate teasing? A little bit of both?
A: My background is not quite as lustrous as it has been painted by some of the media. I mean, in one newspaper I was given a childhood in a Scottish castle with 19 servants (why 19?). But I grew up as part of a junior branch since my grandfather was a younger son. And so, although I do belong to one of those families and my name is in Burke's Landed Gentry and all that kind of thing, it's in a very minor capacity. I think that was what gave me a unique perspective as an observer.
When I was 18 or 19, the London debutante season was still very much going on. You'll hardly credit this, but there was a chap called Peter Townend who really ran the season. In order to find escorts for the debs, he would go through Burke's Peerage and Burke's Landed Gentry and take the names out of young men who were the right age and invite them for a drink. If you passed this test, and were deemed "safe in taxis," you were put on a list and given to the mothers of these girls to be invited to the various balls and cocktail parties. So you spent a lot of time going and staying with complete strangers in the country to attend the dances of girls you hardly knew. I was on that list. I was what was then called a "Debs Delight," but I was simply "making up numbers." I wasn't good looking, I wasn't a great heir, I didn't have a title. So I was there, but no one noticed me. I was the one who had the bedroom next to the nursery with a lumpy bed, and what my mother used to called "starvation corner" at the table. And I think it gave me a much better kind of viewpoint. There is a famous moment when someone went to the Comtesse Greffulhe, who is the original of Marcel Proust's Duchesse de Guermantes in his great novel, and they said to her, "What was it like having Proust at your parties? That must have been incredible!" And the Comtesse replied, "Que j'ai jamais su! (If only I'd known)." And of course, although he was in that society (not that I'm comparing myself to Proust), and attending their gatherings and strolling among them, because nobody thought he was of the slightest importance, nobody adjusted their behavior for him.
As for whether my novel is an indictment of that world, I have come to a conclusion in my late middle age: I'm not convinced anymore that there is a kind of life that makes you happier than any other. I mean, I know - of course - there are lives that are happier than other lives, but I think you're just as likely to come upon them among coal miners or middle-class business men or people living in the suburbs or the very rich and great aristocrats. I think it's a cliché to make out that everyone with money and success and birth is unhappy. I don't think they are, I think there are lots of them that are very happy. But it's also a cliché to suggest that these things make you happy. And I hope that in the novel (and in life too) I take a fairly unprejudiced view of all of them. I do poke fun at them and there are sort of observations and customs and habits that are rather amusing to the rest of society, but I don't think you hate any of the characters at the end, not Lady Uckfield nor poor Mrs. Lavery (the greatest "snob" of all of them, I think) nor any of them, really. I just hope that I paint a picture of a group of people who, in the last analysis, are trying to do their best like all the rest of us are.
Q: It's striking that both Gosford Park and Snobs explore the world and manners of different classes. Do you think this is a particularly English preoccupation?
A: Class does interest me; I won't run away from that. I can never really decide whether class is a kind of honorable thing: that you are brought up with these traditions - whether you are working class or aristocratic or whatever - and it's your job to keep all this stuff going and make sure people don't forget. Or is it a sort of terrible practical joke that's being practiced on 98% of the world? Telling them that they're not good enough. That, from the moment they're born, there's this other group of people who know more than they will ever know and who have standards they can never aspire to and who are more cultured and elegant than they will ever be. In the end, I sort of fall in-between those two really. It is odd that you take a baby, and you place them in this group, and you bring them up in a certain way with a certain vocabulary and prejudices and manners, and after that, they are indelibly stamped from then on. But on the other hand, isn't some variant of this happening in every civilization on earth?
Obviously, it's more obvious in Europe than it is in America. I mean, where I do think America has achieved something that is very enviable is that here you have a very strongly entrenched hereditary upper-class. People think you don't, but you do. Where else in the Western world could you have two generations of the same family being president? This would be quite impossible with the role of prime minister in England as, to us, it would smack uncomfortably of privilege. Added to which, you have enormous inherited fortunes here, enough to launch ten dukedoms. But at the same time, you have self-made men and women who have come up in one generation. And they live together - the old money and the new - in a very un-jostling way which doesn't seem to create any difficulty. They mingle freely and contentedly. This, of course, was Napoleon's vision, his dream - to create an aristocracy in France which was a mixture of old families with old traditions, keeping things going, and new blood and new high achievers and that they would mix on equal terms. I can't think of any country, other than America, that has truly managed that.
1. What is your opinion of Edith? In what ways do you feel her choices are justified or otherwise? Did she know - or should she have known - what marriage to Charles would entail?
2. Edith might be said to have made a "bargain" in life. She has chosen to provide herself with a position of importance and power rather than to marry for love. Is this kind of bargain immoral in our day and age-or is it her failure to stick to the deal that puts her at fault?
3. Both the narrator and Julian Fellowes have a certain soft spot for Lady Uckfield. How do you feel about Googie's approach to life, including the value she places on doing things "properly"?
4. The Uckfields and Charles accept that their largely unearned status carries with it certain public duties and responsibilities. How is hereditary obligation, in exchange for privilege, useful in a society? In what ways is it detrimental?
5. Contrast the actors' world to life at Broughton. What are the attractions and limitations of both?
6. Who are the biggest snobs in the book, and how does this affect your view of them?
7. The ending of Snobs could be called cynical. Edith is "happy enough," which is hardly a fairytale conclusion. Is she right to "settle" for a reasonable level of contentment without continuing to search for more or should she have set off again into the unknown? In other words, is it moral or immoral to be realistic? In fact, what sort of future do you envision for Edith and Charles? How about for the other couples?
8. The narrator describes the English as "addicted to exclusivity. Leave three Englishmen in a room and they will invent a rule that prevents a fourth joining them." How does this manifest itself in American society? Would you say that Americans are also "addicted" to exclusivity, or is this a peculiarly English phenomenon?
9. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The rich are different from you and me." In what ways do the wealthy characters in Snobs seem different from - or similar to - other people you've met?
10. What do you think of the narrator's observation that "one of the basic truths of life is that, as a general rule, the world takes you at your own estimation"?
11. Julian Fellowes says in his interview that he sees Snobs as being more about choice than about class. How do you rate the relative importance of social standing and their own actions in the main characters' lives?
12. How do the characters' perceptions of the different lives being lived around them differ from the reality? Is Charles's view of the stage world accurate? Is Mrs. Lavery's idea of the aristocratic life accurate? How much misunderstanding is caused by inaccurate preconceptions of what other people are going through?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It should be no surprise that Julian Fellowes's prose in "Snobs" is elegant. As a confection taking on the English upper crust, it is seasoned with just the right amount of salt, honey, and spice. I loved every bite, excuse me, page of it, and I don't think it requires much experience with the foibles of the Brits to enjoy it. However, about midway through the book, I realized that one could enjoy it without any knowledge of England at all. Fellowes has simply used his own world as the example of a universal fact: any society of humans will eventually settle into classes of haves, have-nots, and moving-in-betweens, and the classes will each have their own inviolable rules and protocols. Consider the divisions of people in the equally delightful novel and film "The Help." Compare Imperial China to Maoist China; only the names changed, not the actual bowing to strict class structure. Snobs are everywhere! It is true, however, that snobbery is more tolerable with a British accent - at least to a Yank like me.
Jullian fellowes is fun to read. His characters are well developed and likeable, and it is really enjoyable to glimpse into the English upper class.
An easy but packed read with lots of quirky and fun details about the characters lives and loves; showing just how persnickety people can really be regardless of their station in life. Fellowes let's you in and allows you to become involved with the characters and their thought processes. This was a highly entertaining look at the snobbish gentry in the UK offering up their foibles as well as their redeeming qualities. Loved the book, had a hard time putting it down.
I am surprised by some of the disappointed reviews here. I spent a year in England so maybe there is a little something I see that the average American may not. I loved this book, the premise is stretching it a bit but it is still very entertaining. Many characters and scenes come right off the page. Mr Fellows is a good writer. I love British writing/ writers: Anita Brookner, Barbara Pym, Monica Ali. Even if the story isn't perfect, the change in culture adds a layer that an American novel of the same quality would lack.
¿Snobs¿ is a quirky and lively look at the side-by-side worlds of hypocritical snobbery in the social set of London and the equally hypocritical snobbery of the theater scene populated by egos on legs. A brilliantly written, sly book full of insight and delicious entertainment. I would also recommend: ¿My Fractured Life¿, ¿Saturday¿, ¿The Right Address¿ and ¿Bridget Jones Diary¿
Entertaining, witty and interesting.
A poisonous little novel by an author/actor/aristocrat that examines the nuances of the social system in Britain. Though he mocks it, the author ultimately buys into the whole ugly process. Story line is minimal and predictable. Lady Uckfield is the most vividly drawn character. No compelling reason for the 'happy' ending. This is no 'Vile Bodies'.
I love books about the British social classes, so of course this story about a woman who marries for the status she will receive when she becomes a member of her husband's upper crust family was right down my alley. I particularly enjoyed the way in which Fellowes wrote his story. He wanted the reader to understand the way in which the titled British elite think of themselves and others. His explanations of the etiquette and behavior of those who have vs those who have not were often amusing and certainly entertaining. However, Fellowes did not lose sight of the fact that an entire class of people honestly do live as those he describes in this novel, and that they have problems and the occasional moral dilemma just like the rest of us do. In this particular case, a woman has to decide how she will spend what she knows will be a boring life no matter what choices she makes for herself. While there may be humor in how seriously the gentry takes itself, for this particular woman there's also a bit of sadness that envelopes her painfully shallow life. Because I enjoy this kind of story and this particular subject, it was hard for me to put the book down; but I believe Snobs has a good enough story to appeal to anyone who wants to read about how "the other half" lives.
Edith Lavery is middle class society with big upper class ambitions. When she inadvertently meets the Earl of Broughton, Charles, it is with an admission ticket to tour his home in her hand. Little does she know, but the introduction, with her good looks, is also her ticket to upper echelon snobbery. Soon Edith works her way into the aristocratic family by marrying Charles. As his wife she discovers the high life isn't all that it's cracked up to be and finds herself becoming bored. The real trouble begins when Edith's wandering eye settles on a less than successful actor. Things turn from bad to worse when it's more than Edith's eye that starts to wander. What makes this hungry-for-status story so funny is the wicked clashes of culture. Julian Fellowes seductively pokes fun at all types of cliques: actors, the fashion world, the genders, society, but none are funnier than the English.
Read it nonstop.
I became acquainted with Julian Fellowes after the release of the movie, Gosford Park, and The Masterpiece Theatre series, Downton Abbey. He is a master screenwriter. SNOBS by Julian Fellowes is a quiet, reserved, detailed, intriguing, very witty story. Its form is quite interesting with a first-person, nameless narrator. I felt that the characters in the story were real people and described by the narrator, rather than created by the author. I was quite taken with the narration and enjoyed it. Edith is a middle-class woman, befriended by the narrator, and enjoys a rapid rise in society. The story of Edith’s rise and fall is superbly told against the backdrop of English class and society. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and noted many of the narrator’s comments and remarks. I also liked the book’s cover art.
Really rather tedious - especially the earliest chapters, which would have benefitted from some editing, and the book should have been titled 'Class' not Snobs. Mr Fellowes does much better with the upper classes historically - and should stick to screenplays.
My book group chose this novel, but I couldn't stop putting it down. I often read works by Brits, but this read like unrefined travelogue. Unless you are a dyed in the wool Anglophile, skip it.
A real treat for lovers of the English language and humour
I have been a fan of Julian Fellowes for years but was bitterly dissapointed by his novel. For a man who championed the love of Young Victoria and highlighted the relationships in Downton Abby I expected love and integrity to win out over class and station. I feel betrayed that I bought this book on my admiration of his work in film adeptation but I would like my money back. I was left with no heart but all bitterness.