?

Log in

No account? Create an account
parrot_knight [userpic]

Room at the Top, by John Braine

February 2nd, 2009 (03:00 am)
Tags:

One could find oneself putting finger to keyboard for a long time over this book. So much of what Joe Lampton learns about relations, sexual and otherwise, between human beings, I've had to learn myself, that I found myself wishing that I had read Room at the Top when I was a lot younger; but it would probably have been fruitless to be forewarned because being forearmed sometimes does you no good; a fair number of one's defences have to be crafted from one's own experience without rebounding back, and this is what Joe Lampton discovers too late. He's a class warrior whose tools for breaking the system to make room for himself only express and reinforce the strict social gradations which have moulded his upbringing and his aspirations. He is used to seducing women based on a grading system based as much on their social background as their physical attraction; when the ease with which he gets to know Alice Aisgill subverts these criteria without challenge, he does not know his own vulnerability until the opportunity to confront it has passed. He is so vivid that it is not difficult to see why John Braine could never really escape his creation.

I hadn't appreciated how far Room at the Top is self-consciously a period piece, written from the point of view of a Jack in his mid-thirties, in the 1950s, looking at himself in 1946, newly moved to the town of Warley from the mill town of Dufton, but still coming to terms with the deaths of his parents in an air raid and his own incarceration in a German prisoner of war camp. Rationing features in the novel as a historical detail. Joe has lost his home, and both he and Alice share a rootlessness - there's a reflection towards the end on home as 'Father, Mother, safety, hugs, and hot milk and a roaring fire and all the trouble and grief forgotten in the morning' and Joe's fatal decision, urged on him by his career-minded friends but also the product of Joe's playing multiple roles, takes away his one chance of an equivalent emotional security.

Two 'popular culture' observations. When Braine has Lampton observe 'an obsolete handsomeness, a Charles Hawtrey, bay-rum, Sweet Adeline kind, solid and male and wholesome', there is now an ambiguity given that the Carry On Charles Hawtrey is better-remembered now than the late Victorian actor-manager whose name he took. Joe Lampton's narration of his arrival in Warley was later mimicked by Ian Chesterton's account of his arrival on Barnes Common in Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks - David Whitaker knew more than anyone which type had been adapted for teatime adventure in Ian's form.

Comments

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: February 2nd, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC)

"He's a class warrior whose tools for breaking the system to make room for himself only express and reinforce the strict social gradations which have moulded his upbringing and his aspirations." Well put, and isn't it almost always the case with self-appointed class warriors?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 2nd, 2009 06:09 pm (UTC)

I've not considered the question closely, but think that some manage to redefine the structures in which they find themselves; but doing so, arguably, needs a rejection of class determinism which ends their 'class warrior' status.