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Deep England

The term Deep England refers to a utopian vision of a revisited England, "the thatched cottage[?], the country inn[?], the cup of tea, and Sunday roast[?]", which is both a product of the imagination and an ideological construct. This vision serves a particular political purpose in the hands of some political organisations, especially those of a retrospective inclination, espousing a yearning for a mythical forgotten golden age. Examples of this conservative viewpoint include the UK Conservative party under John Major, and the British Daily Mail newspaper.

The term Deep England is often used by those who dislike this vision, or the use to which it is put. In doing so, they identify themselves as political opponents of the Deep England viewpoint and its supporters. The use of this term has been attributed to both Patrick Wright[?] and Angus Calder, both of whom are opponents of this world-view.

In their opinion, this particular world view glosses over the simple historical facts that undermine it: the bucolic vista of perceived loveliness was fundamentally one of widespread rural poverty in which lives were brutal and short.

Those who make use of the vision are frequently regarded by their critics as having a cultural and racial agenda which is exclusive rather than inclusive. On another level, the concept of Deep England is often closely associated with an explicit opposition to modernism, and industrialisation.

In Angus Calder's re-examination of the ideological constructs surrounding Little England[?] during World War II in The Myth of the Blitz, he puts forward the view that the myth of Deep England was central to wartime propaganda operations within the United Kingdom, and then, as now, served a clearly defined political and cultural purpose in the hands of various interested agencies.

Calder cites the writer and broadcaster J.B. Priestley whom he considered to be a proponent of the Deep England world-view. Priestley's wartime BBC radio "chats" described the beauty of the English natural environment, this at a time when rationing was at its height, and the population of London was sleeping in subway stations. In reference to one of Priestley's bucolic broadcasts, Calder made the following point:

Priestley, the socialist, gives this cottage no occupant, nor does he wonder about the size of the occupant's wage, nor ask if the cottage has internal sanitation and running water. His countryside only exists as spectacle, for the delectation of people with motor cars. [..]" (Angus Calder, The Myth of the Blitz, London 1991)

Writers and artists described as having a Deep England viewpoint range from (at the lighter end of the political spectrum) the radical visionary poet William Blake, to deeply conservative writers such as Rudyard Kipling and the evangelical Christian Arthur Mee[?], via such middle-points as children's writer Beatrix Potter, the poet John Betjeman, and the fantasy author J. R. R. Tolkien, whose hobbit characters' culture embodied many aspects of the Deep England point of view. In popular culture, the adjective Dickensian is sometimes used in reference to this view, but Dickens' works hardly described a fantasy world.

In his essay "Epic Pooh", Michael Moorcock wrote:

"The little hills and woods of that Surrey of the mind, the Shire, are 'safe', but the wild landscapes everywhere beyond the Shire are 'dangerous'. Experience of life itself is dangerous. The Lord of the Rings is a pernicious confirmation of the values of a declining nation with a morally bankrupt class whose cowardly self-protection is primarily responsible for the problems England answered with the ruthless logic of Thatcherism. Humanity was derided and marginalised. Sentimentality became the acceptable subsitute. So few people seem to be able to tell the difference."

The novel England, England by Julian Barnes describes an imaginary, though plausible, set of circumstances that cause modern England to return to the state of Deep England. The author's views are not made explicit, but the characters who choose to remain in the changed nation are treated more sympathetically than those who leave.

Further reading:

  • Patrick Wright, On Living in an Old Country (1985), ch 2, esp pp 81-7

See also:

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