‘England Versus England’ by Doris Lessing

England Versus England by Doris Lessing, 1963

The magic trick:

Making socio-economic class points early in the story before switching into pure storytelling, fiction mode

Charlie is a one-man embodiment of early 60s classism in England. And if that sounds like a heavy lift for a single guy, yeah, he’s feeling it. Believe me, he’s feeling it.

Everything with him is a dichotomy, right on down to the accent he takes on with his blue-collar family compared to the one he uses in school at Oxford. He even has two girlfriends.

Lessing makes the point plan through the first part of the story. It often reads like a socio-economic essay. Expertly done, of course, but maybe a little bit too much like a debate club hitting point for point.

Then it gets weird.

Charlie, on the train back to school begins to crack. All these split personalities he’s had to master seem to close in and overtake him. The story now is nothing like an essay. It’s purely and powerfully human.

And that’s quite a trick on Lessing’s part.

The selection:

There were another five minutes to go. “I don’t think it’s right, the way you get at Mum,” Lennie said, at last coming to the point.

“But I haven’t said a bloody word,” said Charlie, switching without having intended it into his other voice, the middleclass voice which he was careful never to use with his family except in joke. Lennie gave him a glance of surprise and reproach and said: “All the same. She feels it.”

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