on social climbing and the royal wedding

As the Royal wedding approaches, there is a Tsunami of Kate Middleton coverage headed our way.

Much is being made of her social origins. Not grand enough, apparently.

Indeed, Kate is being called a climber.

“Kate and [sister] Pippa were dubbed the Wisteria Sisters
because, as one wag put it: “They’re highly decorative, terribly
fragrant, and have a ferocious ability to climb.”” [Daily Beast]

But this made me think of the wonderful comment someone made about Eton, that it was not so much a school for gentlemen as their fathers.

Britain has always been a place of status mobility. Despite the 16th century claim that it takes 5 generations to wash away the “taint” of commonality, people would rise much more quickly, sometimes make the transition in two generations.

The English are very good at two things. Theatre and History. And they are particularly good at using the first to reinvent the second.  If you can act the part, mastering the codes of behavior, clothing, housing, language, all, you may rise. Efforts will then be made to “paper over” the speedy ascent, and Bob is no longer your uncle. Now his name is Robert.

It is just possible that the industrial and consumer revolution happened in Britain because Britain allowed upward mobility in a way that France and Spain would not. And so was a contradiction managed: a status system intertwined with a meritocracy.

Go, Kate, grow.


Pearson, Allison. 2011. Citizen Kate. Newsweek/Daily Beast. April 11.


Image of a ruler is from the Noun Project at http://www.thenounproject.com.

6 thoughts on “on social climbing and the royal wedding

  1. Leora Kornfeld

    You forgot the third great talent of the
    British: queueing. For the brief time I lived there I was a combination
    of stunned and impressed by the local’s skill and willingness to form such
    neat queues. And to be so well-behaved in them. A New York line this was
    not. The queue seems so deeply ingrained theory that I can’t help but
    wonder if there’s a connection to the idea of “knowing one’s place”.

  2. Leora Kornfeld

    PS I meant to say locals’ (not locals) and interestingly my brain wrote ‘theory’ above and meant to write ‘there’. I had queueing theory on the brain…must be the result of several yers sitting next to a smart software developer who would often talk about queueing theory…which has nothing to do with English people incidentally.

  3. Rocio F Brusseau

    There’s no coincidence Pygmaion was British. Mastering social climbing in the most rigid social structure: the Victorian times.

  4. Campbell

    British and English are not the same thing.
    However, you are correct to say that England currently values a shiny face and superficial ‘manners’ more than competence, intelligence or – even – culture.
    It is the seed of our destruction as a civil society.
    This week we have the disgusting sight of a “Royal” wedding centrepiece distracting the populace from the vindictive public spending cuts wielded by the bunch of toffs currently running the country.
    We are closing libraries whilst mooning over wedding dresses.
    Bread and circuses indeed.

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