Amy Jenkins: When did the life of the mind become ripe for ridicule?

Share
Related Topics

The new film Tamara Drewe is bound to be a big hit. It mercilessly takes the piss out of the middle classes, and the middle classes will flock to see it. The original comic strip by Posy Simmonds is loosely based on Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.

In Hardy's novel a vain but feisty young woman comes into some money and independence in Dorset, makes some bad love choices, and has the joie de vivre resoundingly beaten out of her until – a shadow of her former self – she eventually sees sense and marries the right person. In Tamara Drewe, the story is much the same, although this time Tamara herself emerges relatively unscathed (thank you, feminism) and the focus is more on the class war than Hardy's battle of the sexes.

Simmonds is famous for her acute observation of a certain kind of middle-classness. I should pause here to point out that the term "middle class" has two distinct meanings these days. In some contexts it means "posh" – which is what some kids used to shout at me and my friends at my comprehensive school. In other contexts it means the majority of people in dual-income households (average about £40,000 a year) who have furniture from Habitat and a decent car.

In this case we're talking the former – in fact, Simmonds's characters were originally written for and after the readers of a well-known centre-left newspaper. They are muddled, self-obsessed, misguided – (dear reader – you are reading this paper, so you are blameless) – but they are affectionately portrayed.

In Tamara Drewe the film, however, Tamara is – gasp – an Independent columnist and so smug and sexually cavalier that you're hard-pressed not to loathe her, even though she's played by Gemma Arterton. As for the other literary incomers, they are also jaw-droppingly ghastly – and you are being invited to despise them.

They comprise a celebrity writer of mediocre detective fiction whose vanity and sexual incontinence outshine even Tamara's, a vapid pop star, an American writer who might be doing good work but really has his eye on the fabulous cooking and geisha attendance of the celebrity writer's wife. Add various deluded middle-aged women who come to a writers' retreat and who will never be published.

Tamara Drewe isn't just an exercise in gentle lampooning. As in the Hardy novel, the self-regarding incomers leave death and destruction in their wake. One character is killed as a result of a very London disregard for country ways, and in the original, a village teenager dies from snorting an aerosol – in celebration of having met the entirely unworthy pop star. This doesn't happen in the film, but the point is still unmistakably anti the creatives.

At this point, I should say the film is well made and it really works. It's enjoyable if you don't mind the way we British affect to despise the life of the mind. I write for The Independent and – dare I say it – have a cottage in Dorset. I know a few writers down there. Of course, it would be beside the point to say they simply aren't like that.

Tamara Drewe is satire and set in a heightened world and that's as it should be. The book is subtle, the film less so – at the other end of the scale, casually hating intellectuals is destructive nonsense. Think of Paris where – to this day – people go to cafés for philosophical debate. Think of how the French love Sartre and de Beauvoir. In England, it's as if being well-intentioned and lefty is somehow worse than being a gas-guzzling stockbroker.

We let the educated middle classes be doctors, lawyers, vets – that's OK – but writers don't get our respect (unless they're Booker Prize winners). We should be glad they use their privilege for something other than hoarding wealth. People like to tell us this country would be nothing without its bankers – well, it needs its creatives too.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Key Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A really exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exciting position has risen for a Customer ...

Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children who fled the violence in the Syrian city of Aleppo play at a refugee camp in Jabaa, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley  

A population bigger than London's has been displaced in Syria, so why has the Government only accepted 90 refugees?

David Hanson
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Ukip on the ropes? Voters don’t think so

Stefano Hatfield
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project