Last week an article in the Daily Telegraph quoted Lizzie Dunford, director of The Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton as saying; “The slave trade and the consequences of Regency-era Colonialism touched every family of means during the period. Jane Austen’s family were no exception. As purchasers of tea, sugar and cotton they were consumers of the products of the trade, and did also have closer links via family and friends. At Jane Austen’s House we are in the process of reviewing and updating all of our interpretation, including plans to explore the Empire and Regency Colonial context of both Austen’s family and her work.”
True, for a time her father, the Rev George Austen was the trustee of a sugar plantation in Antigua, but are we all to be held accountable for the actions of close relatives in whose decisions we played no part? Surely the only accusation we can level at our beloved author herself is that her characters drank tea and wore cotton?
I hope these activists with their obsession about our colonial past check all their purchases to ensure that none are manufactured by sweatshop labour in some backstreet workshop or third world, (is that an acceptable word these days? – I find it difficult to keep up to date especially when it seems I mustn’t refer to people as being blind or disabled anymore). I trust they have checked that they are not in the habit of accepting a delivery by – or allow themselves to be served by – someone working for an establishment paying less than the minimum wage.
The National Trust in particular seems to be obsessed by this woke agenda. Their hit list includes Winston Churchill’s house at Chartwell, Rudyard Kipling’s Batemann’s’ home and the Georgian townhouse Cokermouth, Cumbria where William Wordsworth was born. Like so many others, these properties are now having their displays altered to reflect their owners’ connections to colonialism and slavery.
Not that these are the only authors whose work the activists would have us bypass. Earnest Hemmingway along with other classic writers have come under their radar and if those ‘cleansing’ our education system get their way, Shakespeare is for the chop.
Today’s writers are also coming under fire. The work of modern authors, even those writing for children, is being given forensic scrutiny by the politically correct police. I was once taken to task by a reviewer when one of my characters, who was openly racist, for calling another ‘a darkie’. Does that mean that all fiction writers should include a disclaimer that any views expressed are purely those of the character and do not reflect those of the author?
Where is this all going to end? Will novels be reduced to be bland, boring drivel filled with cardboard characters spouting only love and peace?
When the BBC chose a black actor to play the title role in Luther in a new television series, you can bet someone was out to find fault. The character was condemned because he didn’t like Caribbean food and appeared to have no black friends. Are we breaking down barriers between groups of people or building the fences between them higher?
I wonder how many of my regular blog readers have unsubscribed in protest after reading this article. As a churchgoing Christian (Oops probably lost a good few more) I would like to think that I try hard not to push groups of people into separate boxes and try to be more inclusive. Perhaps the world would be a better place if we all stop condemning what’s happened in the past and consider the present and treat everyone we meet whatever their race, creed, colour, sexuality, politics etc with the same dignity we would like to be shown to us – to be inclusive not devisive, welcoming and not hostile. I’m not trying to preach to the converted, but isn’t life far too short to spend it trying to find fault? There is so much to enjoy out there – go find it and be happy!