In honour of its publication, Titan Books asked if I would like to host a guest piece by William Sutton as a part of his Seven Deadly Sins book tour. Considering how much I LOVE Victorian crime fiction (it’s the best kind of crime, okay?), I agreed.
In his post, Sutton talks about the role of avarice in politics. Have a little read and stick around SugarQuills for my review of Lawless and the Flowers of Sin (coming soon!).
Guest Post by William Sutton
Hello, hello, I’m William Sutton, author of Lawless and the Flowers of Sin, published by Titan Books. To celebrate, I’m delivering Sinful Blogs with my take on the state we’re all in (especially novelists).
Avarice (with a side order of wrath): “Getting our Country Back”
“Man is the pie that bakes and eats itself,” announced Alasdair Gray’s dystopian metafiction, Lanark (1981). It pretended to be about an alternate world, where Glasgow was Unthank, people developed lizard skin, and mysterious disappearances heralded a cannibalistic future. Gray himself knew it was about contemporary Thatcherite Britain.
It’s relevant today. Painfully relevant.
In today’s Britain, elections are contested on the basis of finance. What will benefit you? How will the pound in your pocket go further? Never what can you give back to your country? Never how can we divide up the wealth more equably?
(If the recent spat seemed to show an electorate following their instinct instead of economic concerns, it has been remarked as unusual. Yet, throughout the campaign, it was always:
Economic Experts, Business Chiefs and Bankers versus the notorious £350 million saving
(which could, or could not, be passed back to us through our NHS. Let us remember that Michael Gove co-authored with Jeremy Hunt, now Minister for Health, the pamphlet on how to denationalise the Health Service, an effective way of distributing taxpayers’ money to profit-making share-holders. Of whom there are a surprising number in the mother of all parliaments).
There has been a stunningly effective smokescreen campaign by the right to sweep away 150 years of protest, unionisation, enfranchisement and social care. All these hard-won advances have been recast as wishy-washy lefty pinko indulging the scroungers and ne’er-do-wells. Social capital is ignored. Every single news programme foregrounds economic concerns, business opinions, banks’ requisites; only in the “and another thing” joke item do we get an indulgent glance at social improvement, redistribution of wealth, sharing, charity, generosity, kindness. How did the right triumph so?
Avarice is forgivable, once you note that it is selective. I learnt this from Peter Baker’s book The Jolly Pilgrim, and it is a relief to forgive it, without having to accept it.
To feather your nest, to look after your own, this is not only a given for the selfish gene, but it is a compelling facet of natural selection. The humans who have survived are the ones who got enough resources for their own gene pool to survive. If that involves feathering your nest at others’ cost, so be it (if you can get away with it). If that involves feathering your nest without effort or contribution to society, why not? Why wouldn’t you take what you can get, when everyone else is?
It’s one of the tensions of society that it tries to harness the creative impulses toward commerce, transaction and cooperation, while trying to prevent cheating, collusion and exploitation. It’s a tough game. When Italians hear of British/American uproar over the latest financial scandal (MPs’ expenses, bankers’ bonuses, senators paid off by gun lobbies), they laugh. What else do you expect? That is the lesson of history, the lesson of the past, the lesson of power. Power takes what it can get.
The Victorians summed up these problems in neat conceits, which explained inequality.
The Great Struggle for Life: some thrive in this race, others fall by the wayside
Progress: the march of progress benefits us all (despite trampling some, but as I put it in Lawless & the Devil of Euston Square (ripping off Douglas Adams):
Whither those dispossessed by the advance of Progress? …after all, nobody can be held responsible. In the Great Battle for Life that every day confronts us, there are bound to be casualties. Suffering and Evil are nature’s admonitions; they cannot be got rid of. …Let us reflect that, despite the continuing fevers afflicting thousands across the capital, nobody of significance has yet died.
Thus they came up with the notion of the Deserving Poor and the Undeserving Poor (brilliantly resurrected by David Cameron’s One-Nation-Big-Society Conservative).
The deserving work. What a shame they earn so little. Charitable efforts must be increased.
The undeserving, meanwhile, are the authors of their own despond. Like the 10,000 made homeless by the building of the Metropolitan Line. They lived in tumble-down slums, for goodness’ sake. It was a kindness to knock their homes down.
I can’t begin to write about Philip Green and Dominic Chappell. I can’t write about a government that clandestinely dismantles free health, education and housing while two thirds of them have shares or sit on boards of private healthcare or education companies or are private landlords (see for example the Mirror’s Dossier of Shame).
I can write about Worm and his urchins unhoused by the Metropolitan (Book 1).
I can write about newspaper colluding with police to hush up scandals (Book 2), while profiting from selling stories about same scandals.
I can even kill off an MP or two and shame a media mogul. (See if they remind you of anyone.) That is the novelist’s revenge.
My enquiries about J.W. Brodie turned up no more, until my toothache turned into an abscess. The dentist Sir Richard sent me to was a cheerful colonial… and J.W. Brodie was his tennis partner.
With his vast success Brodie was reserved. When the dentist had ribbed Brodie, however, about the debacle with the Bugle, Brodie couldn’t resist an indiscreet boast. He didn’t give a damn about it being shut down. Illustrated newspapers were here to stay. With engravings ever cheaper to reproduce, he had at a stroke persuaded thousands of penny readers into paying half a sixpence for his Illustrated Police News. No, no, Brodie didn’t give a hoot about the scandal. In fact, he had encouraged the outcry, whereby his competitors advertised his papers for weeks on end. If heads had to roll, so be it. After all, for a newsman, succès de scandale was simply success.
Man is still the pie that bakes and eats itself, I’m afraid, Mr Gray.
The oven is getting hotter.
Visit these blogs for more by Sutton.