Sunday, 6 December 2009
The Cost of Living
I've been half-reading a small book on Edward Thomas, which I picked up in a second-hand bookshop that was so perfect of its kind I couldn't bear to leave without buying something. On closer inspection, I discovered that this nicely produced little book was a 'Faber Student Guide', published in the mid-80s and clearly designed to fit poor Thomas's works to a Procrustean bed of Marxian analysis. This approach does yield the odd insight in passing, and the book's concentration on Thomas's prose as well as his poetry is refreshing. There's also enough extensive quotation from both to remind the reader of the real thing. But, putting all that aside, it was a biographical detail that caught my eye. Thomas's father was a clerk - 'staff clerk for light railways' at the Board of Trade - and on his Civil Service salary alone, he was able to support a wife and large family (six sons), plus domestic help, in a large detached house near the common in Clapham. So, at that time, a clerk in the Civil Service could afford what today only millionaires or the recipients of City bonuses can run to. What level of inflation does that suggest? It's barely computable. Similarly, in The Death of the Heart, set in the 1930s, we are informed that the total income of the Quayles amounts to £3,000, which is ample for a large house on Regent's Park with live-in domestics, all the comforts of upper-middle-class life, and long holidays abroad (when travel was relatively dearer). To achieve that standard of living today would surely require an income nearer £3 million than £3,000. My question is - What happened? Why would it now cost a fortune to live in the kind of style our middle-class ancestors took for granted? No Marxists need respond.