Ministry of The North

George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier writes about a phenomenon he identifies as ‘Northern snobbishness’:

“A Yorkshireman in the South will always take care to let you know that he regards you as inferior. If you ask him why, he will explain that it is only in the North that life is ‘real’ life, that the industrial work done in the North is the only ‘real’ work, that the north is inhabited by ‘real’ people…The Northern has ‘grit’, he is grim, ‘dour’, plucky, warm-hearted and democratic.”

In the 1950’s and 60’s particularly, the idea of ‘Northerness’ was given a spotlight. Dominic Sandbrook in his sweeping history of the era (Never had it So Good) suggests that the reasons for this – and the identity that was observed no less by Orwell – were used by his successors as implicit criticisms of the lazy, new world of affluence developing in the South. What happened as a result was a culture developed that had banners with epoch-defining names like ‘Angry Young Men’ and ‘New Wave’, both of which, and like these banners often are, are disputable and disputed by the people who were constitutive aspects of them (the latter term seems to be prescribed to any invigorating piece of work that has a ‘realist’ program to it). Simply, as much as it was a rejection of the clichés that others defined it with, it also became a glorification of them.

The North of England is naturally closer to home than Russia is. In this series of Books within Borders I want to read the exceptions, the rebuttals, the reworkings and the embodiments of the clichés or depictions that there is of the ‘North’. Will books from publishers based in the North be read? Books written by writers living in the North? Books by writers born in the North? As equally as difficult as it is to define the cutting-off point of the North, or any place for that matter, it is as redundant. Instead the boundaries and definitions will be defined by the writers, the publishers: ultimately, the books.

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