In the opening few pages of this, the 11th work in the Mr Man series, we are almost led to expect of Hargreaves a foray into dialectical materialism.
We meet Mr Uppity with his top hat and monocle - a clear and overt representation of the bourgeois industrialist. Other arriviste trappings such as his long limousine and imposing townhouse further give the game away.
In a thinly-veiled reference to the oppression of the workers by the ruling class, we are told that Mr Uppity is rude to everyone, and the detail that he has no friends in Bigtown explicitly informs us that the masses are on the brink of revolution. Are we about to bear witness to class war, Hargreaves-style? To see Mr Uppity brought to account by the revolutionary power of the proletariat? Vanquished and overthrown by the party of the workers?
Not so. Mr Uppity is no Marxian analysis, no Leninist prescription for class action. As always, Hargreaves' inherent and essential conservatism comes to bear. His critique of the bourgeoisie comes not from the proletariat but from the feudal aristocracy. It is the authority of a king that places limits upon Mr Uppity's excesses, as his usurpation and arbitrary exercise of power has violated 'the natural order of things'. Hence the protection the masses are dealt in response to this transgression is paternal, and they receive it as subjects not radical agents of change.
Being so staunch a traditionalist, Hargreaves of necessity is a reformer not a revolutionary. The King does not have Mr Uppity executed, imprisoned or even sent into exile. There is no state seizure and collectivization of his wealth, or in fact any redistribution at all. (Despite his pomp and grandeur, the King no longer has such powers - both the outward self-importance and ultimate weakness of his intervention appear little more than a face-saving exercise for his waning hereditary rule.)
Rather, in the end it is the mildest of all regulation that is imposed upon the capitalist class. The ownership of the means of production remains the same, with no fundamental change to the economic base - just some superstructural tinkering to rein-in any overly brutal treading on the small man. The ruling class can do pretty much as it did before, as long as it says 'please' and 'thank you'. The aristocracy is duly appeased.
Hence we arrive at the Britain Hargreaves lived in - a gently regulated capitalism coupled with sham aristocracy, maintained by our own collective nostalgia and a national lack of appetite for mass action.
Reviews Written by
Hamilton Richardson (London, UK)