Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

Images of Class in the Poetry and Prose of Hugh McCrae

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (1998), 75, (1), 108–124.

Abstract

From the 1890s to the 1920s Hugh McCrae represented a form of literary republicanism and radical social criticism that described and analysed power relations and class inequalities in terms of cultural differentiation, rather than economic structures based on the ownership of property and relations of production. He probed the corruption and hypocrisy of the established church and employed irony to illustrate the absurdity of the divine right of kings. He lampooned knighthoods and feelings of imperial superiority by playing on the notion of blue blood. Although McCrae was part of the society of radical nationalist clubs and journals that were arenas of materialist programs for reform, he drew attention to the role of sculpture, portraits, upper class codes of conduct and patterns of demeanour that promoted a sense of separateness and excluded the lower classes. When the cultural and psychological boundaries of class were transgressed reversals could occur in power relations, so that those with the advantages of wealth, education and breeding experienced embarrassment, humiliation and anxiety. Satire, humour and paradox were used to strip away the pretensions and false virtues of the rich and powerful. He poked fun at those who believed that they could buy the status attributed to persons of culture. For McCrae it was the avarice of merchants that defined the modern economy rather than the effects of the tendencies and contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. It was the lust for money as a kind of fetishism that reduced love, marriage and authentic human relations to a cash value. McCrae contrasted the refined world of the elite with a proletarian underworld, which contained hopes and possibilities that he presented through the exploration of the meanings that could be deciphered in a boxing match.

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Tsokhas, Kosmas

Table of Contents

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