Toasted English (1949)

by Marghanita Laski

Five British refugees who escaped to a South Sea island after the fall of Singapore in 1945 are rescued several years later. On the voyage home the protagonist, James Leigh-Smith, prays to see “the England of all decent Conservatives’ dreams.” His wish is granted, and instead of a country ruled by the Labour Party, he finds a rigidly stratified society with five tiers—from the upper-class A’s through the outcast E’s. The A’s, to which Leigh-Smith belongs, have even more privilege than before.

Leigh-Smith’s dream reveals itself to be a nightmare, however, because everyone must adhere to his caste’s expected behavior or be demoted. As a “Man-About-Town” (an official designation), Leigh-Smith must act the part—from where he lives to how he dresses to where he goes to what he eats. So inflexible are the requirements that Leigh-Smith’s father is nostalgic for the war years when “we used to open a tin of baked beans in the kitchen.”

This satire on the English class system—and by extension, any unmerited hierarchy—was written by the niece of the socialist thinker Harold Laski. Marghanita Laski was a journalist and literary critic as well as author of six novels.


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