C.V. Horner (1897–1980): Politics and Protest

A point that arose in my Habits and Beliefs blog, C.V. Horner appears to make a conscious effort to express his beliefs as little as possible. As mentioned in that blog, this is done to provide an impartial account of his life and to avoid offending any of his readers. However, towards the end of his memoir, Horner begins to express his feelings toward the ever-changing world. He sombrely writes: ‘[s]o much for the happy memories of times past and a few things as yet, untouched by time.’ (217)

Horner’s concern with politics is that personal freedom and civilised society will cease to exist, and that at any moment, nuclear war could begin and destroy everything. He says:

Sadly I can for[e]see a day when no man will be allowed to shoot grouse or pheasant in an ultra sophisticated society where such sport might be condemned as un-civilized. By that time, probably the leaders of every nation will be sitting with their fingers constantly on a button, which if pressed could trigger off a nuclear war. A war totally unlike the two I have lived through. A war where the effects of nuclear, or even more advanced weapons, could wipe out at a single stroke, the whole of humanity, and devastate civilisation the world over. What use would all the trappings of an affluent and civilized society be then? We can only hope that eventually more politicians and people start to get their priorities right! (217)

Horner is also troubled by present-day life, as well as what he fears may come. He claims that it is as though the world has turned ‘upside down’ (219) within the space of seventy years. An example he provides regards the rights of tenants, in that it is much more difficult for a landlord to remove a tenant from their property if they wish to do so. He adds that all the changes he sees make everything more complicated; ‘life in general is now a thousand times less simple.’ (219)

The thing that intrigues Horner most about the changing world, however, is that ‘in[ ]spite of such vast changes in standards of living and much increased affluence, no one seems any happier.’ (221) He notes that the younger generations have a sense of nostalgia and a desire to travel back to when he is younger, which he believes can be attributed to the television show ‘“Upstairs & Downstairs”’. (221) However, he believes that this should not be the case, given the improved standards of living we have today and the minimal opportunities that were available when he was young. Horner also attributes the younger generations’ nostalgia to ‘the fact that life was just so much simpler, partially because the alternatives were few.’ (222) He writes: ‘[e]veryone grew up knowing their place in society and very few moved either up or down the social scale. Their lives automatically followed the pattern of whatever type of family circle they grew up in.’ (222) In Horner’s case, it was the circle of gamekeepers, which he claims to have enjoyed.

Horner also discusses how the benefits of prosperity have changed over time, particularly how wealth is more evenly distributed now. He claims how the prosperous man of the past would ‘surround himself with a large house and estate and huge private labour force to enable him to live in comfort.’ (224) In comparison: in today’s world, he ‘surrounds himself with a very modern home and endless labour saving gadgets and an expensive car.’ (224) This leads him to ponder if things may one day change again. He writes:

I wonder if, with all the talk of the world’s shortages, the day might dawn when today’s prosperous man might still have the where-with-all to buy fuel for his car and his home heating and the electricity to power labour saving goods, but the fuel, like the private servant, might just not be there to be obtained any longer. (224)

While Horner drifts away from talking about his life as a gamekeeper and his homeland towards talking about the modern world, he retains his impartialness. When expressing his fear of nuclear war, he does not lean towards either political wing, instead declaring that all politicians need to sort their priorities. Perhaps the only subjectivity that Horner shows is the changing simplicity of life, in that he feels the world has become unnecessarily complicated, although he also states that there are far more opportunities in today’s world than there ever were.

Bibliography

  • Burnett, John, David Vincent and David Mayall. Ed. ‘C.V. Horner.’ The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945. 3 vols. Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989: 2:422.

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