Robert Langdon: Habits, Culture and Belief

Cultural activities in small villages like Chiselborough were quite an important part of their lifestyle during the 19th century. Their home was both insular and isolated, so things like these were important to take part in and enjoy to pass the time. Robert Langdon describes that when he was twelve years old, he took part in a “ploughing match”. It was well organised and separated, with different races for “first-class boys” and “first-class men”, indicating this was a regular and much-loved sport to celebrate their prowess at hands-on farming and the strength of their workers.

Celebrations in rural England throughout the 19th Century have often been quite romanticized. J. M. Golby writes of an English population with “an almost anarchic dimension, its appetite for beer and sensation… its celebration of the war between the sexes, and its refusal to be serious or rational.” Is this a fair assessment? Not by Roger Langdon’s accounts, certainly. The wildest thing he ever relays in his story is stealing a wig. This cultural activity, the organisation of which would hint it is performed with decent regularity, is treated with a great deal of seriousness, with stern rules (even if they disadvantage a ploughman, such as Robert), and prizes available for good performance. Bear in mind, Robert Langdon lived far away from larger towns and cities where large festivals would be held, and the people in a village of under 300 total population had to make their own fun. For some, such as Jim or Old Nanny Holland, this discontentment may have manifested in foul anger and cruelty. For some, such as Roger, they may have sought an escape from their home and left to explore. And still others, the vast majority of citizens of Chiselborough (Mr Cornwall, Mrs Brown, etc.) dealt with it through a puritan adherence to the teachings of god.

What I mean by “puritan” isn’t a literal reference to the denomination of Christian faith they followed. What I refer to is their attitude to discontentment and hardship. This attitude of stoicism can be found all throughout Britain’s lower-class workforce, and to some degree carried over to America, particularly New England. Overwhelming guilt towards dissatisfaction or noncompliance was characteristic of these people, and they believed it was their lot in life to grin and bear it, to accept and overcome hardship without complaint. Roger Langdon himself displays these attitudes multiple times. He endures Jim’s attacks without telling others of his abuse. When Mr Cornwall forgets to pay him, he hasn’t the courage to remind him that he is owed. And then, even this: ” We then had the pleasure, the inestimable pleasure, of seeing the farmers and gentry eating roast reef and plum pudding in a decorated barn. The smell of these good things ought to have done us good. For myself I was very hungry, having had nothing to eat since before six o’clock in the morning. ” Rather than complain about others eating delicious food right in front of him while he got nothing, he simply accepts it. Today, many of us would likely be indignant at the rudeness and lack of consideration on display here, but Roger Langdon’s strong christian principles have rooted him in-place. It is only after his departure from home that he seems to allow himself to become angry at anyone. Anger often comes from a place of pride, and his strong religious upbringing caused him to bury such notions; hence, in-spite of some of the terrible things he suffered, he could not bring himself to hate anyone, not even Jim; and on the brief occasion he wished harm upon him, the immediate guilt he felt caused him to retract such thoughts immediately, and reprimand him over a momentary lapse in judgement that he only entertained in his own mind. This kind of self-censoring temperance is undoubtedly characteristic of puritan ideology.

It is by maintaining this culture of stoicism that an isolated town like Chiselborough maintained its health. Sometimes, this isolated perspective went too far, causing schisms in the village’s acceptance of vaccination or allowing Jim’s crimes to go unpunished, but crucially I think it should be pointed out that those two (Old Nanny Holland and Jim, respectively) are the ones who acted in malice and against the virtues of the bible, so it can’t be said to be a flaw inherent to the system itself; if anything, it further highlights that the biggest problems in Chiselborough occur when people don’t follow their cultural norms. They emphasize respectability, dignity, joint christian identity, and willingness to come together to perform the backbreaking work required to keep a small village relatively self-sufficient and happy. That environment fostered the strength of body and strength of will that kept Roger Langdon alive during his difficult life in Jersey and beyond. In the end, it took the culture and teachings of the country to survive in the city.


1:420 LANGDON, Roger, The Life of Roger Langdon, told by Himself. With Additions by his Daughter Ellen, with a preface by H. Clifton Lambert (Elliot Stock, London, [1909]), pp. 104 [55pp. of autobiography, 20pp. written by daughter, 18pp. of appendices, 1.0420

The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Life of Roger Langdon, told by himself.

Golby, J. M., and A. W Purdue, The Civilisation of the Crowd: Popular Culture in England 1750-1900, New York: Schocken Books, 1985, 224 pp.

Gaginer, Regina, Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Jul., 1986), pp. 577-578 (2 pages)

Benedict, Ruth, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, Boston, 1946. pp. 223-4

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