Lo these many years I have heard my girls—and others—assigning roles in games, and at my house there is often: OK, we're both poor girls. Sometimes: We're both rich girls. And sometimes, You're rich, and I'm poor.
I know, vaguely, that there are good developmental reasons for this devotion to hierarchy and rank, and it's better to work it out in play than to grow up and try to shut down the government, but that doesn't make me all that much more comfortable with it. And I wonder about it in books.
I'm talking about older books, maybe. The dukes and princes and princesses of, say, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Blackhearts of Battersea, even A Little Princess. There is this...essential devotion to the idea that higher rank means better person, even while there's a strong insistence of the "goodness" of the common people. And while I'm very happy to have, say, Chestnut be so passionately devoted to the old-fashioned classics of my youth, I sometimes wonder if their British-ness with its deep-in-the-bone DNA of rank exerts a less than ideal influence on my girl and her imagination. The way that the "good" poor seem to possess a very different sort of earthy goodness than, say, the "good" of the duke disguised as a poor boy, who is so often "naturally refined."
Is it crazy to worry about this? I think: yes, it's crazy to worry about this, but still—it seems only fair to acknolwedge that it's there. I don't mean to say that U.S. stories, or indeed fairy tales from other countries somehow escape this, but I feel it most strongly in stories other than straight fairy tales in British books.
There aren't any of those old stories that go the other way, are there?