Friday, 4 November 2011

Light-green trousers

Another side of Wilkie Collins is exemplified by this lighthearted attitude to our longstanding national inability to change the status quo. Collins was not opposed to reform, because his novel Hide and Seek from which the quote is taken was an early and sympathetic fictional portrayal of disability. Even so, he obviously found it appropriate to tiptoe around our our excessively genteel tendency to avoid rocking the boat.

From a great proposal for reform, to a small eccentricity in costume, the English are the most intolerant people in the world, in their reception of anything which presents itself to them under the form of a perfect novelty. Let any man display a new project before the Parliament of England *, or a new pair of light-green trousers before the inhabitants of London, let the project proclaim itself to be useful to all listening ears, and the trousers eloquently assert themselves as beautiful to all beholding eyes, the nation will shrink suspiciously, nevertheless, both from the one and the other; will order the first to "lie on the table", and will hoot, laugh, and stare at the second; will, in short, resent either novelty as an unwarrantable intrusion, for no other discernible reason that people in general are not used to it.
Wilkie Collins - Hide and Seek - 1854

* Collins seems to have forgotten that there is no English Parliament.


Sam Vega said...

I wonder if Collins has identified something quintessentially English, or typically Victorian. At least in the case of the trousers, that is. At other times, individuals have striven to stand out in their finery or eccentricity. Regency dandies, for example, or punks, or the likes of Quentin Crisp, etc.

Today, of course, we would only hoot derisively at light green trousers if we knew for sure that the wearer was a Brit who had made a mistake. The chances that they are part of an immigrant cultural identity would be too great to risk it.

A K Haart said...

SV - Victorian I'd say - but continued well into the 20th century. They seem to have eschewed show in male fashion so I imagine light-green trousers would have been extremely eccentric.