Friday, 24 September 2021
Pre-Covid was a long time ago
The 1930s is barely more than a lifetime ago yet novels and films of the period seem increasingly antiquated. Every now and then a phrase, assumption or an aspect of social life crops up and the whole period becomes another world.
To my mind the most elusive difference between then and now is the importance of the senses. It is something novelists stress of course, so not to be taken as a reliable guide. Yet the sensory impression created by daily life were different in the past because daily life was different in myriad ways.
To some elusive degree, the world of the 1930s was still interpreted through the senses in a way that we are losing. Wind, rain, snow and frost, a flickering fire, smoking chimney, fogs, mists, damp woollens, tobacco and the aroma of cooking. Wood and leather, horses and carts, haystacks and country lanes. Street sounds, silent Sundays, church bells, slums, factories, shabby clothes, silk hats and the local hunt.
We have not lost any of it completely, but the emphasis has changed, the social meaning, the interwoven threads of daily life have changed. The visceral world of the senses seems to have subsided. Somehow, that older world has been overlaid with a less sensory world dominated by behaviour. It always was this way to some degree, but our world is now brighter and louder while the world of sensory impressions has been tuned down, dimmed, left outside.
Almost as if there is a covert intention, to create an Alice in Wonderland world where the reality of the senses is less important than the artificial drama of mass media, mass culture and the constant beating of political drums.
The world of the 1930s is a reminder of how subtle change can be, but not merely social and economic change. This in turn reminds us of a more immediate assault on our wider sense of reality. Pre-Covid was a long time ago.