Maurice as a Northerner

31 Aug

I’m back as the new Mrs Marden, so time to get stuck back in. Now that the biggest distraction from my work is all over I will have to see if I can be good and work hard without excuses.

I’ve found out that I had my abstract accepted for the Northern Identities conference in Huddersfield at the end of September. That means I only have a few weeks to write my first paper and get ready for presenting. I’m excited because sharing research with others is what a PhD is all about, but very nervous that I’ll have to talk for 20 minutes and answer questions from a bunch of people much more intelligent than me! I’m trying to make my paper the right balance of fact and fun to make it easy listening, having learnt from experience how tiring it can get listening to really formal presentations that go over my head.

So I’ve been getting my ideas together about how I can talk about Maurice as a Northerner. It’s a tough one, as he seemed to spend little time at Tatton and perhaps found it more difficult than his predecessors to assume the role of Lord of the manor with confidence and happiness. The dawn of the 20th century saw such a decline in the influence of aristocrats that estates were sold or demolished in their hundreds. But while some families crumbled, some displayed an extreme tenacity for survival, but had to accept the demise of their power and fortunes and re-work new identities for themselves in the modern world. This meant that Maurice was able to back away from the traditional roles of his class and assume a bit more freedom in what he wanted to do. 

When I originally started drafting my PhD application I wanted to write about the tension between Tatton and Kenya. Maurice belonged to two places, and lived different lives in each one. In Kenya he was free to live the life he wanted without judgement (after all, all those Happy Valley party people came to Kenya to be free from restraint!). But he never fully severed ties with Tatton. I find it interesting in his diaries how he compares the African landscape to local places in Cheshire. He seems to be nostalgic for his homeland, and yet when in England longs to return to Kenya. Despite the fact that he lives simply in Africa, and blends in quietly amongst settlers of different backgrounds, he still clings to the prestige of his title, which comes from his Tatton home. For example, he once visits a friend in Kenya, but finds him out and only his wife at home. Because of his simple clothes the wife mistakes him for a ‘common’ man and asks (or rather orders) him to drive her into town to shop. Maurice doesn’t reveal himself and goes along with the pretense with a cheeky smile, acting the part of chauffeur. Later the wife realises her mistake and is mortified. There are many stories of this nature of Maurice walking around the grounds at Tatton in grubby old clothes and helping motorists fix flat tyres etc, finding amusement in his deception. He certainly didn’t live up to the typical image and behaviour of a Lord.

Despite this, I don’t think he would’ve been happy to lose his title, even though it tied him to the legacy of the great Egerton’s of the past and created a lot of pressure for him to live up to. His aristocratic identity was important, and as this was dependent on the success of his family home, he would never give up Tatton Park, no matter how little time he spent there.

Maurice is part of a pattern in Cheshire of aristocrats re-locating to Kenya. However, he didn’t follow the path of Lord Delamere, who abandoned his estate of Vale Royal completely and squandered the family inheritance. Neither did he meet the more common pattern of second sons seeking to find a place, fortune and identity for themselves abroad. He followed the adventurers and pioneers of the age, exploring the empire that was his inheritance, but still adhering to a strict moral and gentlemanly code of behaviour that was instilled in him from his upbringing. This is why he could only exist on the sidelines of the hedonistic Happy Valley set, who surrendered  their English identities and re-invented themselves completely.

The big question is why did he bring his collection home to Tatton instead of keeping it in his house in Kenya, or donating all of it to a museum? I think this was all about making a display of his status and success abroad, to show to his English visitors that his position in the world was still relevant and powerful.

These are some of the points I’m going to cover in my paper. Time to get writing!

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One Response to “Maurice as a Northerner”

  1. Stephen September 6, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Thanks for that post, Sarah. We are looking forward to your paper at #NorthID13

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