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Tory Heaven

by Marghanita Laski
Persephone book no:

127 128 129


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A Well Full of Leaves
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WITH A PREFACE BY DAVID KYNASTON
216pp
ISBN 9781910263181

Tory Heaven (1948) was Marghanita Laski's third book, another satire after both Love on the Super Tax and To Bed with Grand Music. The plot is as follows: five people return to England in August 1945 after having spent several years on a desert island (cue the 1946 Miss Ranskill Comes Home. As they approach England ‘our hero’ James Leigh-Smith (think Jacob Rees-Mogg) prays, ‘“God, let it be as it might have been. Alter the clock, fix the election, do it any way you please, but let me see the England of all decent Conservatives’ dreams.” He raised an anguished face to the heavens and at that moment a loud clap of thunder was heard over his right shoulder.’ His prayer has been answered.

When they arrive at the port it takes him quite a while to work out what is going on. But the nub of it is that ‘the whole population has been formally divided into the five classes that it naturally comprises. He is an A; ‘the B’s represent the middle classes’; C’s are the servants of A’s. They are people who’ve chosen to wait on A’s just to be in touch with them – waiters, hairdressers, butlers, housekeepers, and agricultural workers on big estates.’ D’s are Trade Unionists (‘don’t you have a lot of strikes?’ ‘Hardly, since all strikes are illegal’) and E’s ‘comprise the odds and sods. No privileges at all, of course. Tramps, casuals and, of course, any such Intellectuals as the police may happen to pick up.’

Advertised in 1948 as ‘amusing and gay... an exquisite fantasy’, Tory Heaven, subtitled Thunder on the Right, ‘had a clear political agenda – being aimed squarely at those in the middle class who by now were starting to long for a return to the familiar Tory certainties of social hierarchy, of rigid class distinctions, and of almost unquestioned privilege for those born on the right side of the tracks’ (writes David Kynaston in his Persephone Preface). ‘Like the best satirists Marghanita Laski leaves it entirely to others to draw out the lessons of her story.’

The response to Tory Heaven in the UK was positive: (‘wickedly amusing’ Sunday Times, ‘wittily told’ Manchester Guardian). But when it appeared in the US (as Toasted English) the Atlantic Monthly said: ‘With unfailing wit, Marghanita Laski has fashioned a scorching indictment of a hierarchical society’, while the Chicago Sun called it ‘a satire in the tradition of Jonathan Swift.’ There are many acutely painful scenes: one that stands out is when the electoral system is explained to James. There is no more universal suffrage and Parliamentary seats have been redistributed in accordance with the conditions existing before 1832. ‘We got the Boundaries Commission onto that, and really they did a most satisfactory job. Manchester, for example, returns no member now, while our host Lord Starveleigh owns two. One is returned automatically by a gazebo in the garden while the other will be elected on Saturday.’ In the tradition of 1066 and All That, the book pushes the system to its logical absurdity: the Tory heaven is realised on earth today. There was a time when we thought a book like this was pure satire. Now we are not so sure.

For more on Tory Heaven, have a look at the Persephone Perspective.

 Endpaper

The endpapers taken from 'Transport', a 1945 dress fabric in printed rayon crepe designed by Feliks Topolski for Ascher Ltd © V&A Images.

Picture Caption

An illustration from the US jacket of Tory Heaven, used as a 'bellyband' on each copy of our edition.


Read What Readers Say

Kate Murray, ‘Fabian Review’

Imagine a Britain where the population has been rigidly graded into five bands. Dystopian fantasy? Of course. But there is much in ‘Tory Heaven’ that resonates. It tells of a country in which a right-wing Tory administration embarks on a whirlwind campaign of social engineering. Smocks are reintroduced for agricultural labourers and pubs and shops strictly segregated. And there’s no need for a Labour party now that there is no one left to vote for them – the Reform Act has been repealed and elections reduced to a carnival straight out of ‘Middlemarch’. Laski has a deft touch when it comes to describing everyday life in this class-ridden land. There are some nice comic moments. But essentially this is a dark tale which plays on the class structures and prejudices which seem almost as strong now as they were just after WWII. Laski is ridiculously far-fetched yet somehow strangely plausible.

anglaisepaon via Instagram

‘Tory Heaven' made me laugh and sigh and wish this book was required reading.

Cosy Books via Instagram

Is this a good time to delve into a book called ‘Tory Heaven’? With Marghanita Laski behind the message, the answer is an emphatic ‘YES!’. It is 1945 and five British citizens have been living meagrely on an island near New Guinea after escaping from Singapore. Spending several years away from the luxuries of their former lives is a great leveller and everyone gets along. The group then hears the news that Britain is now under Conservative rule. And so it begins. Everyone is graded by family lineage, wealth, education and other factors. The government even dictates the accepted form of socialisation within the grades, as in A restaurants, B pubs, and D housekeepers for A families. When asked about his choice of occupation there is no hesitation in James’s reply... ‘Man-About- Town’. As ridiculously snobby as that sounds, he is the Tory's dream man. Anyone who reads ‘Tory Heaven’ will be in awe of the astuteness with which Laski writes of the perils of what is, at its root, a dictatorship. What makes this story even more astounding is that Laski was Jewish and would obviously have known about the atrocities in Germany. To write this story shortly after WWII, with a sentiment of charm and humour, while at the same time sending a very forceful message that no one is better than anyone else is to Laski’s credit. ‘Tory Heaven’ is an excellent read. Both sombre and fun, this is a story that will stay with you and provoke no small amount of thought about the many ways people are still being “graded” today.

Categories: History Humour Men (books about) Politics WWII

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