That British Stiff Upper Lip Exposed!

I was delighted by this documentary exploring the origins of the British “stiff upper lip” presented by Ian Hislop, especially the idea of Jane Austen’s most famous hero being a prototype of the stolid, taciturn modern-day Briton.

This three-part BBC documentary, subtitled An Emotional History of Britain, begins with Emergence and contrasts the divide from the era of Sense and Sensibility to that of Sanditon (that’s my interpretation of it, anyway). Hislop gives examples of how before the French Revolution, you can see examples of men openly showing their emotions.

One of the greatest heroes of the age, of course, was Admiral Lord Nelson, whose last words included “Kiss me, Hardy,” addressed to Thomas Hardy, flag captain to Nelson. I don’t think there is serious speculation that Nelson was a homosexual; instead I think this was a last gesture by a Romantic with a capital “R.” Hislop notes in his program, however, that in Victorian times there was a campaign to retcon his words to “Kismet, Hardy.” It should also be noted that Nelson’s last words (there were several), also included “Thank God I have done my duty,” which sounds very stiff upper lip, and earlier he had signaled to his fleet “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

Then Hislop contrasts the emotional Nelson to the stoic Lord Wellington, hero of the Battle of Waterloo. At the beginning of the program, he mentions the exchange between Lord Uxbridge and Wellington. Uxbridge (upon being shot): “By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!” Replied Wellington: “By God, sir, so you have!”

Hislop also offers this quote from Sanditon, Austen’s unfinished novel. Here Mr. Parker, the tireless promoter of the eponymous seaside resort town, tells Charlotte Heywood:

“You will not think I have made a bad exchange when we reach Trafalgar [Parker’s] House—which by the bye, I almost wish I had not named Trafalgar—for Waterloo is more the thing now.”

Obviously the tide had turned in what the British valued most.

Hislop also mentions that Austen’s hero Fitzwilliam Darcy is an example of a hero more representative of the bulldog spirit, as can be see from the segment below.

I’ve yet to see the other two episode as I’ve promised to start over watching the series with my husband, but I have high expectations.

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