American monarchists, Diana cultists, and devotees of Downton Abbey, be warned: England My England is at once a sentimental inquiry into the role (a largely imaginary) England and Englishness played in the author’s boyhood dreams of a wittier, more refined world than the Southern California suburbs he grew up in; a reflection on how the English invented childhood as we know it (through children’s books like Winnie-the-Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, Mary Poppins, and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories); a philosophical investigation of the historical and cultural roots of American Anglophilia; and an unflinching consideration of the racist and classist assumptions that haunt that love affair.
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In 8,000-plus words, England My England touches on class, power, Downton Abbey, Christopher Hitchens, George Orwell, the “special relationship,” the monarchy, Dianaphiles, Boy’s Own Paper, The Children’s Wonder Book in Colour, the seductions of the Oxbridge accent, the Incredible Whiteness of Hogwarts, Mel Gibson’s blue-faced Scottish minstrelsy, the English Vice, marmite, suet, Jethro Tull, and English nursery literature as the script for the dream life of American childhood.
Here’s an excerpt. Want more? Here’s a brief interview with me, about the essay, by my publisher.
“England My England explores, with Dery’s customary forensic analysis and Menckenesque wit, the banality of contemporary American culture, which he suffered as a small-town kid who found solace in subversive aspects of Englishness. Dery uses his personal experiences as microcosmic takes on the larger questions of American life, showing how the individual and the wider culture make each other. This isn’t some mere writer’s shtick but a technique for structuring cultural criticism in a way that is relevant to the reader. It is a discursive form that blends the pleasures of evocatively written memoir with the intellectual zing of sharply observed analysis.”
–Jim Lawrence, Brain Bubbles