Dickens turns out to have been not so much a caricaturist, as he is often accused of having been, as a prophet. Mrs. Jellyby was but a single individual, but she was a forerunner of our own time, when mass concern for social justice and even the fate of the planet itself is combined, at least in British youth, with complete indifference to immediate surroundings.
The second great intellectual influence on modern British youth is, of course, Marie Antoinette, who, in playing shepherdess, adopted for a time the role of someone much below her in social class. In the same way, the lumpenintelligentsia plays at being prole, though never with the intention of remaining at the bottom rung of society for any length of time, let alone permanently (and certainly not economically), any more than Marie Antoinette wanted to shepherd sheep for the rest of her life. The problem is that when you play a part for long enough, that part, irrespective of your original intentions, becomes your true self, and you have no other. British youth are not alone in this, but they have gone further in self-proletarianization than any other youth that I know. Incidentally, in their imitation of the proles (which they think virtuous), they demonstrate how they really conceive of them: vulgar, dirty, coarse, and foulmouthed. Genuine proletarians are, or at least once were, not at all like this”not en masse, not as the lumpenintelligentsia now is.
So the Glastonbury Festival is a mass gathering not of youthful idealists, but of moral and intellectual hybrids of Marie Antoinette and Mrs. Jellyby. Half Jellyby, half Marie Antoinette: Such is the soul of modern British youth.
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