politics and ideology

The facts

The dining-room in which William’s uncle was to hold his Liberal Party meeting had a hatch.
The hatch slowly opened. A dirty oval gilt frame appeared, and was by no means soundly attached to the top of the open hatch. Through the aperture of the frame appeared a snub-nosed, freckled, rough-haired boy with a dirty face and a forbidding expression.
William didn’t read sensational fiction for nothing.

  • Number: 4.12
  • Published: 1924 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Fourth
  • Synopsis: It’s election time in the village, and William discovers that the Liberal Party is going to make bread cheaper.

Verdict

Enticed by the wholehearted Liberalism of his uncle, William spies on a meeting of the Liberal Party and discovers, to his deep shock and indignation, that while they want to make the price of bread cheaper, the “ole rakshunary Conservies” are going to make it more expensive.

He therefore makes it his mission to secure a victory for the Liberal candidate.

William gasped. “You?” he said. “The Conservies? But – if you’re both tryin’ to make bread cheaper why’re you fightin’ each other?”

His technique involves breaking into the house of the Conservative candidate and confronting him with the price-of-bread issue.

But then he makes a startling discovery…

This story obviously speaks from Richmal Crompton’s own disenchantment with the rise of valence issues in politics. She seems, essentially, to be using William as a surrogate for her own political journey of discovery.

The facts

“I’m not,” Jameson Jameson admitted frankly, “in direct communication with Lenin, but I’ve read about Bolshevism in a magazine, and I know a bit about it from that. The Bolshevists want to share things out so as we’re equal and that’s only right, isn’t it? Does anyone,” he glared round fiercely, “wish to contradict me?” No-one did.

  • Number: 4.1
  • Published: 1924 (1921 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Fourth
  • Synopsis: Robert becomes a temporary Communist.

Verdict

In many ways, this story is less about William and William’s friends than about Robert and Robert’s friends.

But in another way, it basically is about William, because Robert and Robert’s friends are far more similar to William than they may care to admit.

Like William, they take up and drop crazes with mind-spinning rapidity. Like William, they convene over-formal and over-ambitious societies which are, in reality, just themselves with a fancy name. Like William, they are motivated more by immediate needs than by any wider principle.

William became the Junior Branch of the Society of Reformed Bolshevists. Alone he was President and Secretary and Committee and Members. He resented any suggestion of enlarging the Junior Branch. He preferred to form the Branch himself. He held meetings of his Branch under the laurel bushes in the garden, and made eloquent speeches to an audience consisting of a few depressed daffodil roots.

Jameson Jameson, the William equivalent of the older brothers’ generation, organises his peers into a local Communist party. Somewhat reluctantly recognising that equality means equality, they accept that William could not be excluded purely on the grounds of age, so they siphon him off into a one-man Junior Branch.

But when the Junior Branch discovers what Communism really means (“We can take anything to make us equal”) he invites his friends to join. Together, they raid the bedrooms of their older brothers in the Senior Branch and take control of the means of production, bicycles, fountain pens and so on.

This practical demonstration of social justice marks a turning point for Robert, who, along with his fraternal comrades, disbands the Society of Reformed Bolshevists:

It’s all right when you can get your share of other people’s things, but when other people try to get their share of your things, then it’s different.

The first of Richmal Crompton’s several satires of extreme political positions. Best, though, is the parallel between the ‘immature’ William and the ‘mature’ Robert.