vendredi 30 avril 2010

Ils sont incroyables ces historiens anglais

L'Angleterre est une île et cela n'est pas prêt de s'arranger.

La récente éruption du volcan islandais au nom imprononçable a rappelé à des millions d'insulaires des îles britanniques que parfois la nature et la géographie imposent leur volonté.

Dans un blog paru ce matin dans The Telegraph, le journaliste Harry Mount recense l'ouvrage Sugar – A Bittersweet History, d'Elizabeth Abbott (Le sucre : une histoire douce-amère, Fides 2008).

Journaliste et écrivain, Elizabeth Abbott écrit de l'histoire marketing. Prenons ces autres titres les plus récents : Histoire universelle de la chasteté et du célibat (2003) et Une histoire des maîtresses (2004).

I’ve just been reading a review of an intriguing book, Sugar – A Bittersweet History, by Elizabeth Abbott. Among its findings are how the Caribbean slave plantations boomed in the late 18th century to feed the rising appetite of the British working classes for sugary tea.

Annual per capita sugar consumption in Britain in 1700-09 was four pounds per head; in 1720-29, it was eight pounds; in 1780-89, 12 pounds; and, by 1800-09, 18 pounds. This soaring demand continued despite the admirable middle-class abolitionist campaign to abstain from sugar in the 1790s, in order to cut the slaversincome.

A James Gillray cartoon of 1792 showed George III and Queen Charlotte trying to convince their children of the dubious charms of sugarless tea. “O, my dear creatures, do but taste it!” says the Queen, “You can’t think how nice it is without sugar.” The children grimace, and leave their cups in their saucers.

I wonder if that’s when the inverse connection between wealth and sugar-consumption began. Certainly, by 1937, when Orwell wrote The Road to Wigan Pier, the average unemployed miner’s family was eating eight pounds of sugar a week, as opposed to per annum.

Orwell explained the popularity of bad food well:

The basis of the unemployed minersdiet, therefore, is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potatoes – an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t. Here the tendency of which I spoke at the end of the last chapter comes into play. When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let’s have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and well all have a nice cup of tea! That is how your mind works when you are at the Public Assistance Committee level. White bread-and-marg and sugared tea don’t nourish you to any extent, but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than brown bread-and-dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the English-man’s opium. A cup of tea or even an aspirin is much better as a temporary stimulant than a crust of brown bread.

The inverse relationship between wealth and sugar consumption continues today. The patronising term, “Builder’s Tea”, is defined by Wikipedia as “(usually strong) English Breakfast tea, usually served with milk and, often, one or more sugars”. “Barrister’s Tea”, if there were such an expression, would be sugarless.

Une chose frappe le lecteur : l'anglocentrisme de l'auteur qui centre son travail non sur le sucre et son marché mais sur la documentation accessible en anglais sur la question. C'est sans doute pourquoi elle fait de la consommation anglaise le moteur du commerce du sucre en minorant le rôle des consommateurs continentaux.

A quelques exceptions près, les historiens anglophones sont murés dans une insularité qui ne doit rien à un volcan islandais.

La clef de leur prison est dans leur tête et ils ne sont pas disposés à ouvrir la porte.

Aucun commentaire: