European Diary

Sex and Poverty

The poor smelled, and there was nothing to be done about it.  “Middle-class people believe that the working class are dirty,” George Orwell recalled, “and, what is worse, that they are somehow inherently dirty.”  His childhood nightmare was having to drink from a vessel touched by the lips of a presumed social inferior.

I had never known that kind of handicap.  I felt quite at home in seedier, seamier company than would suit most people I knew.  Dirt did not bother me in the slightest.  Very likely, a socialist would credit the environment into which I had been born—a Moscow literary milieu that was allowed the privilege of following the precepts of an aristocratic culture leveled half a century earlier—for the fact that, even as an adult, I could go for weeks without a bath, that I did not feel the need to trim my toenails or to cut my hair, and that, to this day, it would not occur to me to mind about drinking from somebody else’s beer mug, even if the somebody in question had neither teeth nor a title.  The aristocracy in Russia, insulated from the front-lawn barbecue of bourgeois attitudes by the veranda glass of autarchic backwardness for much longer in the day than its counterparts in Britain and elsewhere on the Continent, did not feel that the lower classes smelled.  It was the middle classes that smelled, and it was precisely this olfactory disturbance...

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