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This report is taken from PN Review 79, Volume 17 Number 5, May - June 1991.

Comment C.H. Sisson
What does it mean to be English? It is not a question I would have asked for myself, but Marsha Rowe,* who apparently comes from some country other than England, has apparently been troubled by it. 'We, the non-English who live here,' she says, 'notice how often they tell us that something or someone is so English ... it's a shock when, after a time, visiting family or friends tell us that we too now are so very English.' I can't recall, myself, ever having launched that accusation against anyone, whether a native or from other parts. Of course, I've not gone native myself; I was born that way. If, when I was abroad, anyone had said to me that I was so very French, German, or American, or whatever it might be, I should have thought he was joking, and hoped it was a civility, pretending that I understood my host's country better than could have been expected from a mere foreigner. Apparently Marsha Rowe does not see the matter so simply, and finds it offensive that 'the English are so utterly confident who they are'.

Marsha Rowe's criticism suggests that she thinks of the people she meets here not simply as people but as specimens of racial characteristics - an attitude which would properly be condemned if she were one of the natives taking a look at those who came from elsewhere. In an article written over fifty years ago I said: 'Whoever talks of the national ...


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