If you have ever read a Ken Follet novel, especially Pillars of the Earth or World Without End, then you will know how intimately he tackles the subject of family honour. Both these books are epic tales set out in Medieval times in that world of Kings, Queens, knights and serfs where the nobility and the church are constantly taking advantage of the peasantry and those without status. Everything in those novels is about status, honour and living by what life supposedly grants you.
I wonder just how significant that is all these many years later when capitalism has all but ensured that birth right has little to do with dictating the terms and course of one’s life. We live in a world where we are told we can become whatever we want to become just as long as we have the desire and the drive. Of course that is mostly true, but not entirely as there are some who are born in a more privileged environment than others and thus have better opportunities. But the fact remains that elevating one’s status is not as daunting today as it might have been for a peasant living in Medieval times.
Also, elevating one’s status these days doesn’t necessarily elevate the status of your family and I do not think many people care about that. Most people who leave home in search of good fortunes inevitably end up becoming richer than their parents and aren’t really bothered about whether they have now moved their parents from lower class to middle class – just as long as they are making enough money, class has very little to do with it. Indeed that is one of the hallmarks of capitalism, that tendency to make people so selfish that they forget their own family since their efforts go into starting their own family.
In Ken Follet novels this seems to be the single obsession of most of his characters, this desire to claim something from this life that would elevate the status of their family. Of course the highest level that everybody aspires to is to be part of the nobility. Few people are born into the nobility which gives them rights to be Kings, Queens, Earls, Barons, Dukes etc, and the rest are left to try commit brave acts just so they can be knighted and become part of the nobility.
By reading these novels I can tell that trying to become knighted is a taxing endeavor which requires such guile, plotting, scheming, subterfuge and more often than not bloodshed. There is no easy way of getting there – of course other than being born into that position – and by the time one eventially gets there they have been physically mamed in war or spiritually mamed from the depraved and dastardly acts they committed to get there.
Thank goodness times have somewhat changed or at least that I do not live in a place where one has to be bothered about being knighted just to change the status of their life. Things seem to be more or less in my hands where I stand and I am grateful for that. While I love my family and care about what happens to them I am also glad that family honour doesn’t quite carry the same weight it used to, although over the weekend I overheard one of my mother’s wealthier, more haunty friends make a snide remark to her, which made me feel like running her through with my cold steel blade, as I felt it was a jab at our family name. Who knows, maybe family honour is still as relevant today as it was many centuries ago…