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Exporting Englishness

Throughout the 20th century, English writers achieved success in the US by selling an elite image of the country based on Oxbridge and public schools. Can any other vision of English life strike a chord with Americans?

In 1963, a thirtysomething Oxford-educated schoolmaster, teaching at a girls’ college in Hampstead, sold his first novel. Its hero is a butterfly-collecting young clerk named Clegg, who kidnaps and imprisons a pretty girl he picks up outside Hampstead town hall. Jonathan Cape published the book in England and Pan Books bought the American rights for £3,500: a record for an English first novel. The publishers flew the author over for a publicity tour. He had never been to America. “Somehow I have to explain how I came back a week later still a socialist (in my fashion) but also hopelessly…

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