The “conservatism” of JK Rowling

I’m always interested to read people’s (reasoned) thoughts on the Harry Potter books and was intrigued by this article posted today on a blog I keep tabs on:

I think Matthew Hosier’s idea that Rowling’s writing is basically conservative (if that’s a fair way of putting it; maybe it isn’t! – but you can read the article for yourself and get a better idea of what his basic claim is) is probably not the right one. Now, I don’t think Rowling is actually super-progressive: her politics in general seem fairly centre-left; she is a vocal detractor of Jeremy Corbyn, apparently basically because he’s too left-wing for her; more progressive/socialist types have a tendency to get annoyed at her (see for example this post and its follow-up(s) on another, very different blog I follow). But I think it would be a mistake to describe her as conservative, and any apparently conservative elements in her writing I would suggest probably have another source than repressed conservatism, an actual hankering for a return to an (idealised) 1950s, etc. Rather I think what’s going on is a sort of historical¬†romanticism¬†(or romanticisation of the past).

This is ultimately not about political viewpoints but aesthetic¬†effects. (Obviously the two bleed into one another and authors need to be careful with this.) The Harry Potter books are, by and large, going for a variant on the aesthetic of classic children’s literature (the sort of books, probably, that Rowling herself grew up with). And this is why the heavily-present boarding school element, the lack of divorce etc. etc. come in. Major elements of the traditional aesthetic are imported in wholesale. Elements which are strongly at odds with it tend to be left out.

But this is still basically an aesthetic thing. I don’t think Rowling is pro-boarding school any more than CS Lewis or JRR Tolkien were (at a guess) pro-absolute monarchy. But just as a mediaeval aesthetic gives you kings and queens, so a classic children’s literature aesthetic gives you boarding schools and traditional marriage. It needn’t say anything about the author’s own politics, conscious or otherwise.

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