1960s England was a hierarchical society preoccupied with social class, divided roughly into three categories: the working and lower-middle classes, the middle and upper-middle classes (the bourgeoisie), and the upper class. Miranda is bourgeois, a classification much more about family background and educational attainment than wealth. She attends private schools that groom her to be another member of the cultural middle class. In contrast, Frederick comes from a working-class family. His father has an alcohol addiction and his mother is a sex worker. Winning a fortune doesn’t grant him bourgeois status; instead, he’s condescended to as petit-bourgeois, a bad imitation of the bourgeoisie.
The American cultural revolution of the 1960s swept England as well. Frederick remains oblivious to this cultural transformation, while Miranda is preoccupied with its intricacies. Miranda holds a mix of conservative and progressive views, putting her squarely within the mainstream that admired but did not necessarily fully adopt the ideas of the free-love fringe. She disavows snobbism while railing against the masses; she doesn’t believe in sex without love, despite knowing that it’s “not very emancipated of [her]” (254). Her most progressive views are about art, where she embraces first the avant-garde and then abstractionism. She values creativity and authenticity in art and life, two values popularized in the 1960s by existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
By John Fowles