Jenny Dahling and History

The Archers and the Suppression of the Temporal

It is, I suppose, a fairly obvious observation to say that one of the constitutive features of soaps is the absence of history: In that events occur but there are no changes to the framework in which those events occur

It seems to me that The Archers is an exceptionally good machine for the suppression of history, in the sense that so much is about the essential continuity of the central family and its relation to the land. In each generation there is a crisis over the manner of the succession, but it is always amicably resolved. In other words, the Archers’ farm lives in the sensibility of tradition and rurality. It is the Burkean moment of Conservatism. Now Brian’s outfit is seemingly quite different in that Brian goes out of his way to see his role as making profit and emphasising that farming is no different from any other business. Brian is always one for the latest thing. He is the Hayekian moment of conservatism. If Simon (Debbies’ ex-, who lectured the local college) had ever read to him that wonderful passage from the Communist Manifesto on ‘the constant revolutionising of production … all that is solid melts into air’ he would surely have approved – until he realised that it came from the pen of Old Charlie.

It is here that Jennydahling’s (that’s what us Archers fans on the BBC message-board call Brian’s missus)role comes in. Placed in the centre of the most revolutionary farm in Ambridge, her role is to work to obliterate not merely any difference between the content of present and past and future, but to make them in some way co-present. Her life is one of eternally repeated reminiscence and anticipation. By the pool, a while ago, she uttered an astonishing sentence to the effect that she had enjoyed looking forward to some family event. I expect her to soon say to Brian how she can ‘hardly wait’ until she can reminisce on the past visit of her daughter Kate and her husband. Even more than Jill Archer, she works to erase any sign of conflict, to bring together that which is falling apart. She is the voice of reconciliation, she is the antithesis of a Cassandra, she is the imaginary healer of rifts. And all the while … under the surface: The cataclysm of the revelation of her husband’s affair approaches. Are the script writers trying to tell us something ? Me, I’m laying in stocks of bottled water.


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