Essay: Stephen Fry’s Bent Nose and the Monarchy

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Most of those who have seen Stephen Fry on television cannot have missed to notice his bent nose. In his autobiography “Moab Is My Washpot”, he tells the story behind his bent nose, but he also draws interesting parallels between his bent nose and the monarchy. The whole autobiography “Moab Is My Washpot” covers his early childhood and follows him until his time as a student in Cambridge.

Stephen Fry is known for so many things: as a brilliant actor, comedian, journalist and TV host. Not least has he made a very interesting documentary on the English language and an autobiographical documentary about his bipolar disorder, the latter even gave him an Emma Award. In addition, he has also been a visiting professor of drama at Oxford University and he is an Honorary Fellow at several universities in the UK. Originally, he graduated with a degree in English Literature – but since 1981 he has mainly worked in the entertainment business. Stephen Fry is also the author of five novels and three autobiographies. All of them highly praised.

Now back to Stephen Fry’s bent nose: Stephen Fry broke his nose in prep school. And when he was fourteen, it became apparent to everyone that is was not growing straight, as he himself was starting to notice that he might not be straight himself. Of course, as most youngsters, he wanted it straightened out. But a chorus of family members were always saying: “Oh no, Stephen, you mustn’t … it’s so distinguished”. However, young Stephen didn’t find his nose distinguished, rather he found it idiotic and unpleasant, as he says in Moab Is My Washpot: “A duelling scar may rightly be called distinguished, as might a slightly cleft chin or a glamorously imperceptible limp.” But a bent nose is not distinguished!

However, after a while he began to understand that a bent nose might not be as undesirable as he first thought. Stephen Fry explains in his autobiography that it might even be a strategy for keeping your self-esteem up. He says: “We keep our insignificant blemishes so that we can blame them for our larger defects”. So according to Stephen Fry, it is actually best for you to avoid ‘a nose job’, both literally and metaphorically. It is better to live with your minor faults and defects. A straight-nosed Stephen would not be more attractive than the bent-nosed Stephen. This discovery allows him to draw parallels between his own bent nose and the monarchy in Britain.

Stephen Fry tells us – the readers – that he has a friend who is against the British monarchy and the aristocracy. This friend argues that the existence of monarchy, the aristocracy and the House of Lords in British society is absurd, unjust and outdated. Furthermore, his friend “believes that in the name of liberty and social justice they [that is the aristocracy] should be abolished.” However, Stephen Fry does not agree with his friend, on the contrary. Even though Stephen Fry is publicly known for supporting the Labour party, he actually has a much more positive view on the British aristocracy than his friend:

“I think of the monarchy and aristocracy as Britain’s bent nose. Foreigners find our ancient nonsenses distinguished, while we think them ridiculous and are determined to do something about them one day. I fear that when we do get rid of them, as I suppose we shall, we are going to let ourselves in for a psychic shock of discovering that the process has not made us one jot freer or one ounce more socially equitable a country than France, say, or the United States of America. We will remain just as we are, about as free as those countries. We are probably not quite as free at the moment (whatever free might mean) or as socially just (ditto) as the Benelux countries or Scandinavia, and as it happens, Scandinavia and the Benelux countries have monarchs. There will be great psychological damage done to us if we take the step of constitutional cosmetic alteration […] Britain would suddenly have no absurd minor blemish to blame for its failures, which are of course no more than defects of being human,” he says in Moab Is My Washpot.

Stephen Fry argues that one should maintain or even preserve one’s bent nose, both literally and metaphorically. One should not try to revolutionize one’s face as one should avoid changing society fundamentally. We will just end up with unwanted cosmetic results in both cases. Although he is a Labour supporter and an activist on human rights, he ends up being a conservative of sentiment. It is not desirable get our noses straightened in our personal lives, nor in the political constitution of a country. Mankind does not change significantly anyway. If this is the case, it is better that we accept and live with our minor defects. Our minor defects might even end up distinguishing us, as Stephen Fry’s bent nose?

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