Going off-piste is about pursuing private passions. Mine include two eminent Victorian and Edwardian gentlemen, suitably whiskered, fond of wearing three-piece tweed suits and spats – although surely not together. They are seemingly the very antithesis of ardour and are more or less overlooked today: Alfred Edward Housman and Edward William Elgar. Last year marked the sesquicentenary of Housman’s birth, and it passed without pomp and circumstance; and notwithstanding the popularity of the tune of the same name at the Last Night of the Proms, few today associate Elgar with the piece. The two men originate from the same corner of the Welsh Marches where the counties of Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire meet, were born within a few miles of each other, and died at the same age. But as far as I can gather from the biographies I have devoured, they lived oblivious of each other. Sociology is obsessed with outsiders. As the Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman once said, the discipline finds itself at home in the world of hipsters, drug addicts, jazz musicians, night people, drifters, grafters and skid-row denizens: “It prefers the offbeat to the familiar, the standpoint of the hip outsider to the dull insider.” I disagree, or at least I believe this no longer applies. It is not people on the margins of society who are more interesting but those who transgress its boundaries; those who do not fit because they transcend rather than live outside convention.
more from John D. Brewer at THE here.