Q From Alex Hopkins, Melbourne, Australia: A clue in the Times crossword, published recently down under, was “doubly funny middle-class stories”. The answer was agasagas (a gas, a gas and Aga sagas). Many of us down here know that an Aga is a battleship stove favoured by posh country folk in the UK. But what about Aga saga? Does that expression have currency with you?
A Indeed it does. It's quite common, though its heyday has perhaps now passed.
Let's start by filling out the story of the Aga for those who have never heard of it. Like many good things in Britain, the Aga is actually Swedish. It was invented by Gustaf Dalén in 1922 as what turned out to be the culmination of the long history of the kitchen range. It's named after the firm that manufactured it, the Svenska Aktiebolaget Gasaccumulator. Literally weighing a ton, fuelled by coke, superbly insulated and extremely efficient, they were ideal for the larger kitchen, especially in farmhouses, in which lots of cooking jobs had to be carried out throughout the day. It's the kitchen equivalent of the Rolls-Royce, solid, dependable, and reassuringly expensive, and it became a token of a prosperous, conservative, countrified, middle-class lifestyle.
The term Aga saga was invented in 1992 by Terence Blacker in an article in Publishing News to describe a class of novels based in middle-class country or village families. The classic exponent of the genre, for whom the name was coined, is Joanna Trollope, though she hates it. She was quoted in an article in the Independent in March 2005, as saying, “I am fairly tired of such an inaccurate and patronising tag”, pointing out that the Aga featured in only two of her twelve novels.