Monday 25 May 2009

Respectability and insipidness

W.E. Williams, the editor of my copy of George and Weedon Grossmith's The Diary of a Nobody, before I began reading this novel, informed me that unless I was British and middle-class, I couldn't possibly understand or appreciate the incredible hilarity of the book I held in my hands.

With that stern warning in mind, I proceeded to find this book to be entirely unfunny, even though I "got" quite a number of the jokes. Either Williams is remarkably prescient OR his irritating pride in the specificity and insularity of British comic fiction put me off too much for me to even contemplate enjoying myself.

For not enjoy it I did, maybe not intensely, but entirely. I found The Diary of a Nobody to be generally quite boring, even when I found myself thinking, "Oh yes, the Grossmiths are now sending up middle-class pretenders to Society and this is why diary-writer Pooter's present faux pas is amusing."

Besides Williams' either prophecy or command about colonials like myself being incapable of enjoying The Diary of a Nobody, I think I was also put off because Pooter was unbearably conservative and un-ironic, very much like a few real people I've met over the years and couldn't abide. For me, I think realism when combined with a satirical humour (even a gentle one, as this book evinced) must not be too real - otherwise, I stop enjoying what I'm reading and begin thinking about how I'd like to punch hyper-earnest So-and-So in the neck if I ever have the misfortune of running into them again.

Nonetheless, I am doubly disappointed, for on top of not enjoying this book, it has shattered my notion that the Victorian period presented a literature sans crap - for indeed, this is the first Victorian novel I have failed to very much enjoy. This is a sad day, my friends.


raych said...

An era of excessive Awesome has been sadly tainted.


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I found this book funnier than you did - I'm happy to laugh at a dumb gag about red paint in a bathtub - but basically I'm on your side. When I see people rave about this book I sometimes wonder if they have forgotten everything but the red bathtub. It's a shallow book.

Now about that Victorian thing - that was just exaggeration, right? Either way, may I direct your attention to Florence: Or, the Aspirant?

Bookphilia said...

raych: Did you intend to make your comment into a haiku or was that just an accidental sign of how kick-ass you are?

Amateur Reader: Yes, it is a shallow book. If I could just have summed it up so succinctly myself...

As for Florence: Given that it was published in 1829 and Victoria didn't ascend the throne until 1837, I don't think this novel can truly be considered Victorian. Please, let me believe that the Victorian era produced only one novel I won't like, and that I've already read it. I've only read about 20 Victorian novels, it's true, but I want to keep the crap quotient at a near impossible minimum!

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

If The Little Professor says it's Victorian, then I'll call it Victorian. She's the credentialed professional.

Oh, wait, you're also a credentialed professional. Now what do I do?

Heidenkind said...

I have never even heard of this book, in all honesty, but it sounds like something along the lines of Babbitt--which one of my professors swore was a satire. =/ Apparently, there's a totally un-funny brand of satire out there and I wasn't informed?