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.