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📖 PHILIP'S BOOK REVIEWS: The Diary of a Nobody

Each month, our resident literary connoisseur, Philip, will review a book available in the shop - gear up for a unique one this time around!

Read Philip's review of "The Diary of a Nobody", by George and Weedon Grossmith:

The edition I have beside me now, and for sale at $15, appeared in 1924. Before the reader - the fortunate buyer - enters the world of this book, they can feel the pleasure of holding a 100-year-old artifact. The creamy, thick, roughly edged pages - spotted with age, of course - provide tactile and visual pleasure completely lacking in a mass-produced paperback.

Written by two brothers, "The Diary of a Nobody" by George and Weedon Grossmith originally appeared as a serial in Punch Magazine in 1892. George was an actor and Weedon an entertainer. They are famous for their creation of one of the most complex and the most simple of characters in English literature: Charles Pooter.

Charles, who works as a clerk in the city, and his wife Carrie have recently moved to a new house - ‘The Laurels’, in Holloway, London - and he is moved to have this fresh new period of their life commemorated in a daily account of their experiences. The opening, defiant words are: ‘I fail to see - because I do not happen to be a somebody - why my diary should not be interesting’. He surely did not set out to record the almost daily embarrassments, humiliations, and disappointments, but these certainly do occur, and they are what his humble pen dutifully sets down.

It would be tedious for the reader if each day was as bleak as may be implied by the last sentence, but the brothers Grossmith are too clever for that. The diary is perfectly executed. In my reading of it, they never have their man experience anything beyond what seems real and true. Though it is undeniable that the dominant atmosphere Pooter breathes is one of disappointment and humiliation, he has a warm, optimistic, excitable heart, and he and his wife love each other. He proudly relates on one occasion that they sat late into the night conversing happily about their day. He is endearing to us because he has no sense of disguising his own foolishness or his confusion and his incomprehension at their rash, impetuous, outrageous son, Lupin.

I want to take one particular event as a demonstration of the immense pleasure to be had from this book. It superbly shows Pooter and his wife’s yearning to be recognized by the upper classes.

It all begins on April 30th, when Pooter is astounded to receive an invitation in the mail from the upper echelon and his ‘heart beats like a little boy’. He declares to his wife: ‘Carrie darling, I was a proud man when I led you down the aisle of the church on our wedding day; that pride will be equalled, if not surpassed, when I lead my dear, pretty wife up to the Lord and Lady Mayoress at the Mansion House’. He impulsively seizes his wife and ‘dances a wild kind of polka’ around the kitchen table.

Attuned as the reader is by this time to the dashing of hopes, we wait, glad for his high spirits, but brace ourselves for the fall.

The diary is occupied over the next few days with preparations for the grand occasion and then the day arrives. He is too in awe to suitably describe the sight of the crowds. He does admit his pleasure is dampened when the anxious Carrie at his side says ‘Isn’t it a pity we don’t know anybody’. When he moves towards someone he thinks he recognizes, his wife seizes him by his coat-tails and cries out ‘“Don’t leave me”, which caused an elderly gentleman in a court-suit and a chain around him and two ladies to burst out laughing’.

The massive table with every kind of food is a welcome diversion for the lonely couple - it is Carrie who eats most heartily. Charles has little appetite. We may infer that Pooter is drinking a little too much champagne. Pooter tries to be an honest man in his diary - but he will not admit to downing glass after glass. All he writes is ‘I was so thirsty, I could not eat much’.

After dining, he receives a hearty slap on the shoulder and he turns, horrified, to see his ironmonger, Farmerson, who had recently come to his house to mend their scraper (an instrument just beyond the front door for people to remove dirt and mud from their shoes) - a poor job! ‘To think that a man who mends our scraper should know any member of our aristocracy’. He is being too familiar for Charles, and by way of reproof he says ‘You never sent today to paint the bath as I requested’. Farmerson says: ‘Pardon me Mr. Pooter, no shop when we’re in company, please’. Pooter can think of no suitable reply to a sharper and more telling reproof from someone he would like to think is far below him on the social ladder.

He rouses himself and makes good his promise to his wife that they dance together: ‘I hope my darling little wife will dance with me, if only for the sake of saying we had danced at the Mansion House, as guests of the Lord Mayor’. They commence to waltz. This is the grim and accurate report of what happened next:

‘A most unfortunate accident occurred. I had got on a new pair of boots. Foolishly, I had omitted to take Carrie’s advice, namely to scratch the soles of them with the points of the scissors or to put a little wet on them. I had scarcely started when, like lightning, my left foot slipped away and I came down, the side of my head striking the floor with such violence that for a second or two I did not know what had happened. I need hardly say that Carrie fell with me with equal violence, breaking the comb in her hair and striking her elbow. There was a roar of laughter, which was immediately checked when people found we had really hurt ourselves’.

That just about ended the night for the Pooters. The last act is to agree to Farmerson’s request for a lift. At home, he is perplexed by Carrie’s coolness to him, choosing to go to bed without saying goodnight.

In the entry for the following day, Charles reports that he woke with a terrible headache. He asks for an explanation of her conduct for the night before. This is when she delivers the following rebuke - a series of blows to his fragile mental state:

‘Now, I’m going to say something. After professing to snub Mr. Farmerson, you permit him to snub you, in my presence and then accept his invitation to take a glass of champagne with you and you don’t limit yourself to one glass. You then offer this vulgar man, who made a bungle of repairing our scraper, a seat in our cab on the way home. I say nothing about his tearing my dress in getting in the cab, nor of treading on Mrs. James’s expensive fan, which you knocked out of my hand, and for which he never even apologized; but you smoked all the way home without having the decency to ask my permission. That is not all! At the end of the journey, although he did not offer you a farthing towards his share of the cab, you asked him in. Fortunately, he was sober enough to detect, from my manner, that his company was desirable’.

Before this scolding can be absorbed, their friend Gowing (a regular visitor to their house) enters ‘...with two hats on his head and holding the garden rake in his hand, with Carrie’s fur tippet round his neck, and announced himself in a loud voice: “His Royal Highness, the Lord Mayor”, he marched twice around the room and noticing we took no notice said, “Hulloh! What’s up? Lover’s quarrel eh?”’ Charles and Carrie remain unamused, and Gowing says he only called around for his stick which he’d left at his last visit.

This walking stick happens to be one of the many items - including a bath, a maid’s sink, and the spines of the complete volumes of Shakespeare - that Pooter, in a craze of enthusiastic creative activity, had painted in red enamel paint. Pooter hands Gowing the stick. ‘He looked at it for a moment with a dazed expression and said: “Who did this?” I said “Eh? Did what?” He said “Did what? Why destroyed my stick! It belonged to my poor Uncle and I value it more than anything I have in the world! I’ll know who did!” I said, “I’m very sorry. I daresay it will come off. I did it for the best.” Gowing said: “Then all I can say is, it’s a confounded liberty; and I would add, you’re a bigger fool than you look, only that’s absolutely impossible”.

"The Diary of a Nobody" is available now at the Undercurrent for just $15!

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