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Charmed, I'm Sure
on 29 December 2009
If pushed to describe Jillian Venters's book in a single adjective, it would, appropriately enough, be 'charming', but it did make me thank God for the invention of personal pronouns. Replacing Mrs Venters's soubriquet 'The Lady of the Manners' with the good old Anglo-Saxon 'I' would cut a good few pages off the book; and the designation of those of us resident in the Gothic demi-monde as 'Snarklings' wades so far into the twee that I couldn't help recalling Dorothy Parker's great review of "The House at Pooh Corner", the one where 'Tonstant Weader fwows up'. Look it up, Snark - argh, she's got me at it now!
Well. The archness of "Gothic Charm School" obviously follows those etiquette columns in the ladies' magazines of yesteryear which were the model for the original website, and is all one with Mrs Venters's campaign to nudge Goth into a movement for the revival of Good Manners in society. This is a Good Thing, and clearly makes much sense in the US where departure from the sunny-delight norm can sometimes be seen as undermining the whole of society, even if things don't seem quite so polarised this side of the Atlantic. Goth is not a threat, says Mrs Venters, and tries to encourage her readers to be non-threatening. The book is obviously aimed at young folk venturing into the Goth world (or who fondly imagine they know all about it), and broadly speaking the writing falls into two categories: advice on personal interaction both within Gotherie and with those outside it, and practical tips on Gothic living ('The Basics of Assembling a Gothy Wardrobe', for instance). It's the sort of thing which everyone thinks is obvious, but which actually isn't until you learn from bitter experience or have someone tell you; advice from your aunt for those perhaps ill-inclined to listen to their real aunts, or whose real aunts are ill-prepared to give it. Even I, years ago, could have done with somebody pointing out to me the niceties of cufflinks and collar studs, and the subtle distinctions of trilby, fedora and homburg (not that Mrs V goes into such Chappish territory).
While nothing substantial in literary terms, "Gothic Charm School" is lighthearted and fun, and will do some people good. I'm reminded of the story of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band being arraigned at the US border; on being challenged by the border cop to say what, if they didn't have any guns or knives, they were going to defend themselves with, Vivian Stanshall called out from the back of the van 'With good manners, my man'. Take that to heart, Snark - oh, drat.