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Diary of a Nobody [1888-89 in Punch] by George and Weedon Grossmith,
This review is from: The Diary of a Nobody (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
Being at the time of your life when you realise that you will never be a rock star president of the world who drives around in the largest fire engine known to mankind is probably conducive to liking this little novel.
Charles Pooter is a lower- middle class late-victorian, a bank clerk. He has realised he is not a somebody and is content with it. It is also the quintessential book for people who write opinions that are seldom ever read "for the diary makes the man, where would Evelyn and Pepys be without their diaries" Pooter tells us. Of course one cannot take the novel too seriously, it is after all a fictional diary in which Pooter spends most of his time explaining his terrible marriage and his obsession with making a good joke. It seems that a hundred years ago humour was the easiest way up the slope of social mobility.
Pooter's thoughts on "Spiritual séances" are funny, as are his run ins with trades people and the general tone of the book is light hearted. It is The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club for people who have neither the time nor the ears for the Pickwickians. We have, in Diary of a Nobody then a middle class lament that, like the protagonist, thinks himself more witty than funny, more allegorical than sarcastic. Of course his intention to appear this way does not work and we are stuck feeling like we are missing out on some big joke. That brings me to the central problem of this book. It's not as funny as it should be.
The reason that Pickwick Papers is funny is the same reason that 100 years later Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is funny. Continuous prose is funnier than a diary, a diary is funnier than blank verse or iambic tetrameter it's true, but only just. The reason that a diary is not funny is that on the scale of the use of words, with at one end information and the other end the aesthetic, a diary leans towards information and we are rarely tickled by that.
The aesthetic is funnier, which is what makes nonsense poetry funny. However, too much eccentricity tends to alienate the reader and using words purely for their own poetic attributes strays too far in to avante garde to be likeable. Therefore we must have some degree of information to make a connection and like the character or situation we are going to find humorous. We can then pick up on an aesthetic or esoteric detail to laugh at, this is the job of the narrator and that is why continuous prose is funnier than a diary. Quite frankly, we need a third person picking up on funny details that are unexpected and make us laugh. Immersing oneself in a diary does not do this because the majority of the time we find others funny, not ourselves, so therefore we need a distance between the person making the joke and us. A distance like this is not obtainable in first person diaries.
This is why when we read Diary of a Nobody we constantly feel on the edge of a joke, we want to laugh at Charles Pooter and his situation but the style keeps us too attached to him. We see things from his point of view through the style of a diary and therefore laughing at his problems seems too masochist for us to be rolling in the aisles.
Therefore, we can note that comedy writing is clearly an auter's medium and this is why Dickens and Adams excel. Diary of a Nobody is not a bad book, it is not a great book, it is simply a failed experiment with first person farce.
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Initial post: 12 Jun 2013 10:53:36 BDT
Mrs. J. M. Stephen says:
'The reason that Pickwick Papers is funny is the same reason that 100 years later Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is funny.' Hadn't realised 'hitchhikers' was written 100 years ago, how well it has aged!
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