Friday, 27 July 2012

Diary of a Nobody (George and Weedon Grossmith)

--The blurb--
"Mr Pooter's diary is a faithful record of the daily grind in respectable suburbia and the city office. It tells of his constant war against insolent tradesmen and impudent junior clerks, his incomprehensible son Lupin, and his over-whelming feeling that the biggest joke is on him."

--The review-- 
Many twenty-first century comedians take delight in poking fun at the average Joe: stand-up artist Bill Bailey, for example, uses one delightful couple, Clive and Beryl Pocock, as the exaggerated epitome of Mr and Mrs Average (who enjoy shopping at Asda and are overwhelmed by pipe cleaners and tea breaks). Some even make it the basis of their entire comedic oeuvre, with Sue Townsend satirising your run-of-the-mill geeky teen in the Adrian Mole series and Ricky Gervais emphasising his main character David Brent's over-inflated sense of self-importance in The Office. 

But these modern comedians weren't the first by any means to latch on to this concept, and while the idea likely goes back many thousands of years to the times of ancient Greek and Roman comedy, another excellent example can be found in the annals of nineteenth-century literature, in the form of George and Weedon Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody, which was originally serialised in satirical paper Punch with illustrations by Weedon. It seems that the brothers' talents for endless, as when they weren't penning this comic novel, they were busy in other comic avenues: George in working closely with musical comedy writers Gilbert and Sullivan, and Weedon performing as a comic actor.

This history of comic experience and expertise is apparent in the tightly-executed and humour-filled Diary of a Nobody. The 1892 epistolary novel focuses on the activity of Charles Pooter and his family, and we are soon drawn in to the minutiae of their day-to-day lives and Pooter's preoccupation with his social standing - without being so drawn in that we are unable to laugh. A careful balance is struck between predictability (we know when Lupin comes back home to live that it will all go horribly wrong) and keeping the reader in the dark (just what is Lupin hiding?), although arguably not all issues raised are satisfactorily resolved or explained.

The plot of the novel is well-controlled by its authors, and by just sticking to a few characters and giving them strong personalities (the execrable Cummings and Gowing, the flamboyant Lupin, the simpering Carrie, the embarrassing Daisy, and the dignified Mr Perkupp), the writers ensure a memorable read. They are also occasionally self-referential, with Pooter seeming baffled by his son's interest in the song "See Me Dance The Polka" - a song in fact written by George Grossmith himself. At the end of the novel, the door is left wide open for another sequel whereby hilarity could easily ensue; lamentably, the Grossmith brothers never did write a follow-up to Diary of a Nobody. Nonetheless, it is easy to see why so many film and stage adaptations of this work have been made over the years, and why so many modern comedians have been - and will continue to be - inspired by this seminal work of classic comedy.

Other works by George Grossmith
A Society Clown (Reminiscences) (1888) 
Piano and I: Further Reminiscences (1910)

Other work by Weedon Grossmith
From Studio to Stage (1913)

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