Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Diary of a Nobody, by George and Weedon Grossmith

I re-read this mini gem recently, actually while sick on my birthday. Barry Humpries was a big fan of this novel of middle class Victorian life, and if memory serves me right, drew links between it and his character Sandy Stone.

It's a short book, with lots of illustrations. If you're a fast reader I dare say you could knock it over in a couple of hours.

Obviously, the book is written in the form of a diary. The main character, Charles Pooter, writes down all the minute details of his daily life. But he is at odds with the world. A decent, respectable middle class man, who has worked for some 2o years as an office clerk, he finds himself being continually affronted by a crass, boorish world. Add to this his go-getter son, Lupin, a typical example of a younger generation not paying its due respect to the older generation.

Poor Charles Pooter. One day he comes home and triumphantly announces he's been given a raise of 100 pounds a year. He tells his son, 'See what can happen after 20 years of faithful service.' Lupin is of course totally dismissive. He's been working as a stock jobber - a totally dodgy business - and informs his father that on the same day he made 200 pounds on a good speculation!

Near the end of the novel, after having witnessed so many get ahead not through hard work but through wheeling and dealing, Charles Pooter almost seems to lose faith in the capitalist system - very much to his own dismay.

'On the way home in the carriage, for the first time in my life, I was inclined to indulge in the radical thought that money was NOT properly divided. '

This is hilarious. Could he be tempted by communism? Hardly. Good fortune eventually comes his way when his boss pays off the mortgage on his house, and the Pooters live happily every after.

Besides offerning many chuckles, this novel gives a great look into middle-class English life - the day to day life of house improvements, food, bike riding etc. etc. It demonstrates that the differences between generations - rebellious children against conservative parents - are as old as the hills. The Diary of a Nobody hasn't dated in the 100 or so years since it was published.

Charles Pooter may be continually 5 minutes behind the times, but you can't help but love him enormously for his basic decency and goodness - a bit like Ned Flanders out of the Simpsons.

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