One of the best things about taking part in the Victorian Literature Challenge is that it has made me aware that the scope of Victorian literature is much wider than I had previously anticipated. It isn’t just doorstop sized books featuring worthy governesses, scheming gentlemen and the deserving poor; there’s also a lot of slimmer, sillier volumes which are genuinely good fun. The Diary of a Nobody was originally serialised in Punch magazine and so definitely falls into the latter category. When I stumbled upon this delightful little hardcover 1940′s edition, complete with dust jacket and containing all the original illustrations, in my local Oxfam bookshop it had to come home with me.
As the title suggests, the book is a fictionalised diary of fifteen months in the life of an ordinary man . Mr Charles Pooter is a middle class man, living in a typical London suburb, who works at a bank. As he goes about his daily life, his aspirations are constantly frustrated by his troubles with his workmates, his layabout son, the tradespeople and the blasted scraper outside his door.
The aspect of this book that I enjoyed best was definitely Mr Pooter himself. In spite of his pompous manner, his ineffectual nature, his jokes that fall flat and his highly inflated opinion of himself, I found him somehow endearing. I rarely sympathised with him, he often frustrated me, but I liked him nonetheless. His ill-advised notions (perhaps most delightfully deciding to paint everything with red enamel paint, leading to a rather bloody-looking bath after it dissolves in the hot water) often had me giggling. His constantly frustrated narration is rather entertaining:
By-the-by, I will never choose another cloth pattern at night. I ordered a new suit of dittos for the garden at Edwards’, and chose the pattern by gaslight, and they seemed to be a quiet pepper-and-salt mixture with white stripes down. They came home this morning, and, to my horror, I found it was quite a flash-looking suit. There was a lot of green with bright yellow-coloured stripes.
I tried on the coat, and was annoyed to find Carrie giggling. She said: “What mixture did you say you asked for?”
I said: “A quiet pepper-and-salt.”
Carrie said: “Well, it looks more like mustard, if you want to know the truth.”
How interesting that the Victorians evidently said “pepper and salt” instead of “salt and pepper” as I always hear it nowadays. The things you learn from books.
I also appreciated the fact that not every entry was intended to be funny, which made it feel more like a real diary, with someone just recording the mundane things that had happened that day. Often these entries provided build up to an amusing anecdote, but it nonetheless adds a flavour of realism to an otherwise comic novel.
Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith, illustrated by Weedon Grossmith. Published by Pan, 1947, pp. 171. Originally published in 1892