Wednesday, May 13, 2009
From the Shelves of the Paco Library
Close observers of this blog’s content, shrewdly reading between the lines and drawing plausible inferences from the scattered clues, will have noticed that there is a slight tendency toward humor at Paco Enterprises. Mixed in with the gripping drama, the high-flying political rhetoric, the images of the botanical milieu of the Paco Command Center, readers will occasionally come across an example of what is generally known as “the lighter side.” It is simply not to be helped. As the fellow once said to Dr. Johnson, no matter how depressed he got from time to time, cheerfulness kept breaking in. And, indeed, it is hard not to cast a roving eye about the world and see the essential comedy that springs from the yawning gulf between what we think we are, and what we actually are (one frequently doesn’t have to glance any farther than the nearest mirror).
So, as an act of homage to those writers who have succeeded in making us smile (and sometimes laugh out loud), I present The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose. Edited by the late Frank Muir, the book includes a generous selection of comic writing from novels, short stories, letters and magazine essays, and runs the gamut of authors from William Caxton (England’s first printer of books) to Kingsley Amis. Both English and American writers are represented, and among the authors one would expect to find – Laurence Stern, Tobias Smollet, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, P.G. Wodehouse – there are some surprises, including Edgar Allen Poe.
Most of the passages are fairly long and don’t lend themselves easily to quotation, but here are a couple of items. The first is a brief extract from a short story by Saki (H.H. Munro) called “Tobermory”, about a cat who is taught to speak at a weekend house-party.
“What do you think of human intelligence?” asked Mavis Pellington lamely.
“Of whose intelligence in particular?” asked Tobermory coldly.
“Oh, well, mine for instance,” said Mavis, with a feeble laugh.
“You put me in an embarrassing position,” said Tobermory, whose tone and attitude certainly did not suggest a shred of embarrassment. “When your inclusion in this house-party was suggested Sir Wilfred protested that you were the most brainless woman of his acquaintance, and that there was a wide distinction between hospitality and the care of the feeble-minded. Lady Blemley replied that your lack of brain-power was the precise quality which had earned you your invitation, as you were the only person she could think of who might be idiotic enough to buy their old car. You know, the one they call ‘the envy of Sisyphus’, because it goes quite nicely up-hill if you push it.”
And from the (frequently vicious) “diary” of Auberon Waugh, a series appearing in the satirical magazine, Private Eye, comes this entry for September 21, 1981:
“Last night, unable to sleep for worrying about badgers, I watched Glenda Jackson in Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers. Hideous women, dreadful film. One can’t really blame Tchaikowsky for preferring boys. Anybody might become a homosexualist who had once seen Glenda Jackson naked.
Since she has been kind enough to show it to us, I must remark that she has a most unusual configuration in her pubic hair. It seems to grow in a narrow tuft, like the hairstyle of the Last of the Mohicans. I wonder if Ms. Jackson has any Red Indian blood. If so, it might explain why there are no more Mohicans.”
At well over a thousand pages, this is an excellent sampler of some of the best in humorous writing, and I have browsed through the volume with much pleasure; it was also a good source for discovering authors with whom I was unfamiliar, but whose works I now want to delve into at greater length.