The Diary of a Nobody by George & Weedon Grossmith
These notes are not full - you will have to do your own research & thinking - all I have done is sketch out some ideas and put together a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. Written in 1888 and originally published in episodic form in Punch Magazine, this is a comic novel of Victorian manners, described by J B Priestley as 'true humour...with its mixture of absurdity, irony and affection..' Publishing fiction in episodes was a common feature of Victorian literature. Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle both published their work in magazines, as did many other writers of the time. The 'Diary of a Nobody' ran from 1888 -89 in the popular satirical magazine 'Punch' and became a huge success. The authors were brothers, George and Weedon Grossmith. George was probably the main writer and his brother Weedon drew the illustrations. The content, however, is very probably a 'joint effort', for it satirises many Victorian attitudes and values and since both men had careers in the performing arts, it is entirely probable that they collaborated on the creation of the hapless Charles Pooter and his family. The form of the novel is interesting, and very topical for a contemporary Victorian audience, used to reading accounts of 'famous lives' written in the form of lengthy journals and often published by so-called 'vanity presses' (the authors would pay the printers to publish their work). Charles Pooter, the 'Nobody' of the title, is a middle aged clerk who lives in North London in the late 1880's. He decides to keep a diary of his life and assures the reader at the outset that he 'fails to see - because I do not happen to be a Somebody - why my diary should not be interesting.' The Grossmith brothers are obviously satirising an affectation which they (and probably many others) found quite pompous and arrogant. Pooter is definitely not a 'Somebody' - he is a very ordinary man with a very tedious and ordinary existence in a London suburb, but he has an immense amount of self importance, which is the character trait in other writers which the Grossmiths are satirising in this novel. It would be reasonable to assume that Pooter's diary would reveal him to be a thoroughly odious character, but the opposite is true. Pooter is one of the most sympathetic and enduring characters of British comic fiction, described in the Daily Telegraph in 1996 as a 'moral archetype' and a 'decent fellow'. (Just to be fair, though, the Guardian described the character as a 'crashing bore'!) Have a think about target audiences for each paper and you might get some ideas about what Pooter 'stands for' as far as readers are concerned. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary terms defines satire in a modest entry that runs to five closely printed sides, but you need to have an idea of what satire is to get to grips with this book and with 'Adrian Mole' (coming soon on a different page near you) so I'll condense what the Penguin says if I can. What the Penguin says:
Satire is a 'sort of glass (as in a mirror) wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own' - Jonathan Swift. A satirist is a 'guardian of standards, ideals and truths' someone who tries to correct, criticise or ridicule the stupid things in society, so that they are highlighted and so that others can feel contempt and laugh at them. In other words, a satirist lets you see what is silly or ridiculous or wrong with the world we live in by making it laughable. Satire is a form of protest, in other words. If you are confused, then try thinking of satire as a 'send-up' of something. By 'sending it up' the satirist shows the audience how 'wrong' (stupid, silly, cruel, unjust.....)it is. Satire can be gentle, or it can be incisive and savage, it all depends on the satirist and how passionate he feels about the standard, ideal or truth he is 'guarding'.
The Grossmiths satirise many things in Victorian society, but their satire is, on the...
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