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The Domestic Life of a Victorian Nobody: The Diary of a Nobody

“What's the good of a home, if you are never in it?”

Iphigene here.

“I fail to see—because I do not happen to be a “Somebody”—why my diary should not be interesting” – Charles Pooter

The Diary of a Nobody is by the brothers George and Weedon Grossmith. George wrote the entries, while Weedon did the artwork.  Like most Victorian Novels, we read today, Punch Magazine published The Diary of a Nobody as a serial (like Sherlock Holmes), before its editor suggested compiling the serial into a book with the said title.

Charles Pooter, the nobody of the book is an English Clerk living modestly in Holloway with his wife Carrie and their son Lupin. While there seems to be no real plot or intention to a story in this book, one cannot help but be captured by the daily activities in the Pooter’s household. I found myself thoroughly amused as I read each entry and like true British humor, it is marked with wit and dry humor.

Picking up this book, on my part, was more for finding a book to feature for this month’s Diary Special. I wanted something that didn’t involve wimpy kids or dorks. While examining the shelves of a local bookstore I saw this book under the classics and picked it up. Much to my amusement the little blurb on this being, Evelyn Waugh’s funniest book alongside the little quote on not being a somebody confirmed that this was THE book for my diary feature.

An example of a Victorian Boot Scraper

When I read chapter 1, with its daily entry on the pros and cons of having the scraper by the door, I found myself laughing my heart out. It was a tragic thing as it injured dear friends, but it was a blessing as he found a most annoying man getting himself wounded with the scraper. It was eventually removed as the injured man threatened legal action.

Almost like a sitcom, filled with comedy of errors the novel gave my heart its dose of daily laughter.

“While playing dominoes with Cummings in the parlor, he said: “By-the-by, do you want any wine or spirits? My cousin Merton has just set up in trade, and has a splendid whisky, four years in bottle, at thirty-eight shillings. It is worth your while laying down a few doze of it.” I told him my cellars, which were very small, were full up. To my horror, at that very moment, Sarah entered the room, and putting a bottle of whisky, wrapped in a dirty piece of newspaper on the table in front of us, said. “Please sir, the grocer says he ain’t got no more Kinahan, but you’ll find this very good at two-and-six with two –pence returned on the bottle [p24-26] …”

That very scene felt like it came straight out of a Friends or How I Met Your Mother episode, despite its Victorian setting and language.

Filled with domestic narrations on visits, house repairs, invitation and work; Charles Pooter’s diary entertains its reader.  I was, myself, in wonder how I felt compelled to read this book. Nothing extraordinary happens, if this were in a Jane Austen’s novel these were the entries edited out. These were too mundane and insignificant to be included in any novel. However, this book’s virtue is its perceptible flaws.

Real lives, in its ordinariness, are interesting. Charles Pooter felt like a friend telling me the most interesting things that happened to him. Like having coffee with a friend who tells you s/he came from buying some paint for his/her room when s/he met an old acquaintance. The Diary of a Nobody successfully brings to the front the most interesting thing in this world—our lives. And if anything, great comics (stand up comedians) are able to make funny the ordinary things in our lives.

Charles Pooter constantly narrates his parental woes. For most of the book I disliked Lupin in his flamboyance and immaturity, I am reminded that while we are told he is looking for professional work he is but nineteen.  As Mr. Perkupp, Charles Pooter’s boss, tells him: “There is no necessity for you to be anxious, Mr. Pooter. It would not be possible for a son of such good parents to turn out erroneously. Remember he is young and will soon get older…”

Grossmith ends the diary in the celebration of great ordinariness: “Addressing me, he [Mr.Perkkup] said: ‘My faithful servant, I will not dwell on the important service you have done our firm. You can never be sufficiently thanked….Mr. Pooter, I will purchase the freehold of that house, and present it to the most honest and most worthy man it has ever been my lot to meet.’”

The novel’s humor is in its stories as well as its characterizations. It exudes wit with the names of its characters such as Pooter’s regular visitors: Mr. Gowing and Mr. Cumming and the ever source of joy of a boss called Mr. Perkkupp. It even entertains the modern reader with its introduction of the ‘new fashion’ in Victorian England with games such as Pin the donkey’s tail and vanities such as manicuring one’s nails. The Diary of a Nobody is a celebration of daily life. While not a page turner, it successfully engages the reader and prods you to go on. If anything, I was a happy reader until the last page.

The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith

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