rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
[personal profile] nineweaving reminded me that I wanted to read this. (And I am now vaguely wondering how much Beerbohm has influenced her own style.)

It's a collection of short pieces, each written in a parody of the style of a famous author of Beerbohm's day (the book came out in 1912). Each author is writing a Christmas story.

The whole thing is a work of sheer, desperate genius. Even if you aren't familiar with the writer being skewered, Beerbohm's style is so illuminatingly bitchy that you know perfectly well what mode of thing the original must have been. You can also tell, sometimes, that the original must have been good, which doesn't take out the sting at all. The writers I was familiar with-- Kipling, Conrad, Henry James, a few others-- well, it's the sort of parody that makes you shake your head ruefully and say, yes, I have to admit that that is true, even though I may like the work.

Here, for instance, is Beerbohm's Henry James:

It was with the sense of a, for him, very memorable something that he peered now into the immediate future, and tried, not without compunction, to take that period up where he had, prospectively, left it. But just where the deuce had he left it? The consciousness of dubiety was, for our friend, not, this morning, quite yet clean-cut enough to outline the figures on what she had called his "horizon," between which and himself the twilight was indeed of a quality somewhat intimidating.

I have to admit, this has always been pretty much my experience of reading Henry James. The protagonist of this story is a small child lying in bed and trying to figure out whether his sister has peeped into her Christmas stocking early, although it took me some work to determine that.

A couple of these, mind you, stand entirely on their own account, as stories, and can just be read that way. The Arnold Bennett, for example, is both a scathing indictment of the novel of manners and a silly little romance conducted entirely through idiosyncratic customs native to the town in which the characters live. The Maurice Hewlett is a crossdressing theatrical misunderstanding set in Edwardian times (that is, modern to Beerbohm) but told in every way as though it were a medieval romance, with the highest pseudo-Malory language imaginable. The Edmund Gosse is a piece of inveterate namedropping in which the protagonist claims to have gotten Browning and Ibsen into the same room of a Venetian palazzo at Christmas-- they hated each other, of course, hilariously, and the protagonist works five or seven other famous names into his explanations about why.

And the Hilaire Belloc I kind of want to frame and put up on the wall, if only for the following poetic interlude: Cut for length. )

That is, at one and the same time, the type-pattern of a certain kind of folksong I ran into often among sincere people in my youth, and of a certain kind of folksong produced by a certain kind of writer who would like to have become famous among those sincere people, and of a certain kind of fantasy novel which I have also encountered rather more often than seems entirely reasonable. And yet at the same time it has actual rhythm hovering around the edges, because Beerbohm would like you to know that he can if he wants to, he just doesn't want to. I would cheerfully read an entire novel's worth of that. Probably hurt myself laughing.

At any rate, if you like this sort of thing, and I hope the excerpts tell you whether you do, this is the sort of thing you would like, and should not be put off from by not getting the references. This is after all the era in which you can look them all up in thirty seconds in another tab as you read the book on Project Gutenberg anyway, she says, now that she knows who in hell G.S. Street was. I enjoyed this profoundly and dramatically. I mean, you should see the H.G. Wells piece, in which Wells cites himself, with footnotes, eight separate times. Comedy gold.


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March 2017

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