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.
There's a good site on the book at the
following link, done by Peter Morton. Click to get there, but remember to come
back here as well. It opens in a separate window.
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 whole, quite gentle. They poke fun at self-important people, like Pooter himself, but as we have said, mainly at the pompous 'Somebodies' and their tedious diaries. They also 'send up' Victorian fashions and trends, like cycling (Cummings's life seems to revolve around the 'Bicycle News'), spiritualism and Aestheticism (we'll deal with them in more detail later). The Diary is also a detailed portrait of the Victorian class system and it is here that we may see a slightly more pointed satirical purpose. The snobbishness of the suburban middle class and the new trend towards financial speculation and consumerism are sharply satirised in Pooter's dealings with 'tradesmen' and in Lupin's relationships with Murray Posh and Daisy Mutlar and his wheeling and dealing on the stock market.
You may still use the term, although it's probably better to talk about the 'narrative' or the 'narrative structure' for this exam, because it gives a wider scope for you to consider not only what happens (the events) but also how the writer chooses to present the events.
The events of Charles Pooter's life, recorded in his diary are very mundane indeed. He is a clerk, working in a London office (we never find out exactly what business the office does, but it is not really important that we are told, because almost all the events Pooter recounts happen outside the office and involve work only peripherally). At the start of the diary, Pooter has moved into a new house in Holloway. At the time of writing, Holloway was a 'suburb' of London - now it is part of what we would call the 'inner city'. We are given details of his daily life over a period of 15 months, from April 3rd 1888 to July 3rd 1889 and a very banal, tedious and unimaginative life it is. Pooter records the routines of work and home and a number of social events he and his family and friends attend. There are many embarrassing mishaps but they are all trivial in the extreme, e.g. dropping his bow tie over the balcony at the theatre and falling over while dancing with Carrie at the mayor's ball.
Pooter's world is comfortable and his mishaps are caused by ordinary situations. There is no mention of political events or any specific current events of the time. The 'action' of the story occupies a very narrow canvas of inner London suburbs (Peckham, Muswell Hill, Holloway) with one excursion to Broadstairs for the family's annual holiday. Pooter has small ambitions, being asked to take round the collection plate at church is a very important thing to him, for example. His greatest ambition is to have his son working in the same office as he does - 'following in his footsteps'. The novel is also set in a very tight class system, with Pooter's boss, Mr Perkupp well and truly 'above' Pooter and the tradesmen and servants (in Pooter's eyes at least) well and truly 'below' Pooter. It is a stable and very narrow world. (We will deal later in more detail with events chapter by chapter)
He is a contradiction - vain, naive, prim, mean,
pompous, gullible, snobbish and conceited but at the same time hard-working,
loyal, decent and honest. Pooter is desperate to be thought of as witty and
sophisticated ( a 'Somebody') but is really gauche and very clumsy. His friends
delight in playing jokes on him and he is the butt of the young clerks in his
office, who throw balls of paper at him when his back is turned. His wife, the
long-suffering Carrie (not very well defined in the novel) sometimes finds him
irritating, but also seems to value his loyalty and devotion to her and Lupin.
(Lupin is a little more impatient but there is still a strong indication that he
thinks well of the 'old man'.) Pooter never does anything dishonest or criminal
and his family and boss think he is a 'good man'. Despite his mistakes and his
pomposity, the reader warms to him as the novel progresses. He is quite a
stereotypical 'patsy' and you could note that the Grossmiths use a recognisable
theatrical device here - the buffoon or clown figure of farce - the character
who always ends up in a compromising situation, or whose trousers fall down in
public. This type of character on the stage almost always has the public's
affection (think of Charlie Chaplin, who is a classic 'clown/buffoon) and it is
the same with Pooter. We laugh at him, but sympathise with him at the same time.
The authors use classic 'foils' for Pooter in the form of the family characters and a variety of friends and acquaintances, although the only fully developed character is Pooter's son, Willy (who decides to change his name to 'Lupin' when he comes home from his job in Oldham.)
Lupin's characteristics are the exact opposite to those of his father Charles. He is feckless and unreliable moving from job to job, enjoying a very hectic social life and joining an amateur theatrical company called the 'Holloway Comedians' (a stage career was thought to be very 'fast' and not at all respectable in Victorian times). He has a casual attitude to life and money and his habits are a constant source of worry to Pooter and Carrie. Lupin is a spendthrift, while his father is tight-fisted. Lupin is disrespectful of 'form' his father is painfully conventional about it. Lupin does not want a 'safe' place in society and is not content to work (as his father has done) for a long time in the same place for a small salary. In short, Lupin embodies the young man 'on the make' and both Victorian and contemporary twenty first century audiences would recognise the type very easily. Lupin is looking forward to the new century - his father and mother are firmly rooted in the old. The values of the last decade of the 19th century were 'perversity, artificiality, egoism and curiosity' according to a writer of the time (W Le Gallienne) and Lupin embodies them all. Read what Mr Huttle, the American dinner guest says to Pooter at the dinner party (chapter 20) and see how much Lupin belongs to the world Huttle describes than the one inhabited by his father.
The Diary as a form of satire
The form of the diary is that of 'mocking (making fun of) folly (foolishness)'. The humour comes from the hero's reaction to his situations, not from the readers' delight at the things that happen to him. (You could use the German word schadenfreude, i.e. delight in the misfortune of other people) We don't, as readers, feel schadenfreude, we don't delight in the misfortunes, we delight in the reactions Pooter has to them. We laugh at the blunders, not the man. We sympathise with him, we don't feel happy that he's suffering.
Satirisation of Victorian trends (more detail)
Pooter & Carrie move in to a rented house in Holloway 'our new house'. Note the grandiose name 'The Laurels' contrasted with the 'cracked wall' at the back, caused by the railway. Pooter uses clichés 'Home Sweet Home' and a very formal register and lofty tone, but humour established straight away with ref's to the mundane tasks Pooter does 'with his pipe in his mouth'. Note also the instalment system to pay for the Collard & Collard piano ('on the three years system') and the long list of things wrong with the building (the bells, the scraper and so on).
We are introduced to the tradesmen who feature regularly in the text as irritants or opponents of Pooter - we see Pooter's condescending attitude to them and their cheeky exploitation of him. They are not 'gentlemen' (by implication Pooter considers himself to be a 'gentleman', of course, although the reader sees straight away that he is not)
His concerns are mundane and quite endearing. His ambition is to take the collection plate round in church and to find a way to make the stair carpet fit the stairs and grow some mustard and cress in his tiny garden.
The scraper continues to be a nuisance and P has a fight with the butcher. Note the archaism 'blackguard' and the verb form use 'he blackguarded me'. The mustard & cress 'doesn't come up' and the staircase has to be painted completely (a typical con trick by the painter, but Pooter doesn't realise it.)
Introduced to friends Cummings and Gowing and the Sunday walk illustrates Pooter's naivety - he tells the truth about how far they have walked but the others lie and are let in to the pub for a drink. (Sunday licensing laws only allowed drinks to be served to travellers if they had walked more than three miles)
One of the cohesion devices is Pooter's use of puns - he thinks they are very funny, but they are only funny because they are in fact very bad - they occur all through the narrative, as do the times Pooter is misled or deceived by unscrupulous tradesmen. Ironically they always get the better of him when he assumes he is superior to them.
The wine merchant, a friend of Cummings called Merton, cons Pooter into buying a dozen bottles of very expensive whisky on credit and promises free theatre tickets. When Pooter uses the tickets to treat friends to an evening out (Mr & Mrs James of Sutton) they are not accepted and Mr James is forced to pay for the whole outing. Pooter is (not for the first or last time in the novel) 'humiliated' and matters are made worse when he loses his bow tie when leaning over the edge of the theatre box. The chapter ends with the ludicrous painting of large areas of the house and contents with red enamel paint. Following this with black enamel, Pooter paints a series of other objects, including his friend Gowing's walking stick to make it look like 'ebony', then takes a hot bath and thinks he's bleeding to death when the water turns red as the paint washes off.
The Lord Mayor's Ball is Pooter's big chance to enter 'Society'. His reaction is ludicrous, as is Carrie's (she sends the invitation to her mother to 'look at'). Preparations are beset by crisis and a farcical incident with the greengrocer's boy, who causes Pooter to fall over a cabbage, tear his trousers, cut his head and dirty his evening shirt. In addition the greengrocer's boy threatens to 'summons' (sue) Pooter for 'boxing his ears' (hitting him). Matters go from bad to worse at the Ball, when Carrie is terrified of everyone and Pooter drinks far too much champagne. Farmerson, the ironmonger, shocks Pooter by knowing the 'sheriff' ('our aristocracy' - note Pooter's snobbishness) and during a waltz, Pooter falls over, dragging his wife down with him. Although he blames the incident on slippery shoes, it is obvious to the reader that he has had far too much to drink. Farmerson humiliates him again by telling him that he is 'too old for this game' and then attaches himself for a 'lift home' at the end of the night.
Again the reader knows the reason for Pooter's 'headache' is a hangover, as does his wife, but our unreliable narrator insists it is the 'lobster mayonnaise'. The incident of the missed out name on the guest list in the local paper causes Pooter to write to the editor and the editor to retaliate by deliberately misspelling the name twice. ('Porter' and 'Pewter'). Reader finds out the real events of the Ball from Carrie's speech (page 50) - the broken (borrowed) fan, the torn dress and Carrie's dislike of Farmerson.
Gower is so angry about the 'ebony' painted walking stick that Pooter has to replace it with a brand new expensive one - again he is cheated when he finds out that the stick was not an heirloom, but a cheap thing. Carrie leaves him and stays away for ten days. Note the writers' skill here - we are never told anything 'bad' in this diary - the narrator 'glosses over' events he does not want us to know the truth about so the reader has to detect the details for himself, which adds to the humour.
The social evening at Cummings's house is amusing - note the typical Victorian entertainment round the piano. Pooter's social pretensions continue with his supper invitation to the 'swell' (fashionable gentleman) Mr Franching and the disastrous domestic situation at home with the mutton 'turned' (gone bad) in the hot weather and Pooter having to rush out to buy three chops.
It is clear that domestic squabbles occur quite often, mostly brought on by Pooter's lack of tact. The preparations for the annual holiday to Broadstairs illustrate how little dress sense Pooter has and also how often he seems to be let down by tailors. He has no choice about when he takes his holiday and the landlady cancels the rooms at the last minute so he has to delay by a week.
The introduction of Willie, the Pooters' only son. He provides the main contrast to the central character, being the antithesis of his father - a 'new' man (see comments earlier). Again we are misled by the narrator, who seems to be completely unaware of his son's faults. As far as Pooter is concerned, Willie is a 'fine young man' but it is obvious that he is mistaken. Note Willie's demotic register and the way that he uses slang that his father doesn't understand - also see the way that Willie refers to his boss in Oldham (a 'cad' - archaic lexis again) and compare it to the way Pooter refers to Mr Perkupp. The change of name is interesting, too. Willie rejects his original name and adopts his middle name of 'Lupin', signalling a change in attitude and direction and in a way throwing off the values and outdated influences of his past. In future he will be 'his own man' (my quotes, there) and the name he chooses to use is very pretentious indeed. This fits his character as the book progresses, for 'Lupin' proceeds to become a pretentious (and ironically very successful) young entrepreneur.
The family holiday to Broadstairs allows the reader to see the dynamics of the relationship between father and son. Lupin refuses to walk outside with his father, especially when Pooter is wearing the straw helmet and frock-coat; visits billiard halls (dens of vice in Victorian times) and smokes 'violently'. He also visits Music Halls and generally 'doesn't fall in' with Pooter's views. The holiday is not a pleasant week for the main character at all, ending with the game of 'Cutlets' with the Cummingses (who are lodging nearby) where Carrie hurts herself.
Another chapter of small disasters and irritations to Pooter. New next door neighbours arrive who are 'trouble'; and Pooter has a firework thrown at him and various brushes with them. Mrs James visits and Lupin dislikes her, Gowing and Lupin become friends and Pooter buys a stag's head made of plaster of Paris to hang in the hall. (Animal heads were hung in country houses and shooting lodges as decorations - Pooter is obviously trying to make his home more 'stately' but the stag's head he hangs up is as artificial as his pretensions)
The missing 'five or six weeks' torn from the diary was, in fact an excuse to cover a period when the Grossmiths had not written any episodes for the magazine but it serves to move the plot into yet more controversial incidents with servants and tradesmen as Pooter tires to find out who used the paper and what for.
The chapter ends with Lupin's shocking announcement that he has joined an amateur dramatic club and become engaged to be married. Both would have been shocking to the contemporary audience as it was considered very 'fast' to be on the stage (especially for a 'gentleman') and an engagement was usually something that was done after a long period of very formal courtship, under the eyes of the family and with their permission. the fact that Lupin makes no attempt at all to consult his father about his career, his pastimes or his marriage shows how different the two men are and how little they have in common.
Daisy Mutlar is an heiress, so Lupin has ambitions to 'marry money'. He also accepts a job (through the intervention of Mr Perkupp) in a firm of stock brokers in the City. We are introduced to Daisy's brother, Frank and Daisy herself - a 'big young woman' eight years older than Lupin. The firework party at Cummings' house is a disaster, when Pooter burns his fingers and breaks an expensive set-piece firework. On the domestic front, there is a fight between the servant and the 'char' about the missing diary pages and the Pooters decide to hold a supper party to introduce Daisy to 'a few friends'. Lupin is contemptuous of the preparations and of the invited guests who are all friends of Pooter and Carrie. In a very stereotypical melodramatic argument, when Pooter criticises his fiancée and her brother, Lupin walks out saying he will 'never darken your doors again'. In a bathetic ending, he comes back later on and plays cards till bed time.
The 'Red Letter Day' (origin of phrase from religious calendars and almanacs where important festivals etc. were printed in red - has come to mean lucky or significant day)
Lupin's pretensions here - a hired waiter and champagne (but only 6 bottles) paid for by a 'deal' in the City. Note the references here to dress - 'half-dress' and 'full-dress' and 'dress-boots'. It was customary to change clothes in the evening to sit down to dinner - hence 'dinner-jacket' and there were different 'stages' of evening wear, from semi-formal to fully formal (white tie & a tail coat, patent leather 'dress-boots' and so on) The grander the gentleman, the better his clothes and no gentleman would cream of being 'improperly' dressed in the evening. Colour for women was also important. A crimson dress was not something a 'nice' woman would wear. Scarlet was associated with prostitutes ('scarlet women'). Note how Carrie sticks to discreet colours and Daisy goes wild with a red frock. You can access some information about Victorian fashion by clicking here http://mural.uv.es/cehevi/victorianlondon.html#FASHION: and note how the lower middle classes aspire to be 'better' than they are by imitating high society appearance and lifestyle.
The Pooter family is not rich and it is quite poignant to notice how they struggle to appear to be well off. Carrie hangs muslin (cheap fine cloth) over the doors to disguise the fact that they have been removed to accommodate the number of guests and the waiter is instructed not to open another bottle of champagne until the previous one is finished. Carrie makes all the food and it is very simple food - jam puffs (pastry parcels filled with jam) and sandwiches. The guests 'demolish' the supper table and Pooter's comment that they 'had not had a meal for a month' may not be far off the truth. Mr Perkupp's arrival finds the party a little boisterous (probably because of drink again) and Pooter is once more humiliated. Again, dramatic irony is used - the reader knows that Pooter is tight when Mr Perkupp tells him not to go into work until noon the following day, but again the flawed narrator doesn't 'tell the truth'. It might be useful to think about the point of view here. You need to be able to talk about whose point of view the narrative gives. Pooter is obviously deluded, but why he is so is something you need to think about. Is this a typical form for this kind of writing, for example? Is a diary always biased in favour of the writer's perception of events? Remember also that Pooter is a fictional character, so you need to consider the Grosssmiths' point of view as well. Do they deliberately create this delusion in their central character for comic purposes, for example, or are they trying to make a serious point through their humour?
'A life of going out and Society (note the proper noun, there) is not a life for me' says Pooter. Does he really mean it, or is his remark a consequence of too much drink? Once more we have the delusion of food poisoning or over-eating to explain his hangover and another cohesive device in the puns 'shooting pains' and 'para-shooting'. (How we all laughed, I'm sure.) The main point in this chapter is the simplicity and sincerity of the sentiments Pooter expresses on page 99 when he talks to Carrie about marriage and happiness. The reader cannot help but feel sympathetic towards him, even though his self-congratulation ('I feel I have the power of expressing my thoughts with simplicity and lucidness') does sound pompous.
Ironically, after the discussion of married bliss and early engagements, the chapter ends with the news that Lupin's engagement to Daisy is off. You might also like to note the references to the recurring blancmange on the table. It is revolting stuff (a set custard-like substance) and nobody will eat it. The fact that it keeps reappearing for meals may be to indicate that not even the servant finds it edible. (Servants were supposed to be given food & leftovers from the dinner table were eaten in the kitchen by the staff, but it appears that the Pooter's household staff don't do very well out of their employers - look back at the incident with the charwoman and the diary pages where she says that there are never any leftovers for her to wrap up and take home)
Two new characters introduced - Mr Padge, a friend of Gowing & Cummings and Mr Burwin-Fossleton, an acting friend of Lupin's from the Holloway Comedians. Mr Padge is monosyllabic - he only ever says 'That's right.' but Mr Burwin-Fossleton is the exact opposite. He is obsessed with the theatre and especially a famous actor of the day, Mr Henry Irving. His 'party piece' is an imitation or 'skit' of the great actor. (This was apparently derived from an incident where George Grossmith did an imitation of Irving in front of Irving himself, who was not amused by it)
Burwin-Fossleton outstays his welcome after a supper party at which he does the skit and comes back two nights running to do it over again, with make up. Pooter unwisely criticises the performance which provokes a heated exchange of letters between him and Burwin-Fossleton, who feels insulted. The end of the correspondence is a beautifully pompous letter from Burwin-Fossleton (pages 109-110) in which he defends his Art and condemns Pooter for living a 'life among ledgers'.
Pooter irritated that 'Carrie and Lupin take no interest in my diary', which is read out in little extracts to them. Pooter is sure that it should be published but his family laugh when he suggests it.
As Christmas approaches, Pooter goes to buy cards in a shop in the City, but knocks over a box of expensive cards and has to buy them in quantity to save face. (Note the one with the picture of black & white babies and 'We wish pa a merry Christmas')
Lupin's dodge of pencilling in a higher price on the back of the cards to impress the recipient is quite amusing, but shocks his father. The engagement is back on again, but Lupin has not bothered to tell his parents, who find out by accident.
Christmas and new Year. Another chapter of disasters.
Pooter's Christmas ruined before it begins with the insulting Christmas card. Of course it could have come from any one of the people he insults on a regular basis, but he does not think he has ever insulted anyone - 'I never insult people'.
The Christmas day dinner at Carrie's mother's house is another disaster, especially after the 'kissing' speech Pooter gives after dinner which backfires when an attractive 'nice' young man kisses Carrie.
The supper party at Pooter's house on December 28th is marred by the boisterous bread-throwing, which ends with Pooter being punched on the back of the head by a mysterious fist. he is sure that 'the person who sent the insulting post card' was 'here tonight' and suspects Frank Mutlar. His paranoia (the dream) is pointless, though, when the card turns out to have been sent as a joke to Lupin, not to his father and Gowing confesses that he thought he had accidentally hit the wall in the dark the night before.
Lupin's rudeness to Daisy's father illustrates that the son may have inherited much of his father's tactlessness and the letter of complaint from Mr Mutlar to Pooter, shows how cowardly Pooter really is when faced with really disagreeable situations. He does not show it to either Carrie or Lupin, but covers up by telling the reader that he 'did not desire the last day to wind up disagreeably'.
New Year's Eve is also a disaster and neither Pooter nor his wife see in the New Year at midnight because they are arguing about whether the alcohol in each of two bottles is whisky or brandy.
Pooter begins the New Year with a rise in salary and a promotion to senior clerk (after more than twenty years service). The increase is, to him, huge (£100 per year) and we can see the modest aspirations of the lower middle classes when he tells us that now Carrie can have a 'chimney glass (a mirror to go over the fireplace) and a 'little costume' from a department store which is 'so cheap'.
Lupin, however, has made £200 from an investment of £5 on the stock market in 'a few weeks' of work, as opposed to his father's twenty years, which takes the wind out of Pooter's sails a bit. Lupin's attitude to work and making money is very different and he gives his father tips about good investments on the stock market and tells him he is 'out of date'. What he is doing is probably 'insider trading' , tipped off by his boss, Job Cleanands (note the name and the pun there - 'clean hands'). Lupin has also 'started a pony-trap', which means he has hired a vehicle to get in and out of the City (the equivalent now of buying a BMW) and is determined to 'make big money'. Gowing has also begun to speculate, on Lupin's advice.
Cummings has been ill for three weeks and nobody has visited him, despite his illness being reported in the 'Bicycle News'. Neither Gowing nor Pooter have bothered to visit him and it is obvious here that Pooter is the one who always entertains people. Gowing invites the two families round to his lodgings, but when they arrive , he has mysteriously gone away.
Gowings absence explained (after two weeks) with an obvious white lie - his letter 'got lost' in the post.
Lupin takes his parents out for a drive in the pony cart, wearing a ludicrous driving outfit and going far too fast (note that despite the old fashioned vehicle, the event itself is very topical and even modern readers would identify with the parents being driven by the child too fast). Perhaps the experience with the 'gang of roughs' who follow them throwing orange peel and shouting is the reason why Lupin 'gives up' the pony and trap 'forever', but the following chapter's events are a more likely reason. Lupin once more is 'in the know' while other people are not.
A friend of Frank Mutlar, Mr Murray Posh (again note the punning name) comes to visit. he is heir to 'Posh's three-shilling hats' - obviously 'in trade', but wealthy. The fact that he 'knew Daisy Mutlar very intimately' alerts the reader to the obvious, but Pooter never realises that he is meeting the man who is to marry his son's former fiancée. Lupin, too, seems oblivious to the threat of Murray 'the elephant' Posh, which shows he is more like his father than he thinks.
Pooter worried that his hair is falling out - breaks a looking glass and Carrie is afraid of 'misfortune'. Sure enough, Lupin's investments fail and this time he has persuaded Pooter to invest £20, eighteen of which he loses. Cummings and Gowing have also followed Lupin's advice, but clever Gowing obviously knew that they were suspect and unloaded his share onto Cummings, who loses in all £35. These are large sums of money to men whose salaries are small. The departure of Lupin and Gowing through the window to avoid meeting the unfortunate Cummings is farcical. The misfortunes continue as Lupin's boss absconds and he finds out that Murray Posh is to marry Daisy Mutlar, but he has persuaded Posh to invest £600 in the Parachikka Chlorate swindle, so Lupin has his revenge.
This was the original last episode in Punch magazine, the rest of the chapters were additions when the book was published. Lupin is hung over (like father like son?) Pooter, as usual, merely describes his face as 'yellow', refraining form stating the truth, that Lupin had spent the day drinking at Gravesend on the day before (the day of Daisy Mutlar's wedding to Murray Posh).
The main event of the chapter is a visit to see Mr Perkupp, who offers Lupin a job. Note that Lupin is hardly grateful, in fact he is the opposite, making sarcastic references to his 'regular-downright-respectable-funereal-first-class-City-firm-junior-clerk' clothes.
In fact this is a very sensible ending, because it is a neat conclusion. Pooter at last has what he wanted all along. He and his son will 'go down together by 'bus' and work alongside one another. Pooter's wishes are fulfilled, with his dream of 'three happy people - Lupin, dear Carrie and myself'.
The extra seven chapters, added to extend the novel, act as an extension to the Lupin narrative, as well as giving the Grossmiths the opportunity to lampoon the Aesthetic movement and spiritualism.
Pooter's new fangled 'stylographic' pen breaks and he can't get his money back and the Pooters are invited out into Society again, this time by Gowing, who gives them invitations to a military ball at the East Acton Rifle Brigade Hall. Again, the evening is a disaster, this time because the Pooters assume that the supper is free, but find out that it is not. Typically the 'Society' event is not 'top drawer', being held in a very obscure little back street hall. The soldiers are not 'regulars', but volunteers, and as usual, the Pooters find that they do not know anyone else there. Mr Padge appears (he is a volunteer, although he 'looks well in uniform' despite being a 'short fat man') and the Pooters are so relieved that they ask him to join them for supper. The supper room is strangely deserted, but Pooter is so 'solicitous' that he 'helps' the few others who come in to various refreshments. He thinks he is being polite, but really he is buying food for strangers. A single lady, Mrs Lupkin, joins them and she has supper too. The bill for £3 0s 6d is given to Pooter and he has no choice but to pay it, although it leaves him with no money at all and still owing 9 shillings. The journey home is a nightmare and the horse is 'tired out' when they reach Islington. Of course Pooter has no money left and cannot pay the fare, so he has a dreadful row with the cab driver, which ends in assault (the driver pulls Pooter's beard). To make the humiliation complete, a policeman appealed to for help tells Pooter that it was his own fault for driving in cabs with no money. Pooter writes a letter of protest to the Daily Telegraph.
Mrs James from Sutton and Carrie decorate the mantelpiece with 'little toy spiders, frogs and beetles' ( a send up of the fashion inspired by the Aesthetic movement )
Cummings has once more been ill and had no visitors, but a mention in the 'Bicycle News'.
Mrs James introduces Carrie to manicures, dark slate coloured paper and white ink. (another fashion trend)
The invitation from Mrs Lupkin arrives and the Pooters are at first flattered but later realise that she runs a boarding house and expects them to pay for their accommodation, so the trip to Southend is put off.
Pooter buys a suit which he thinks is 'a quiet pepper and salt' colour, but is really green and bright yellow stripes, which Carrie describes as 'mustard'.
An old school friend of Pooter's, Mr Teddy Finsworth arrives for a visit and brags about his position in Middlesbrough, which he says is 'higher' than the 'Town Clerk of London'. This of course is outright snobbishness, but it is interesting to see the way in which the 'pecking order' of Victorian society worked.
The Pooters are invited to have lunch at Teddy's uncles house and again this is an opportunity for farce. Pooter admires a picture of a woman's face, with what looks like a lace collar underneath it, but says it looks 'pinched'. Mr Finsworth tells him it is a picture of his wife's sister 'done after death'. Mortified, Pooter points to another jolly looking picture of a man, only to be told that this is another portrait of a corpse - this time Mr Finsworth's 'dead brother'. During lunch the family dogs (one of whom has already muddied Carrie's new skirt) lie under the table and lick the polish off Pooter's shoes. Mr Finsworth serves port after the meal and this, on top of the beer, makes Pooter feel a 'little sleepy'.
Poor Pooter is crushed when his account of a very interesting dream is not appreciated at supper next night by any of his family or his friends (Gowing and Cummings have 'dropped in' yet again to scrounge a meal) but harmony is restored whn Cummings reads out an article from the Bicycle News about 'the superiority of the bicycle to the horse'.
Mr Hardfur Huttle, an American visitor, is present at a supper given by the 'swell' Mr Franching. Carrie and Charles are invited as last minute substitutes and the account of the evening gives us an insight into the changing world of the turn of the century.
The ladies are invited to stay after dinner (usually the women guests were expected to 'retire' while the gentlemen stayed at the table to drink port and smoke cigars). Because Mr Huttle is so interesting, the ladies are invited to stay in the dining room with the men and 'the effect (of the invitation) was electrical'. At the time, there was no real equality of opportunity between men and women (the Suffragette movement would not really come into being until a few years later) and because the Victorian era had lasted for so long, it had become very fixed in its cultural traditions. Mr Huttle challenges these staid attitudes, by declaiming at the table about self-sufficiency and mediocrity. He is a brash and shocking character and his views would have been quite radical (at least to the reader of the 1890's). Unfortunately, his passionate attack on 'mediocrity' and 'half-measures' is characterised by reference to a 'soft man, with a soft beard, with a soft head, with a made tie that hooks on', which is a horribly accurate description of Pooter himself. Luckily, Huttle's lack of tact is equally applicable to others in the company, but Pooter is rather hurt and worried when Carrie remarks that Mr Huttle is 'like Lupin' when they get home.
Read over the end of thjis chapter and see what Pooter says about Lupin and men like Mr Huttle. You will see that the time was an uneasy one - the end of the 'old order' was approaching (Victoria died in 1901) and the world which Pooter inhabits was beginning to change. Poor Pooter's trust in the steadying influence of Mr Perkupp on Lupin may be 'a comfort', but the reader (especially now) knows just what was in store in the new century.
Disaster strikes when Lupin is sacked for advising an important client, Mr Crowbillion, to change his account to another company. Mr Perkupp tells Pooter to write a letter and effectively insult his own son's competence. Pooter agrees to do this. A modern reader may have difficulty in accepting that this could happen, but the character of Pooter has been so well drawn that we can understand the loyalty Pooter feels for his boss over his own flesh and blood, even if we disapprove of it.
Lupin is unrpentant, showing a hard headed understanding of the business world that his father lacks. Pooter's letter fails to win the client back and Mr Crowbillion gives Lupin £25 in commission for a shrewd business move. Lupin is, indeed 'a second Mr Hardfur Huttle'. He has also become re-acquainted with Murray Posh and his wife, Daisy.
A 'meat-tea' (archaism - it means that ham was served as well as cakes - afternoon tea was usually sweet, but 'meat-tea' or 'high-tea' was a kind of early savoury supper.) with Mr & Mrs James of Sutton and little Percy' their only child'. This event is a send up of all spoiled brats with indulgent parents. Little Percy is a monster who kicks Pooter and slaps Carrie's face as well as causing mayhem with several other guests. His indulgent mother does not 'believe in being too severe with young children'. Note how the adults don't smash the little brat to a pulp, which is an accurate observation by the authors, on the whole.
The main event in this chapter is the visit of Mrs James (who is quite probably on the run from Little Percy) and the dabble into spiritualism. Carrie's book 'There is No Birth' is a deliberate send up of a real book, written by an actress acquaintance of George Grossmith whose name was Florence Marryat. Her book was called 'There is no Death'. Grossmith changes the name and the author to Florence Singleyet (marry yet - single yet -get it?) as a joke. Marryat was an ardent spiritualist and Grossmith could not take it at all seriously (nor could many men - it remained a 'woman's pastime')
The three séances are accurately described and wickedly satirical. Note the mysterious 'noises off' made by Pooter's hammer which are taken as messages from the spirits and the way that Mrs Rogers twists the 'answers' to suit the questions asked. Note also how Gowing remains sceptical and threatens to disrupt the proceedings and then scuppers the last séance with the sealed question, to which the answer ROSES, LILIES, AND COWS has no relevance at all. Pooter is, of course, drawn into the proceedings despite his continuous assertions that the whole business is nonsense. In a typical Victorian 'paterfamilias' role he 'puts his foot down' and orders the 'foolish nonsense' to stop. Mrs Rogers is not pleased.
Lupin moves out of' 'The Laurels' and into a better address in Bayswater. Holloway is a 'bit off' and obviously not a good enough address for him now that he is successful. He is 'upwardly mobile', although that expression would not be used for many years and socialises with Murray and Daisy Posh.
Cummings is ill again and this time the Bicycle News report is given in the text (page 201-202) Note the cohesion here with even more puns and a very florid style of writing, which suggests that all the cyclists are as pompous as Pooter.
Daisy and her husband visit with Lupin to invite the family to dinner in Lupin's new home. Pooter and Carrie do not recognise any of them, believing them to be 'swells'. Pooter is shocked at the familiarity the young people use towards one another.
The dinner in Lupin's rooms is 'grand' (there is certainly a touch of jealousy evident in Pooter's tone) and Murray's sister is present. 'Lillie Girl' is a brash, shrill young thing (after the 1918 war she would have been called a 'flapper') and all the young people smoke cigarettes. It was not at all 'the thing' for women to smoke - Carrie has 'not arrived at it yet'.
The interesting thing here is the way in which money is openly discussed. Murray Posh is wealthy and Daisy tells Carrie the price of her jewellery, which was certainly not the kind of thing a 'lady' would discuss. Lupin, with an eye to the main chance, as usual, tells his father that Murray has settled money on Daisy and his sister and could 'buy up Perkupps firm over his head at any moment with ready cash'. Pooter, in a shrewd and quite uncharacteristic burst of insight, confides in his diary 'the radical thought that money was not properly divided'.
Returning home, Pooter finds a cab waiting to take him to see Mr Huttle at the Victoria Hotel. He is delighted to find that the American has found a customer for Perkupp's who will be a replacement for the lost client Mr Crowbillion. Mr Franching had 'mentioned my (Pooter's) name to him'. Pooter's dream that night is a really sad little fantasy about being 'President' in a palace with Mr Huttle wearing a crown. Even in the middle of success, Pooter is still subservient - he asks Huttle to 'give the crown to my worthy master' over and over again.
Chapter the Last
As a reward for finding the new client and saving the firm, Perkupp buys the freehold of Pooter's house and gives it to him, telling him he is 'the most honest and most worthy man it has ever been my lot to meet'. Pooter's letter to Lupin, warning him about his unseemly interest in Daisy Posh turns out to have been unnecessary, as Lupin intends to marry 'Lillie Girl' in August.
He is, to the last 'the same old Lupin'.
© V Pope Feb 2003