Friday, April 8, 2011

Addendum: Podsnappery

I don't know why, but the following passage just came into my mind.  When I looked it up I was happy to find it was even funnier than I remember it.  It's from Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend.

Mr Podsnap was well to do, and stood very high in Mr Podsnap's opinion. Beginning with a good inheritance, he had married a good inheritance, and had thriven exceedingly in the Marine Insurance way, and was quite satisfied. He never could make out why everybody was not quite satisfied, and he felt conscious that he set a brilliant social example in being particularly well satisfied with most things, and, above all other things, with himself.
Thus happily acquainted with his own merit and importance, Mr Podsnap settled that whatever he put behind him he put out of existence. There was a dignified conclusiveness--not to add a grand convenience--in this way of getting rid of disagreeables which had done much towards establishing Mr Podsnap in his lofty place in Mr Podsnap's satisfaction. 'I don't want to know about it; I don't choose to discuss it; I don't admit it!' Mr Podsnap had even acquired a peculiar flourish of his right arm in often clearing the world of its most difficult problems, by sweeping them behind him (and consequently sheer away) with those words and a flushed face. For they affronted him.
Mr Podsnap's world was not a very large world, morally; no, nor even geographically: seeing that although his business was sustained upon commerce with other countries, he considered other countries, with that important reservation, a mistake, and of their manners and customs would conclusively observe, 'Not English!' when, PRESTO! with a flourish of the arm, and a flush of the face, they were swept away. Elsewhere, the world got up at eight, shaved close at a quarter-past, breakfasted at nine, went to the City at ten, came home at half-past five, and dined at seven. Mr Podsnap's notions of the Arts in their integrity might have been stated thus. Literature; large print, respectfully descriptive of getting up at eight, shaving close at a quarter past, breakfasting at nine, going to the City at ten, coming home at half-past five, and dining at seven. Painting and Sculpture; models and portraits representing Professors of getting up at eight, shaving close at a quarter past, breakfasting at nine, going to the City at ten, coming home at half-past five, and dining at seven. Music; a respectable performance (without variations) on stringed and wind instruments, sedately expressive of getting up at eight, shaving close at a quarter past, breakfasting at nine, going to the City at ten, coming home at half-past five, and dining at seven. Nothing else to be permitted to those same vagrants the Arts, on pain of excommunication. Nothing else To Be--anywhere!
As a so eminently respectable man, Mr Podsnap was sensible of its being required of him to take Providence under his protection. Consequently he always knew exactly what Providence meant. Inferior and less respectable men might fall short of that mark, but Mr Podsnap was always up to it. And it was very remarkable (and must have been very comfortable) that what Providence meant, was invariably what Mr Podsnap meant.
These may be said to have been the articles of a faith and school which the present chapter takes the liberty of calling, after its representative man, Podsnappery. They were confined within close bounds, as Mr Podsnap's own head was confined by his shirt- collar; and they were enunciated with a sounding pomp that smacked of the creaking of Mr Podsnap's own boots.


Bryan Guilliams said...

Our Mutual Friend is a key plot point in the mythology of Lost.

Just sayin'.

ANCIANT said...

That should raise my opinion of Lost, I know. In fact, it lowers my opinion of Dickens.

No, no. Not really. I actually had to read the Lostepedia (!!) after this post, to find out how it played into the story. It doesn't seem to have been that integral. But I will refrain from bashing Lost, even though I dearly want to. Because that is not in the spirit of love and kindness which I, of course, embody.

JMW said...

Dickens is one of the most shameful holes in my reading history. I read Great Expectations in high school, and parts of Bleak House in college. But otherwise, nada. I mean to read David Copperfield very soon (this year, for sure), and then more.

Barbara Carlson said...

@JMW. Ditto.
He just goes on and on and on.

I read a book or two a week, so it's not a matter of "read a book once, didn't like it" -- guess I just saw too many sentimental TV renditions of his somewhat 2-D characters and figured his writing was missable. Too much else to read, like David Sedaris or Alan Bennett's journals or Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain or Sarah Vowell (for unvarnished American history) or ...

@Anciant. I will try to read your quoted passage of Dickens right now!

Barbara Carlson said...

Well, I read it. Podsnap as described at length -- surely D's readers had attention spans of sloths -- is a predictable xenophobic bore. I know, I know, this a satire of the 19th centuries' different kinds of English bores but I'd rather hear/read David Sedaris explain the Dutch social custom of their Santa Claus & his 6-8 black men any time. I learn more and laugh like a drain. Dickens is funny in a smug, dry silent chuckly kind of way. Like Jane Austen.

In 3 parts: David Sedaris's Six to Eight Black Men

ANCIANT said...

JMW: For what it's worth, the Dickens book I always recommend to people who are interested in him is Pickwick Papers. It's his first book and so maybe not his most sophisticated, but it has the advantage of being almost entirely episodic. If certain sequences don't interest you, well, you can rejoice in the fact that they won't last for long. It also has a few of what I think are his best set-pieces. It's a kind, jolly, reassuring book, one that always tends to put me in a better mood when I go back to it.

Copperfield is obviously good too, although I would tell you in advance that the last half of it is something of a letdown, compared to its beginning. You might consider going back to Bleak House, if you have the time. It's generally considered one of his best, and it's absolutely worth your time.

* * *
Wait did you just compare David Sedaris with Charles Dickens? No, that can't be. It's not possible. It's like my whole world is spinning. Objects have become blurry.... Bile accumulating in my heart....

The part about the kinds of art he likes. Come on.... that is not dry or boring, and if it is smug it's good, directed smugness.

That's it. Prepare for more Dickens quotes. You'll see. You'll see how things really are....

Barbara Carlson said...

Bring it on.

JMW said...

Yes, Sedaris is good in a pinch -- waiting for a train or something. Frazier's Cold Mountain is the rare book that I started not once but twice; got about 35 pages in each time and nearly choked on my tongue out of boredom.

Barbara Carlson said...

Wow, JMW. I was into it from page one. Frazier created a real 1860s universe for me. I had to stop reading fiction for months after that book; all other fiction felt contrived and rang false.

I should read it again.