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News from Slightly Foxed: Shape Up and Ship Out
Slightly Foxed by Christopher Corr, Cover artwork from SF Issue 1

Shape Up and Ship Out

A happy New Year to all our readers around the world! We hope you’ve had a restful break, with plenty of reading time. The foxes certainly did, and are now back at their desks feeling relaxed and ready for another year of great literary adventures. Thank you to all those who placed orders for books and goods or renewed subscriptions online over Christmas and New Year. It was most heartening to return to a postbox brimming with orders, festive cards and cheery greetings and, after a busy first fortnight packing up orders, we’re now up-to-date.

Whilst we’re most grateful for all your efforts, the office is still looking rather full and we could do with some help getting into shape before the spring issue and books arrive from Smith Settle. So, a plea! We urge you to stock up on books and back issues, invest in a new book bag, tea towel or wall calendar, or even a notebook or two . . .

As a record, a notebook is every bit as immediate as a diary – a patchwork of everyday life that, years later, can vividly bring back the essence of a particular moment. You may think that diary-keeping is best left to the Pepys, the Woolfs or the Queen Victorias of the day but, as Mr Pooter once said:

Why should I not publish my diary? I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never even heard of, and I fail to see - because I do not happen to be a ‘Somebody’ - why my diary should not be interesting. My only regret is that I did not commence it when I was a youth.

So don’t delay, snap up a notebook and resolve to start that diary, or invest in a handsome wall calendar on which to write impressive appointments. You’ll find a list of all our sale items further down the page, but first let us drop in at ‘The Laurels’, Brickfield Terrace, Holloway for a dose of New Year cheer.

At Home with the Pewters


Antony Wood

 

There can’t be many humorous books about everyday life that still make one laugh more than a century after they were written. The pattern of English middle-class life has radically changed since The Diary of a Nobody was first published in 1892, but rereading it recently, I found its fictional author, the City clerk Charles Pooter, of ‘The Laurels’, Brickfield Terrace, Holloway, still instantly recognizable.

I’m bound to admit that some of the experiences, and also, for heavens’ sake, the attitudes of the ‘pathetic ass who records his trivial life’ (as William Emrys Williams put it in his introduction to the Penguin edition of 1945), seem embarrassingly close to my own. Mr Pooter may have lived more than a hundred years ago – just up the road from where I live now, as it happens, in a house, er, rather similar to mine – but his psychology is timeless.

‘I fail to see why – because I don’t happen to be a “Somebody”’ – writes Mr Pooter in his prefatory statement, ‘my diary should not be interesting’ – and many of us will recognize that dear old friend or relative who is convinced that his diary or autobiography, his record of his times will, when published, prove a valuable contribution to our national life. He’s still with us today and keeps the vanity publishing industry going. ‘My only regret’, Mr Pooter concludes, ‘is that I did not commence it when I was a youth.’ But the poor chap is clearly one of those people who – unlike his rebellious 20-year-old son Lupin – would seem never to have had a ‘youth’, but to have been born middle-aged.

The true authors of the Diary, George and Weedon Grossmith, were both men of the theatre. George, born in 1847, was a comic actor, musical entertainer and writer, and by the time the Diary was written he had composed the words and music of hundreds of songs and sketches and performed the lead baritone roles in a number of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas, including Koko (the Lord High Executioner) and Jack Point. There were Pooteresque moments in his own life. Talking to Gilbert after auditioning for the lead role as the tradesman-like John Wellington Wells in The Sorcerer, the diminutive actor suggested that the role might be better played by ‘a fine man with a fine voice’. Gilbert replied: ‘That is exactly what we don’t want,’ and Grossmith was hired.

George’s younger brother Weedon, born in 1854, gave up a career as an artist for the stage when he found he had liabilities of £700 and cash assets of £6. His participation in The Diary of a Nobody came when he was beginning to make his name as a comic actor, eventually to be renowned in farce. As well as being its co-author, Weedon provided the illustrations for the Diary, and his graphic portrayal of Pooter is a central part of that comic masterpiece, fixing for ever the image of the stiff, formal, bearded figure with elongated, gravely held head, a posture which never varies whether he is shown walking in public in full dress, solemnly doing some absurd DIY, or falling to the ground in an undignified party game.

There is a splendid gallery, too, of the late Victorian fringe of-London types who inhabit the pages of the Diary: Pooter’s ‘dear friends’ Cummings and Gowing, the vacuous and the vulgar, who drop in frequently of an evening for a game of Consequences, or to pass on a copy of Bicycle News; the successful small businessman Mr Franching, ‘a great swell in his way’ with his curly moustache and floral buttonhole, whom Mr Pooter is always eager to impress; Lupin’s future brother-in-law, the hat-manufacturer Mr Murray Posh, who on a visit to Brickfield Terrace treats the company to ‘a long but most interesting history of the extraordinary difficulties in the manufacture of cheap hats’ (we’ve many of us sat next to him at dinner); and the unbending Mr Perkupp, Mr Pooter’s boss. And, of course, Mr Pooter’s ‘dear wife’ Carrie, who shares his own banal sense of humour and penchant for puns at all times, his irrepressible son Lupin, and Lupin’s unsuitable girlfriends – Daisy Mutlar, who ditches him for Mr Posh, and Posh’s sister ‘Lillie Girl’, whom Lupin eventually marries.

As classical mythology and our own experience teach us, the new generation is always at war with the old, and this is certainly the case in the Pooter household. The Diary rings excruciatingly true in its depiction of the generation gap. Son Lupin – previously known as Willie – arrives home unexpectedly (sacked) from his job at the bank in Oldham announcing that he is now to be known by his middle name. Lupin speaks a different language from his parents, keeps fast company, stays out late and lies in bed in the morning, and mocks his father at every turn. Most hurtfully, he refuses to walk along the parade at Broadstairs with ‘the Guv’nor’ when Mr Pooter wears his strange new holiday headgear (‘the shape of the helmet worn in India, only made of straw’) with his frock-coat.

Money is another, all too familiar, gladiatorial arena. Lupin’s parents are shocked by his easy come, easy go attitudes while he despises their penny-pinching. (‘Very nice apartments near the station. On the cliffs they would have been double the price,’ writes Mr Pooter of their holiday at Broadstairs, and later agrees with Carrie about ‘the great disadvantage of going out in Society and increasing the number of our friends’ since this means having to send out nearly two dozen Christmas cards.) Lupin eventually finds himself a job with a stocks and shares broker in the City: when his father proudly announces a salary rise of £100 after 21 years’ faithful service, Lupin caps it by telling him he’s just made £200 after only a few weeks’ work.

How secretly and toe-curlingly familiar are the small snobberies and social embarrassments that make up Mr Pooter’s life – the stylish invitation displayed a little too prominently and too long on the mantelpiece, the fluster when caught on the hop by an impressive new friend. Having run into Mr Franching and impulsively invited him home to meat tea, Mr Pooter is mortified to get no answer when they arrive back at ‘The Laurels’ – only a glimpse, through the frontdoor ‘panels of ground glass (with stars)’, of Carrie rushing upstairs:

I told Mr Franching to wait at the door while I went round to the side. There I saw the grocer’s boy actually picking off the paint on the door, which had formed into blisters. No time to reprove him; so went round and effected an entrance through the kitchen window . . . I went upstairs to Carrie, who was changing her dress, and told her I had persuaded Mr Franching to come home. She replied ‘How can you do such a thing? You know it’s Sarah’s holiday, and there’s not a thing in the house, the cold mutton having turned with the hot weather.’

Tradesmen, servants and office juniors all mock Mr Pooter. Invited (on the recommendation of Mr Perkupp) to a ball at the Mansion House, he is patronized by Farmerson the local ironmonger, in whose company he and Carrie are appalled to find themselves, and crashes to the ground on the dance floor, brought down by the slippery soles of his new evening shoes. As a final insult the Pooters’ names are omitted from the list of guests published in the Blackfriars Bi-Weekly News. After an acrimonious correspondence, the following announcement finally appears:

We have received two letters from Mr and Mrs Charles Pewter, requesting us to announce the important fact that they were at the Mansion House Ball.

All this is the more painful as the Pooters have ordered eleven copies of the Bi-Weekly to send to their friends.

Pooter’s disastrous attempts at DIY ring some painful bells too. Inspired by the news that the wife of his colleague Brickwell is ‘working wonders with the new Pinkford’s enamel paint’, he buys two tins of red on his way home from work (‘red, to my mind, being the best colour’), decides to improve the bath with a coat, and is ‘delighted with the result’. Carrie is not pleased, however, and Pooter experiences ‘the greatest fright I have ever received’ when an extra hot bath dissolves the paint and he believes he is bleeding to death.

Derided, humbled, taken advantage of, Pooter cuts a ridiculous figure – and yet one’s laughter at his expense is often checked by a sense of pathos. Unmistakably Victorian yet strangely modern, Charles Pooter is a ‘good’ man, as Mr Perkupp observes in what I read as the ironic ending to the Diary, in which our hero’s luck turns and he saves the fortunes of the firm by landing a new client. Loyal, honest, unimaginative, conservative – were not these qualities of his the very same ones on which the foundations of the British Empire rested in its heyday, Pooter’s heyday too? Let us leave him now as he celebrates his good fortune with Carrie, Gowing and Cummings over two bottles of ‘Jackson Frères’, for which Sarah, the servant, has been hastily dispatched to the local grocer’s. And now I must just nip up the road myself.

© Anthony Wood
Slightly Foxed: The Real Readers Quarterly Issue 32, Winter 2011

Antony Wood lives in east Pooterland, north London. He wishes readers to know that his translations of Pushkin’s verse have been published on other lists besides that of his own Angel Classics, and read by Paul Scofield, Ralph Fiennes and other actors on radio and in live performance. 

Read on to browse sale items. For subscriptions, back issues, books, and everything else Slightly Foxed, please visit our online emporium: www.foxedquarterly.com.
Notebooks

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RRP £14.50
The Slightly Foxed Calendar of Covers

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RRP £14.50


With thanks to our reader @les_livres_ for this lovely photo. (via Instagram)


Our readers write . . . 


Your letters, emails, cards and phone calls bring us great cheer throughout the year. Here is just a small selecion of recent favourites. 


‘I just have to let you know that right now, under the tree with the quarterly and a range of your books, I am so grateful for the existence of SF. In the midst of rough life-weather this moment just makes me very happy and content. So thank you so much for all the work you do. It brightens up life. Have a wonderful 2017!’ M. van Dijk, The Netherlands
 
‘It was so lovely to visit you in situ – what a friendly, busy hive of activity! Thanks for a great reading year – on to the next.’ J. Fraser, London
 
‘To all at Slightly Foxed (and the dog). Thank you for another wonderful year. Nothing that the postman delivers brings more charm and happiness. A deserved Happy Christmas and may your bright ideas not desert you in 2017.’ H. Murray, Dunedin
 
‘Many thanks for the book and calendar received in this morning’s post. Wonderful. The book size, format, design – all perfect, even down to the bookmark . . . the calendar is superb. I await the delivery of the second part of my order with eager anticipation. So pleased to have discovered you – an absolute treat.’ S. Hersey, Wirral
 
‘How right the Stationers’ Company is: ‘best of print, binding, and illustrations, at an accessible price.’ If only other publishers would take note. So often their products (I am not sure I should call them books!) are of an awkward size and snap shut if you don’t keep a firm hold with both hands. Yours are a joy to handle and to read, and grace the shelves when they have been read and are waiting to be re-read.’ D. Jennings, Manchester


 
The Tote Bag

Our gorgeous bag, with stout, non-slippery straps that fit snugly over the shoulder, is elegant and unusually capacious. Made from attractive natural cream canvas with duck-egg blue trim, it’s exceptionally strong but light and folds easily. It has an inner pocket, a magnetic fastener to keep your purchases safe, and – most important of all – a generous gusset. Both sides are printed with a specially commissioned print-themed design by one of our favourite cover artists, James B. W. Lewis, so it can be worn either way.

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The Tea Towel

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The Digital Fox

If you are a print subscriber to Slightly Foxed you can access the digital edition and full archive of back issues for free. If you don’t know your membership number, please get in touch with Hattie:

+44 (0) 20 703 0258
 all@foxedquarterly.com

From Abbey, Edward to Zweig, Stefan


The Slightly Foxed index is an invaluable tool for navigating your collection of back issues or deciding which issues to catch up with and our new interactive online index is now live. We hope you’ll enjoy using it.

Jennie’s project for the New Year is to add all the articles from back issues and link them up to the index so you can read the full archive on our website as well as via Exact Editions and the Slightly Foxed app, and send single articles to fellow booklovers too. Watch this space. 

View the index

Get in touch

If you need help or have any questions about your order or membership, you can always phone the office on 020 7033 0258 and speak to one of us for more information, email Hattie on all@foxedquarterly.com or write to us by post at 53 Hoxton Square, London N1 6PB.

With very best wishes for the New Year from the SF office staff
Jennie, Anna, Olivia, Hattie and Katy

 






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