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Diary of a Nobody

19th.-century France produced epics about whole social classes; Germany sank under books about tortured, complex individuals: Britain laughed at families and their friends. No generalisation is ever wholly true, including this one.

Someone, somewhere and indeed somewhen, must have suggested that I read this book. Mark Bultitude refers to it in Operation Pax with the regretful comment "You remember Cumming who was always going and Gowing who was always coming? ... Too few people now read that immortal diary." Well, it wouldn't be to everyone's taste; while it certainly counts as humorous, it's a question of chuckles rather than guffaws, and a drab London suburb in the 1890s is not an exactly glamorous location. What it does offer is keen but kindly observation, scenes which while noted in a world that has since quite disappeared demonstrate foibles and weaknesses that are still with us. Try it.

Sir John Squire provides an excellent introduction to my rebound Pan edition from 1946, which may (or may not) encourage you to chase up a copy for yourself. If you can, make sure it's a copy with Weedon Grossmith's original illustrations.

It was the normal that our authors were depicting; they showed it in a comic light simply because they found it comic; thereby certainly coming closer to the hearts and minds of the Pooters themselves [the main characters NGN] than do those other realists of the 'Dull Monotony' school, who employ similar materials to exhibit a scene of utter tedium faithfully communicated to the reader.

What we are told ... suggests infinitely more: a whole world of people, before the age of motor-cars and jazz ... And though we may smile, looking backward and downward, at the things which the Pooters take seriously, we know in our hearts that we share their passions, and that we also have out toys and our dreams, in essentials like theirs ... Our laugh at the Pooters' little triumphs, vanities and ambitions is in some measure a laugh at our own.