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June 12, 2012
The title, "The Diary of a Nobody," one of my favorite British satires, is a bit of a misnomer. In many ways the hero of his own autobiography is not a nobody. He is an oaf, he is a clod who is consumed with his own self-importance.
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.
The humor comes from Charles Pooter's extreme egocentricity as he documents practically every mundane thought in his life. In fact, the book has spawned the word "Pooterish" to describe a tendency to take oneself excessively seriously.
The diary, which was first serialized in Punch in 1888-89, was written by George Grossmith and illustrated by his brother, Weedon. But the fictional author is Pooter himself, a modest clerk who lives with his wife, Carrie, in Brickfield Terrace, which could be any English suburb.
Pooter prefers to think he is in charge. In reality, he is the master of nothing.
Ordered a shoulder of mutton for to-morrow....Two shoulders of mutton arrived, Carrie having arranged with another butcher without consulting me...I am afraid we shall have to get some new stair-carpets after all. After dinner went to sleep.
But as life at the Pooter house unfolds, it is anything but dull. The Pooters are invited to dinner at Mansion House, the Lord Mayor's residence, and are quite proud of themselves. Then they find out everyone eventually gets invited to Mansion House, even some of their lowly neighbors. Despite this, Pooter is quite taken aback when his name is first omitted from the guest list, and then misspelled in subsequent addendums. After two letters to the local paper, he still doesn't get any satisfaction.
Absolutely disgusted on opening the Blackfriars Bi-weekly News of to-day, to find the following paragraph: "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." .
Pooter's son is William Lupin Pooter and he's a bit of a rogue who causes Pooter more grief than anything and becomes engaged to a woman his parents don't quite approve. He's forever quitting perfectly good jobs. Of course, all turns out well in the end. Pooter gets a raise greater than he'd expected and Lupin finds the right job and the right girl. All is as it should be in the Pooter household.
And life goes on and on and...
August 1.- Ordered a new pair of trousers at Edwards's, and told them not to cut them so loose over the boot; the last pair being so loose and also tight at the knee, looked like a sailor's, and I heard Pitt, that objectionable youth at the office, call out "Hornpipe" as I passed his desk."
The enduring affection for Charles Pooter is that he may be a "nobody" but he is also everybody. No matter our lives, we are important, at least to ourselves. And that's as it should be.