MAY 7 A big red-letter day; viz., the Lord Mayor’s reception. The whole house upset. I had to get dressed at half-past six, as Carrie wanted the room to herself. Mrs James had come up from Sutton to help Carrie; so I could not help thinking it unreasonable that she should require the entire attention of Sarah, the servant as well…
At nine o’clock Carrie swept into the room, looking like a queen. Never have I seen her look so lovely, so distinguished. She was wearing a satin dress of sky-blue – my favourite colour – and a piece of lace which Mrs James lent her, round the shoulders, to give a finish. I thought perhaps the dress was a little too long behind, and decidedly too short in front, but Mrs James said it was a la mode. Mrs James was most kind, and lent Carrie a fan of ivory with red feathers., the value of which, she said, was priceless, as the feathers belonged to the Kachu eagle – a bird now extinct. I preferred the little white fan which Carrie bought for three-and-six at Shoolbred’s, but both ladies sat on me at once.
|extra picture - blogfriend and costume expert Ken Nye suggested this one in the comments, below: short in the front, long behind|
observations: Re-reading fictional diaries recently, for a blog entry and a piece for the Guardian books blog, this one came as a big pleasant surprise. I first read it when I was a lot younger, and then I was somewhat impatient with the humour, finding it heavy-handed, and disliking the snobbishness and pretentiousness that were being satirized. It all seemed horribly typical of Punch, the humour magazine where it first appeared.
But now I find it hilarious and clever, and the relations between Charles Pooter and his wife Carrie, and their son Lupin, are beautifully done. At the beginning of the book, Pooter explains that he sees plenty of memoirs by supposedly well-known people and feels he could do just as well himself. And in fact he and his creators have done exactly that – the diaries of Victorian worthies disappear, but as long as people find this funny: ‘I left the room with silent dignity, but caught my foot in the mat’ – well, that’s how long Diary of a Nobody will survive. The book is a lovely easy read, and very very funny.
On this day they are very happy to be going to the Mansion House for this prestigious event, but when they get there find that the local ironmonger is there too, devaluing their invitation – social events rarely go well for the Pooters. But it’s not as bad as the East Acton Volunteer Ball, where after asking the waiter for food and champagne for all his friends, Mr Pooter is shocked to find he has to pay for them. He had assumed they were included in the price of the ticket:
'£3 0s 6d! I don’t think I was ever so surprised in my life.’Champagne is always his downfall – Carrie’s version is that it does not agree with him…
The picture by Auguste Toulemouche is from the Athenaeum website.