This is the book which kicked off the ‘funny diary’ genre (or that’s what I call it anyway). First serialised in Punch magazine and then published with more material, including illustrations, in 1892, this classic is still very amusing more than a century later. It’s also slim enough to be read in one day.
The writer of the diary is Charles Pooter, a clerk in the City, who has just moved into a new rented house with his wife Carrie, a servant called Sarah, and occasionally the Pooters’ son, Lupin.
Charles Pooter’s life is a neverending string of social dramas: arguments, humiliations, engagements, DIY disasters, financial turbulence, fashion nightmares. He also displays the preoccupation with class and what is or isn’t the done thing. He is middle class, as evidenced by his occupation, six-bedroom house, employing only one servant and the cooking mostly done by his wife. He doesn’t aspire to be one of the ‘swells’ (posh people) and thinks the working class music hall scene (which his son is involved with) disrespectable. The comedy, however, comes from the way Charles expresses himself. He laughs at his own jokes, thinks he is always being hard done by and that the tradespeople are out to get him. Everyone tends to take advantage of him though, as he is quite nice really. Carrie is also a nice character, if a little exasperated at her husband’s quirks.
Weedon Grossmith’s illustrations really bring the characters to life. Charles literally has a long face, reflecting his dissatisfaction with life in general. My favourite of the pictures shows him in the bath, looking in horror at his hands, thinking they are covered in blood but it’s actually the red enamel paint (which he has been painting everything with) coming off the bath.
This edition published by Wordsworth Classics in 2006 with introduction and notes by Professor Michael Irwin.