Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Diary of a Nobody (Book Review)

The Diary of a Nobody is an English comic novel written by George Grossmith and his brother Weedon Grossmith, with illustrations by Weedon. The book first appeared in Punch magazine in 1888 – 89, and was first printed in book form in 1892. It is considered a classic work of humour and has never been out of print.

In The Diary of a Nobody the Grossmiths create an accurate, if amusing, record of the manners, customs and experiences of lower-middle-class, suburban Londoners of the late Victorian era. The diary is the fictitious record of fifteen months in the life of Mr. Charles Pooter, a middle-aged city clerk of lower middle-class status but significant social aspirations. Other characters include his wife Carrie, his son Lupin, his friends Mr. Cummings and Mr. Gowing, and Lupin's unsuitable fiancée, Daisy Mutlar. The humour derives from Pooter's unconscious gaffes* and self-importance, as well as the snubs he receives from those he considers socially inferior, such as tradesmen.

[Source: Wikipedia]

  * gaffe, noun: An unintentional act or remark causing embarrassment to its originator; a blunder

 George Grossmith (1847 – 1912) was an English comedian, writer, composer, actor, and singer. His brother Weedon Grossmith (1854 – 1919) was a writer, painter, actor and playwright.

File:George Grossmith - English comic and actor - Project Gutenberg eBook 12223.jpg

George Grossmith, as illustrated in The Idler magazine, 1897

I can’t remember now if someone recommended this book or if I just happened to come across it randomly  when searching for free classics for the Kindle. Anyway the title seemed familiar (I’ve probably seen/heard it referred to in various bookish contexts). After reading it, one main impression is that it might be best read as it was first published, in weekly portions. I was amused by the first few chapters, but have to confess I found it growing rather repetitious before the end.

Another thought that crossed my mind was that it’s kind of a 19th century equivalent of a blog. (Or a blog mocking other blogs.)

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.

Charles Pooter
The Laurels,
Brickfield Terrace

The Kindle copy I downloaded lacked the illustrations, but they can be found (with the full text) here.

Thinking of other classic British writers, the style reminds me perhaps most of Jerome K. Jerome, whose masterpiece Three Men in a Boat (one of my absolute favourite books ever) was also published in 1889.

However, my thoughts also wandered to The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass aged 37 3/4, by British author Adrian Plass, written about a century later - 1987. A book I found absolutely hilarious when I first read it, and have returned to with pleasure many a time since then. (I was going to call it a ‘contemporary’ equivalent here, and then did some maths and changed my mind… realizing that I may have readers who think 1987 belongs in History too.  Hm!)

Anyway, it never occurred to me before, that Plass might have picked some inspiration from some old classic that I had never read. Now, having widened my own reading experience, this suspicion does suggest itself! – even if I have no hard evidence. (Plass is a Christian writer and his fictitious Sacred Diary is set in a free church context. But other aspects are remarkably similar: Middle aged male diary-writer with wife and one young son of dating age, a few friends coming and going, and a cleverly exaggerated tendency for “gaffes”.)


  1. Now this post has really got me thinking - before breakfast on a Monday too. I know I have it and that I've read it or at least dipped into it frequently. I wish that I had kept Eagleton Book Notes up to date because then I would be able to confirm when and what I thought of it at the time. As it is I can hardly recall it.

    As for the Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass I know that we have discussed that before and I know it was on my list but I have no idea whether I bought it and I'm fairly certain that I have not read it although something in the back of my mind says that I have glanced through it. But what I may be remembering is your review and recommendation. Oh dear. Old age cometh not alone.

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  2. I am getting this! Sounds great!

  3. phew... i was afraid you had published MY diary when i saw the title. LOL.. and did you notice those tiny feet stuffed into those pointed shoes in his portrait? ouch! i used to wear spike heels that the toes looked like that...

  4. Now you're getting into my husband's realm of books, Three Men in a Boat is one of his favorite books, he also liked the Diary of a Nobody, i'll have to look for the Adrian Plass book for him.


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