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The Diary of a Nobody

By: George Grossmith

Grossmith’s comic novel unveils the daily chronicles of the pompous and clumsy middle-aged clerk Charles Pooter, who has just moved to the London suburb of Holloway with his wife Carrie. Nonetheless, the family’s fresh start is not quite what they had in mind. Set in the late Victorian era, the diary accurately documents the manners, customs, trends and experiences of the time. First appearing in Punch magazine through the years 1888-89, The Diary of a Nobody was first published in book form in 1892 and has entertained readers ever since. Written as diary entries, the novel records the daily mishaps and follows the humiliations of the Pooter family. Life in the Pooter household consists of busy interactions, endless renovations and mundane chores, giving the impression of an ordinary functioning family. However, it is this simplicity that ignites humor as the scenarios are played out. The social ladder is of key importance in the novel, as the Pooters high social aspirations are depicted through their humorous attempts to conceal their lower middle class status. Unsurprisingly, their attempts backfire and only make them look more ridiculous in the eyes of their acquaintances. Pooter’s obliviousness and pretentious behavior is often the core of his minor feuds and public acts of humiliation. Moreover, fuel is added to the fire when the reckless Lupin suddenly appears at his parent’s doorstep and merely sheds more light and embarrassment on the household. Throughout the satire, Pooter is nothing less than a magnet for trouble and must face the never ending cycle of social gatherings, home renovations and finding solutions to work and family differences.

The diary begins on 3 April of an unstated year, and runs for approximately 15 months. In a short prologue, readers are informed that Charles Pooter and his wife Caroline (Carrie) have just moved to a new home at "The Laurels", Brickfield Terrace, Holloway. Mr Pooter is a City of London clerk with Perkupps, possibly an accountancy or private banking firm (though their business is not explicitly stated). The couple's 20-year-old son William works as a bank clerk in Oldham. The first entries describe the Pooters' daily lives and introduce their particular friends, such as their neighbour Gowing, the enthusiastic bicyclist Cummings, and the Jameses from Sutton. From the beginning a pattern is set whereby the small vexations of the Pooters' daily lives are recounted, many of them arising from Pooter's unconscious self-importance and pomposity. Trouble with servants, tradesmen, and office juniors occur regularly, along with minor social embarrassments and humiliations.

The rare formal social events in the Pooters' lives are particular magnets for misfortune. They receive an invitation from the Lord Mayor of London to attend a ball at the Mansion House for "Representatives of Trade and Commerce". After days of keen anticipation they are dismayed, when they arrive, to find that the gathering is undistinguished. Pooter is snobbishly upset to be greeted familiarly by his local ironmonger, even more so when this tradesman appears to be on social terms with some of the more important guests. Pooter overindulges in champagne and humiliates Carrie by collapsing on the dance floor.

In the summer their son arrives from Oldham and informs his parents that he wishes henceforth to be called by his middle name, "Lupin". He has been dismissed from his bank post for idleness; although dismayed, Pooter sees this as a chance to get his son into Perkupps. Lupin joins the couple for their annual holiday week in Broadstairs, but relationships are strained by Lupin's "fast" habits. On their return, Pooter's efforts to find Lupin a job at first prove fruitless. The boy is interested in amateur dramatics and joins an organisation called the "Holloway Comedians". With the help of Pooter's employer Mr. Perkupp, Lupin finally secures a clerical position with a firm of stockbrokers in November. He then shocks his parents by announcing his engagement.

Lupin's fiancée, Daisy Mutlar, is the sister of one of his theatrical friends and is, he says, "the nicest, prettiest, and most accomplished girl he ever met". Pooter is disappointed when he meets her: "She is a big young woman... at least eight years older than Lupin. I did not even think her good-looking". Nevertheless, in her honour the Pooters give a large dinner-party, to which Pooter invites Mr Perkupp. The party becomes boisterous; Mr Perkupp arrives at a particularly raucous moment, and decides not to stay. Pooter believes the party has failed, and is despondent, although Carrie deems it a great success. However, within a few days, Lupin informs them that the engagement is off.

In the following weeks Lupin often brings the Holloway troupe back to "The Laurels". These occasions are graced with the unexplained presence of a complete stranger, Mr Padge, who regularly occupies the best chair as if by right. Lupin opts out of the family's Christmas celebrations, and then announces, to everyone's astonishment, that the engagement to Daisy is back on. Christmas passes happily enough, despite a supper party which degenerates into a food fight instigated by Daisy.

In the New Year, Pooter is promoted to senior clerk at Perkupp's, and his salary raised by £100 a year, but his achievement is overshadowed by Lupin's announcement that he has just profited by £200 through a timely shares speculation. Lupin persuades his father, and Gowing and Cummings, to invest small sums in Parachikka Chlorates, the source of his gains. The Pooters meet a new friend of Lupin's, Mr Murray Posh, who Pooter thinks is somewhat over-familiar with Daisy and might, he warns Lupin, be a rival for her hand. Lupin pooh-poohs this notion. Later, Pooter learns that he and his friends have lost their investment; indeed, Lupin's stockbroking firm has collapsed entirely and its principal has fled. Lupin is thus unemployed; worse, that same day the engagement of Daisy Mutlar to Murray Posh is announced. Lupin's only consolation, he tells his father, is that he persuaded Posh to invest £600 in Parachikka Chlorates. However, in Pooter's eyes the situation is redeemed when Mr Perkupp offers Lupin a clerkship.

April begins with another social disaster. The Pooters receive an invitation to a ball given by the East Acton Rifle Brigade, which they imagine will be a glittering occasion. It turns out to be shabby and down-at-heel; furthermore, having liberally supplied fellow-guests—among them Mr Padge—with food and drink which he thinks is free, Pooter is presented at the end with a large bill that he can barely afford to pay. Other social events also turn sour: a lunch party with Mr Finsworth, the father of an old friend, is marred by some unfortunate comments by Pooter on the Finsworth family portraits. On another occasion they meet a loud and over-opinionated American, Mr Hardfur Huttle, who, Pooter realises, is like a mature version of Lupin.

Lupin is sacked from Perkupps for persuading their top client, Mr Crowbillion, to take his business to another firm. Pooter is mortified, but the new firm rewards Lupin with a £25 commission and a job at £200 a year. Lupin resumes his friendship with Murray Posh and Daisy, who is now Mrs Posh. Lupin moves to lodgings in Bayswater, where Pooter and Carrie are invited to dine and where they meet Murray's sister, known as "Lillie Girl", a woman of around 30. Pooter learns that Murray Posh has settled £10,000 on both Daisy and "Lillie Girl".

Pooter is summoned to meet Hardfur Huttle, who offers Perkupps a new client to replace Mr Crowbillion. Perkupp is so grateful to Pooter for this introduction that he buys up the freehold of "The Laurels" and presents the deeds to Pooter. As the couple celebrate, a letter arrives from Lupin announcing his engagement to "Lillie Girl": "We shall be married in August, and among our guests we hope to see your old friends Gowing and Cummings".


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George Grossmith (9 December 1847 – 1 March 1912) was an English comedian, writer, composer, actor, and singer. His performing career spanned more than four decades. As a writer and composer, he...

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