Most humourous books from the late 1880s and early 1900s lose their comic magic as a result of the passage of time. Lumped in with that I would have to put Three Men in a Boat which sums up the distance between a readership now and one from the gentler past.
But The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith is refreshingly alive. The humour here is subtle, clever and able to provoke not just a smile but the occasional loud guffaw.
Simply the lead character, Charles Pooter, is unable to see the way in which he annoys most around him with his pettiness and with the reader being one step ahead there is the enjoyment of watchign the accident that you have been waiting yto happen. But this is not about tragedy or using a lead character to show the injustice of the world in the spirit of Poor Folk by Dostoyevsky. Clearly the idea is to let things end with happiness and success for all concerned so Pooter might have his run-ins with servants and trades people but in the end is rewarded by his City firm for his loyalty.
He suffers the jokes of his friends and the insolence of his son but that is mainly because not many people, in fact only one, sees the world through the eyes of Mr Chalres Pooter. But you are never put in a position as a reader where you dislike Pooter and it is his qualities of voicing things that although slightly different for a 21 century context we all feel. The jokes are well worked and there is a clever weaving in of themes that ebb and flow with the reader enjoying the reappearance of the joke. But it is Pooter’s indignation – a grumpy old man long before TV invented the concept – that really entertains. If he didn’t get so worked up and at the same time display incredible insecurity and vulnerability then he would never work and the concept of the diary of a nobody would fail.
It is also worth making a point about the illustrations that add to the mood and from a modern reader’s point of view provide a sketched window into a world of the past. Top hats, gas lights and grocer’s boys are all fleshed out with illustrations by Weedon.
Quicke to consume but clever and inspiration for numerous other atempts the book deserves to continue to be read and enjoyed.