Parody Party edited by Leonard Russell (1936)

We had a lovely reading group last month where we read books selected from the collection because they been tagged as ‘satire’ or ‘parody’. I hoped Thecla would chose Parody Party as her knowledge of the fiction of the period is amazingly extensive! I thought she would enjoy it, and so it proved. (Parody Party is one of the few books especially bought for the collection rather than being aquired through donation. When I saw it I decided we had to have it.) I get the impression from our reading that the 1930s was a particularly fertile period for satire and parody.

Review by Thecla W:

This book consists of 14 parodies of well-known writers of fiction and non-fiction, written by other largely well-known writers. According to the Introductory Note by the editor, Leonard Russell, the idea for the book originated at a weekend party and so each piece in some way involves a weekend.

PARODIST AND TITLE                                                                                     WRITER PARODIED

Rebecca West:    “Sepulchre: a tale of Mors,                                             Charles Morgan

Seventh Viscount and Twelfth Baron Sepulchre”

Rose Macauley:    “Week-End at the Hoppers”                                         Ernest Hemingway

Francis Iles:    “Close  Season at Polchester”                                              Hugh Walpole

E.C.Bentley:    “Greedy Night”                                                                      Dorothy L. Sayers

D.B. Wyndham Lewis:   “More about England”                                         Stanley Baldwin

G.B. Stern:   “The House that Likes to be Let Furnished”                        Sir James Barrie

Cyril Connolly:    “Told in Gath”                                                                    Aldous Huxley

Douglas Woodruff:    “The English Week-End”                                          W.R. Inge

J.B. Morton:     “The Queen of Minikoi”                                                       John Buchan

A.G. Macdonell:      “Eden Week-End”                                                          J.B. Priestley

Edward Shanks:    “The Last of the Incas”                                               A.G. Macdonell

Ivor Brown:      “A Stroll to the Pole”                                                        Peter Fleming

John Betjeman:     “Tomsk-Omsk-Omsk-Tomsk”                                    From the Russian

L.A. Pavey:    “First Person Circular”                                                        Somerset Maugham

This is a delightful and, at times, hilarious book. It is not necessary to know the parodied writers’ work in order to enjoy it, it is enough to recognize the genres. The parodies are so well-written that even when I was not familiar with the writer parodied, I found myself laughing.

Take the first piece, in which Rebecca West parodies Charles Morgan. It is a description of the thoughts of a gentleman waiting at a railway station, as he philosophizes about his oh so precious quasi-love affairs. It becomes apparent that these affairs exist solely in his mind. He looks back over his relations with various women; their behaviour is unexceptional but he invests everything they say with deep emotional significance.

“After a little she would say : ‘I think we might have some tea now,’ and his heart would lift up in amazement at the spiritual cleverness of her, that would let nothing of the wonderful secret between them be wasted by subjecting it to the gross touch of the spoken word.”

One of the ways West amuses the reader is by contrasting his thoughts, which are definitely on a higher plane, with the ordinary reality around him.

For example,

“The landscape around the station was looking, as landscape usually did when he was about, calm and high-principled. He walked up and down the platform two or three more times, thinking of the Absolute; but his feet got cold. It was then that he saw the words, ‘Refreshment Room’, in clear grass on the frosted window; and he remembered that one of the things he had learnt from his days with Althea, so radiant and yet so coolly shadowed, was that one could go into such places and sit down, and order food and drink.”

He then addresses the waitress as Diotima and when she doesn’t respond, he thinks “it was a bare possibility that she had never heard of Plato’s Symposium.”

Francis Iles wrote as both Anthony Berkeley and Francis Iles. His Walpole parody  effectively skewers the sinister,pointless cruelty in some of Walpole’s work. He parodies the eccelsiastical novels, (e.g The Cathedral) and his macabre horror stories (e.g Portrait of a Man with Red Hair) in one piece. The setting is the cathedral city of Polchester and the tensions within the Dean and Chapter involve a disagreement between Archdeacon Grandun (who pulls the wings off bluebottles) and Canon Rounder as to whether a new trowel may be purchased for the Close gardener. But Polchester also has a fair every year during which the townsfolk dance and sing their way around the town. The climax of the fair is the stamping to death of a stranger. The main character is a young man called Faulker who is encouraged to go to Polchester by Maradick (a Walpole character) in order to find out if he (Faulker) is real.He inadvertently joins in the kill only to discover that it is Maradick who has been killed. Faulker asks why.

“’What had he done to you,man? What had he done to any one of us?’

‘What had he done?’ The man stared. ‘Why, bored us, young sir, that’s what. A dreadful bore they say he was. A sententious bore, and what can be worse than that. Whatever they may say about us here in Polchester, we’re not bores. Well, we’ve got rid of him at any rate. Now we want his friend. You don’t happen to know where we might be likely to find him, do you sir?’

‘No,’ said Faulker hastily, ‘certainly not.’”

He hurriedly leaves the town to the disappointment of the Devil who was present in the guise of a black cat.

One of the non-fiction writers parodied here is the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. It is subtitled “Draft of a speech to be delivered to the Bewdley Rotary Club next St George’s Day” and is set out as such with notes to his secretary, Miss Glitch, in the margins. There are constant references to “honest English faces….sturdy English soil…the very stuff of England” and so on. I had thought the parody exaggerated until I came across a 1924 Baldwin speech, “What England means to me”. He is almost beyond parody.

The notes to Miss Glitch are amusing. For example,

“The ruddy, open, English faces of the garage-mechanics, besmeared, like the faces of their Saxon fathers, with English oil”

is annotated with “Miss Glitch – check this. Who makes (e.g.) Mobil-oil?”

I include him here because of a literary reference. He famously championed the novels of Mary Webb. Here he is made to say,

“This is England – and I make no apology for praising here once more the incomparable novels of Hernia Groyne, whose pages are as it were caked and matted with English loam. Read Gabriel Dungfork through again – especially the scene of the double hanging in the barn after Evensong on the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – and tell me if that is not in the true heritage of Shakespeare, Milton and Hardy.”

All in all, this book is great fun.

7 thoughts on “Parody Party edited by Leonard Russell (1936)

  1. This sounds wonderful – I love parodies! I have somewhere at home the Faber Book of Parodies and some of the Sherlock Holmes and Shakespeare ones have me laughing out loud, even though I know what’s coming. I’d love to read the Sayers one…!

      • Alas, only part of Greedy Night made it into the Faber – but it was so good, I had to go out and snap up the last reasonably priced copy of Parody Party online! It arrived today and sounds *lovely* (and since I slightly collect Rebecca West I had to have it anyway – well, that’s my excuse!(

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