Friday, September 18, 2009

Linking to Linker's Post on Post

I recently came across Joe Linker's interesting weblog, The Coming of the Toads, and enjoyed reading his post on Emily Post:

It becomes increasingly clear why Emily Post did not go into literary criticism. As George Bernard Shaw said, ”Those who can, do; those who can’t, study etiquette, or rhetoric, or grammar, or some such thing.” And Emily’s Etiquette is a work of fiction, and she is a stunning, literary star. Had she placed her cartoonish characters into any kind of plot, she could have been as good as P. G. Wodehouse.

Quite right; she has a knack for characterization that's very Wodehouse-like. It put me in mind of Dorothy Parker's inimitable review of Post's Etiquette. The review is hilariously funny, and what makes it work so well is not merely Parker's wide-eyed, faux-innocent irony, but also the fact that she plays it off Post's already droll characterizations, so that you are hit from one side with drollery and from the other side with biting sarcasm:

I am going in for a course of study at the knee of Mrs. Post. Maybe some time in the misty future, I shall be Asked Out, and I shall be ready. You won’t catch me being intentionally haughty to subordinates or refusing to be a pallbearer for any reason except serious ill health. I shall live down the old days, and with the help of Mrs. Post and God (always mention a lady’s name first) there will come a time when you will be perfectly safe in inviting me to your house, which should never be called a residence except in printing or engraving.

It will not be a grueling study, for the sprightliness of Mrs. Post’s style makes the textbook as fascinating as it is instructive. Her characters, introduced for the sake of example, are called by no such unimaginative titles as Mrs. A., or Miss Z., or Mr. X.; they are Mrs. Worldly, Mr. Bachelor, the Gildings, Mrs. Oldname, Mrs. Neighbor, Mrs. Stranger, Mrs. Kindhart, and Mr. and Mrs. Nono Better. This gives the work all the force and the application of a morality play.

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