Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Reader's Diary #962- Stephen Leacock: Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town

Many years back I remember lying in bed reading a collection of Canadian short stories. One of those happened to be Stephen Leacock's "My Financial Career." I got into such a fit of giggles with that one that I ended up waking up my wife. Granted, when you're not supposed to laugh things always seem funnier. Like the Barenaked Ladies laughing at a funeral.

The reason I'm second guessing the humour of "My Financial Career"? I've not found Leacock as funny since.  

Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town begins promisingly enough. In his preface, Leacock writes
I was born at Swanmoor, Hants, England, on December 30, 1869. I am not aware that there was any particular conjunction of the planets at the time, but should think it extremely likely. My parents migrated to Canada in 1876, and I decided to go with them.
This was certainly enough to make me smile and I was optimistic for the rest of the book to come. Unfortunately, I found the rest somewhat boring. The passage above hints at a theme of Leacock's humour that pervades the rest of the book: the idea that people taking themselves too seriously is funny. And he's right. The Spinal Tap/ Mighty Wind guys have made a career off of that sort of thing. However, I did it wearing a little thin in Sunshine Sketches.

I also thought there was a hint of meanness in some of these stories. Whereas the target in Leacock's preface is himself, the target in the rest of the book is the townspeople of Mariposa. True, Mariposa is a fictional place, but as Leacock himself explains, it's supposed to represent rural Canada, or at the very least, rural Ontario. The message consistently falls somewhere between "country people are idiots" and the kinder, but more patronizing, "aww, isn't it cute when country people think they're doing something important." I'm from a small town, so it would be easy to accuse me of being over sensitive, but really I just prefer equal opportunity offenders.  Make fun of the small towns all you want, but save some jokes for the cities.

4 comments:

Loni said...

It's been a long time since I read this. I don't remember it being funny, but I do remember being upset by it, though I could never recall why. Maybe I just blocked it out?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I am sure I must have read this sometime in my life. But I honestly can't recall a word. Perhaps not such a bad thing, the impending Alzheimer's aside.

John Mutford said...

Loni: Did you catch the CBC movie version last year? I didn't, and though I wasn't overly enthusiastic about the book, I'd still like to have seen it.

Barbara: Last year I similarly went through the same thing when I decided to read it. I thought, "surely, I've already read this." But nope, turns out that I hadn't. From this collection, I had only read the short story "the Mariposa Bank Mystery" before.

Loni said...

I did not see the movie, but I do vaguely recall there being one. Perhaps the part of my brain that blocked it out in the first place kept me from watching it :)