Table of Contents
2. Enter Nobody
3. “Mr. Pooter’s Place in History”
5. List of Works Cited
A person resembling or reminiscent of the character Charles Pooter, esp. in displaying parochial self-importance, over-fastidiousness, or lack of imagination
This entry – taken from the most comprehensive English language dictionary – makes two things clear: 1. that there is a character by the name of Charles Pooter. This bit is fairly easy to check, given our basically unlimited access to information using the Internet: if you type in the name “Charles Pooter” in any online search engine, you will reasonably quickly stumble upon an article about a late Victorian masterpiece of diary fiction called The Diary of a Nobody by the brothers George and Weedon Grossmith, published first in serialised form in 1888, finally in book form in 1892, which our aforementioned Charles Pooter is the main character, i.e. diarist, of. And 2. that the character was so popular, so peculiar, so omnipresent, or in any case so exceptional that his very existence coined an expression of its own and spawned an entry in English’s broadest and most complete dictionary, the OED. Here, however, the Internet fails. We are not provided with answers to the following questions: who is this character, Charles Pooter? What are his striking character traits? And what is so special about him that enabled him to survive and influence a whole century?
The aim of this paper is therefore to try and find answers to these questions. To achieve this I will first of all take a look at the character himself, attempting to extract several characteristics, so that, eventually, we will have a more or less clear notion of what it means to be “Pooterish”. In the following, I shall point out some 20th-century counterparts to the 19th-century original, striving to identify some of the numerous references and allusions to the highly influential Charles Pooter in British (popular) culture. It goes without saying that the examples used are far from complete: only a small cast can be employed. But although the cast be limited, yet there is method in it, for – as we shall see – it is a representative cast including sportsmen, politicians and, of course, literature. To conclude the matter, I will briefly consider possible reasons for Pooter’s longevity and enduring popularity with the British public.
2. Enter Nobody
When reading The Diary of a Nobody, one quickly notices a peculiar effect the character of Mr. Pooter has on oneself: though he is marked by many negative characteristics, we cannot help but be charmed by that buffoonish, little London clerk and the minute detailing of his generally uneventful life. Among his negative traits, his conceitedness and snobbishness are surely the ones we are confronted with earliest and most often: it is in chapter 1 already that the reader is introduced to the tradesmen, who feature regularly to show us Pooter’s arrogant attitude towards them on the one hand, and their defiant retaliations on the other.
This snobbishness towards the people Pooter considers to be lower on the social scale than himself reaches a high point in chapter 4, where he meets Farmerson, his ironmonger, at the Lord Mayor’s Ball. Pooter remarks: “I never expected to see you here.”, whereupon Farmerson responds “with a loud coarse laugh: ‘I like that – if you, why not me ?’” (Grossmith 44) Oblivious to the fact that a well-off craftsman could easily compete with someone “who sets such store by his black-coated respectability” (Motor 4), Pooter then goes on to relate the meeting of Farmerson and one of the sheriffs present at the ball, and cannot help but conclude: “I was astonished. […] To think that a man who mends our scraper should know any member of our aristocracy!” (ibid.) While displaying enormous arrogance, Pooter simultaneously shows that he is a phoney, desperate to be thought of as a wit, when he is anything but: sheriffs in late 19th century Britain were not more or less aristocratic than any member of the middle class.
Moreover, while he is desperately trying to appear as a well-situated member of the middle class, that façade frequently crumbles, showing us that the Pooters barely manage to sustain their lower middle class status. One of those instances we find in chapter 9, where the waiter is particularly instructed “not to open another bottle of champagne until the previous one was empty” (Grossmith 91), which does not only make clear that Charles and Carrie Pooter take pains to make other people believe they are quite well-off; together with another scene, in which the maid complains about hardly any dinner leftovers for the servants, it also sheds light on Charles’ stinginess and meanness.
However, let us come back to a character trait I mentioned above: Pooter’s vanity and his yearning to be considered witty. This is something the signs of which we can trace throughout the entire diary, notably in the chapters just mentioned, 4 and 9. In chapter 12, his vanity serves the purpose of comic relief: he believes that “it’s the diary that makes the man” (Grossmith 114) and compares himself to famous British diarists Evelyn and Pepys, so he is very disappointed when “reading some extracts from my diary, she [i.e. Carrie; M.M.] walked out of the room in the middle of the reading, without a word” (Grossmith 113). Furthermore, shortly after he expresses his hopes in front of his wife and son that “if anything ever happened to me, the diary would be an endless source of pleasure to you both; to say nothing of the chance of the remuneration which may accrue from its being published”, he is offended, for “[b]oth Carrie and Lupin burst out laughing” (Grossmith 114).
 Notice the use of the telling name with regard to Farmerson’s function as foil to Pooter.
 “Where would Evelyn and Pepys have been if it had not been for their diaries?” (Grossmith 114)
- Quote paper
- Mate Madunic (Author), 2009, A Nobody Throughout the Ages, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/137600