George and Weedon Grossmith. Diary of a Nobody (1892).
Mr. Pooter is a middle-aged clerk in a city office, who happens to keep a diary. He jots down the events of his life which include insipid jokes he makes to his wife (“We quite roared.”), his altercations with his house help and laundry woman, and his social activities–which consist in the main of evening visits from his two friends, the proper Mr. Cummings and the crude Mr. Gowing. Pooter is a gentleman, the sort of man best described as “harmless.” He possesses a wife as ordinary as himself, an unsatisfactory foolhardy son, and a suburban home of which he is inordinately proud.
Mr. Pooter reminds me strongly of the protagonist of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Both are men living drab, unlively lives. Mitty, however, escapes from the dullness of his world through daydreams. Pooter doesn’t seem to view escape as desirable.
This novel is a quiet satire on both late Victorian trends–such as the craze for publishing diaries–and the daily life of a middle-class social climber. The redundancy of the story underscores its humor and the poignancy of its statement about the drabness of life. The strangest thing about it is that it grabs the reader by its very lack of action, in Napoleon Dynamite sort of way. We keep waiting for something bigger to happen.
It was a quick read that made me chuckle, but never laugh.