Thursday, August 19, 2010

Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t Mr. Coppard?

I have to admit after I read A. E. Coppard’s “Alas, Poor Bollington,” this cartoon is what I thought of:

The rivalry in romance. The futility in pursuing affection. All livened up by that wonderful musical number.

Compared to this Tom and Jerry cartoon, Coppard’s tale is rather bland. And boring, I’m sorry to say. A lot of flim-flam and wordiness for a vaudeville hall payoff at the end. Chalk it up as another example of how humor – and writing – have continued to evolve.

To tell the truth, I honestly cannot find a bit of “Bollington” that stands out as quoteworthy for this entry. Coppard does seem to have attended the “way too much and completely unnecessary detail” school, with a minor in “having characters utter things that likely would not have been said in real life.” For that, I can conjure up an example in this story of a man who separates from his wife over a silly argument, flees to America, then returns and laments the vaudeville-inspired ending to an old acquaintance he meets in a club. But here’s the unlikely dialogue:

Well, I went out, and I will not deny I was in a rage, terrific. It was raining but I didn’t care, and I walked about in it. Then I took shelter in a bookseller’s doorway opposite a shop that sold tennis rackets and tobacco, and another one that displayed carnations and peaches on wads of colored wool. The rain came so fast that the streets seemed to empty, and the passersby were horribly silent under their umbrellas, and their footsteps splashed so dully, and I tell you I was very sad, Turner, there. I debated whether to such across the road and buy a lot of carnations and peaches and take them to Phoebe. But I did not do so, Turner. I never went back, never.

Whoosh. I’m tired and all I had to do was read this. I can’t imagine saying it.

Of course, I’m no conversationalist. Maybe there’s someone out there who can wrap his or her lips around such silliness.

Of course, this is from the Gilbert and Sullivan era, where such dialogue was expected. And sung:

A tradition which continues today:

So I’m probably wrong in dismissing Coppard. After all, if we wrote as we speak, the books we write would be pretty damn boring, wouldn’t they?

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