Jerome K. Jerome: A Critical Biography by Joseph Connolly. Good biography of the "Three Men in a Boat" author, roughly equally devoted to his life and his work.
His early life was largely spent in poverty, as his parents lost their money in bad business deals, and he had only minimal schooling, leaving at 14. His birth certificate said "Jerome Clapp Jerome", the same name as his father, but he was named Jerome Klapka Jerome after a Hungarian military officer who was lodging with the family.
He struggled for quite a while to get recognized, working a day job as a clerk, then struggling as a journalist, actor and writer: seems to have had periods of loneliness and isolation. Despite his Idler reputation, he wrote the "Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow" and founded the Idler magazine, he was actually extremely hard working, and ground his way out of poverty by persistence, steadily selling more and more articles at higher prices despite incessant rejection.
Despite selling large numbers of books, when the Idler magazine was sued he was landed with huge debts which took most of his life to pay off. Plays, books, and lecture tours of America eventually paid it off.
At the start of World War One he was at first caught up in the pro-war media frenzy, but quite rapidly turned against the war, being one of the few skeptics about German war atrocities. He tried to join the British army, was rejected because of his age, but eventually managed to wangle his way into a French ambulance corps as an ambulance driver, working precariously near the Front.
Jerome died between the wars, after finally paying off his debt and achieving success.
Regarding his work, Connolly is good at pointing out the often hostile and snobbish attitude to his work at first: as he stated, he really was regarded as a symptom of the over-education of the working classes, and regarded as svulgar and degraded for his colloquial language and blunt attitude. The first review of "Three Men in a Boat" appeared in the "Saturday Review" complained about the the language ("colloquial clerk's English of the year 1889") and that:
"...the book's only serious fault is that the life it describes and the humour that it records are poor and limited and decidedly vulgar... it left us with a sigh on our lips at the narrowness and poverty of the life it only too faithfully reflects."Eventually over the course of his life he became first accepted, then regarded as old-fashioned. His books generally became more didactic and less funny as well. Even though he's best known as a light humourist, he cared deeply about some things, and tried to become more serious. His more serious work had modest success at the time, but is now largely forgotten and seem to have dated pretty badly. He seems to have been a genuine idealist: in his lecture tours in America he alienated some of his audience by lecturing them about the treatment of blacks in the South Overall, I liked this book a lot, but mostly because I'm a pretty big fan of JKJ. Not sure most people would be so interested.
What I'm Reading 2
The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead seems to be a bit of a cult book, well-written and unusual. It's set in an unnamed American city in a time that could be anywhere from the Thirties to the Fifties, and is set in the world of elevator inspection. In this book the world of elevator inspection has a distinctly Gormenghast feel: they have their own University (the Institute of Vertical Transport), and have an insular working world in the City where they have distinct haircuts and a social circle.
There are two bitterly divided factions: the Empiricists who inspect elevators with a rigorous and rigid system of checklists; and the Intuitionists who listen to the noises and feel the vibrations and intuit the results according to a quasi-mystical training.
The protagonist Lila Mae is the first black female elevator inspector, and only the second black inspector. When a high-profile elevator she inspected fails, she's plunged into a seedy world of gangsters, intrigue and elevator-related corruption.
Despite the surreal elements, the book handles the racial and social elements with a very plausible feel. Lila Mae feels like a plausible character: unbending, obsessive and isolated. The grubby world with its thin veneer of integration feels genuine too. The plot is pretty well-handled too.
However, the obscure allegory didn't really work for me. Apparently it refers to Ralph Ellison's "The Invisible Man", so I might have understood more if I'd read that.
Overall, a good book, worth reading for the claustrophobic feel.
What I'm Watching
Saw Paul on DVD. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost comedy about two nerds on a UFO road trip after Comic-Con encountering an alien who's far more at ease with American culture than they are.
Overall, reasonably entertaining if you're able to get the jokes.
US Politics. Why government is broken. How the Senate created the modern filibuster. Robert Gates. (It's always talked about as a cultural change, but seems to me the filibuster rule-change and the gerrymandering making primaries more important, account for the problems pretty well.)
Sci/Tech. 150 years since discovery of atmospheric Greenhouse Effect.
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