My Discovery of England

Read by TriciaG

(4 stars; 3 reviews)

"In the course of time a very considerable public feeling was aroused in the United States and Canada over this state of affairs. The lack of reciprocity in it seemed unfair. It was felt (or at least I felt) that the time had come when some one ought to go over and take some impressions off England. The choice of such a person (my choice) fell upon myself. By an arrangement with the Geographical Society of America, acting in conjunction with the Royal Geographical Society of England (to both of whom I communicated my proposal), I went at my own expense."

And from thence follow the impressions of Canadian political economist and humourist, Stephen Leacock, after a lecturing visit to England. (Summary by the author & TriciaG) (4 hr 43 min)


Well worth listening

(3 stars)

Stephen Leacock was arguably, for a decade or so after the First World War, the most popular humorous writer in English. He is little known today, but his work is surprisingly relevant to modern readers. Some parts have aged beyond relevance, but then there are little spurts of brilliance which he would have dreaded to know are still cacklingly funny now. His second book involves him travelling to England, from his native Canada, and writing in the slightly patronising and earnestly parochial way that English writers favoured while touring North America. His description of English people coming to mine, and then sell, their impressions of America is terribly funny if, like me, you’ve enjoyed works in this genre. I can see his ghost hovering behind Stephen Fry, chiding him for daring to take impressions of America and sell them, which Leacock’s narrator sees as little better than thievery. Leacock’s description of London shows his intent for the rest of the work. It describes Nelson’s Column only as the best way to find the American barbershop nearby, and the Tower of London basically as a way to find the American gasoline station slightly to its north. It reminded me most of Rick Steve suggesting you could do the British Museum in two hours. Leacock also does a lovely line in the fact that English people do not seem to travel anywhere or see anything, so his narrator, in attempting to experience England in a truly English way, manages to avoid seeing the British Museum, the Tower of London, or Westminster Abbey, but finds this no social impediment, as no-one he meets has actually seen them either. It is sufficient, for conversational purposes, to memorise a few glib clichés about each place. Sadly, in the middle of this book is a real clanger of a chapter, in which he, well, I’m not sure what he’s doing. Let me argue by analogy. I watched Benny Hill once. The joke seemed to be that women wear underwear. I could not actually understand the structure of the jokes on Benny Hill because the concept is that you’ll be sort of shocked and titillated by underwear and I’m not either. I mean, people turn up in my library in bikinis on a pretty regular basis in summer and I don’t even notice unless they’ve forgotten to wear shoes, on which we sometimes insist. Similarly, I don’t understand what Leacock thinks he’s doing in his lengthy bit of pointless writing. Leacock knows it is pointless and that women have won. Is he trying to tweak the nose of the contemporary version of political correctness? It’s a painfully bad chapter, if you are seeking humor. If you’d like to hear a “separate but equal” argument from the time, as a gender study, then it may have some value to you. This review was first posted on <a href="" rel="nofollow">book coasters</a>