Friday, October 14, 2016

Stage-Land by Jerome K Jerome

A while back I reviewed the marvellous Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K Jerome. Around that time, a friend recommended I follow it up with Jerome's satirical guide to late-Victorian theatre: Stage-Land.

Stage-Land was a quick read, good for a few chuckles, though not quite up to the insane brilliance of Three Men in a Boat. It profiles all the usual roles and plotlines common in melodramatic plays--the Hero, the Heroine, the Stage Child, the Good Old Man, the Lawyer, and so on.

On the Hero - "His name is George, generally speaking. "Call me George!" he says to the heroine. She calls him George (in a very low voice, because she is so young and timid). Then he is happy."

On Stage Law - "The only points of stage "law" on which we are at all clear are as follows:

"That if a man dies without leaving a will, then all his property goes to the nearest villain.

"But if a man dies and leaves a will, then all his property goes to whoever can get possession of that will.

"That the accidental loss of the three-and-sixpenny copy of a marriage certificate annuls the marriage.

"That the evidence of one prejudiced witness of shady antecedents is quite sufficient to convict the most stainless and irreproachable gentleman of crimes for the committal of which he could have had no possible motive.

"But that this evidence may be rebutted years afterward, and the conviction quashed without further trial by the unsupported statement of the comic man" - and so on.

On the Villain - "The stage villain is superior to the villain of real life. The villain of real life is actuated by mere sordid and selfish motives. The stage villain does villainy, not for any personal advantage to himself, but merely from the love of the thing as an art. Villainy is to him its own reward; he revels in it. 'Better far be poor and villainous,' he says to himself, 'than possess all the wealth of the Indies with a clear conscience. I will be a villain,' he cries. 'I will, at great expense and inconvenience to myself, murder the good old man, get the hero accused of the crime, and make love to his wife while he is in prison. It will be a risky and laborious business for me from beginning to end, and can bring me no practical advantage whatever. The girl will call me insulting names when I pay her a visit, and will push me violently in the chest when I get near her; her golden-haired infant will say I am a bad man and may even refuse to kiss me. The comic man will cover me with humorous opprobrium, and the villagers will get a day off and hang about the village pub and hoot me. Everybody will see through my villainy, and I shall be nabbed in the end. I always am. But it is no matter, I will be a villain—ha! ha!' "

On the Heroine - "Sometimes the stage heroine has a brother, and if so he is sure to be mistaken for her lover. We never came across a brother and sister in real life who ever gave the most suspicious person any grounds for mistaking them for lovers; but the stage brother and sister are so affectionate that the error is excusable.

"And when the mistake does occur and the husband comes in suddenly and finds them kissing and raves she doesn't turn round and say:

" 'Why, you silly cuckoo, it's only my brother.' "

As you can see, this book is a perfect hoot. And while some of the tropes lampooned within it have fallen into disuse, I was amazed by how many remain in use! If you have a spare half-hour and want to spend it chuckling, and thinking about how storytelling has and hasn't changed over the years, I do recommend Stage-Land.

Find Stage-Land on Project Gutenberg and Librivox.


Andrew of the House of Lacey said...

Sounds scrumptious! I must look into Jerome's work. Isn't Librevox a wondrous thing?!

Jamie W said...

I'm very amused by the chapter on the Villain, which ends in a sort of early form of the Evil Overlord List! The more things change...

Kate said...

As a Random Interesting Fact, my brother and I were asked (while we were in high school) if we were dating. This happened more than once. So the trope in the play isn't that far off.

Suzannah said...

Andrew, actually I very rarely listen to audiobooks, but whenever I do it's usually Librivox. It's a great service, if you can get a good reader...!

Jamie, oh, I know--some story tropes just stick around, don't they? Which is fine for those of us who don't mind being unoriginal :P

Kate, now you mention it, one of my friends used to think I was married to my brother because we attended a lot of events together. So you're quite right :)

Tarissa said...

I've read Three Men in a Boat too, and it was hilarious. A great read! I'd definitely be interested in reading more of Mr. Jerome's works, like Stage-Land. Sounds like it might be fun. :)


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