22066155907.jpg

Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich

22066155907.jpg

Stephen Leacock, Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich [Toronto; 1914]

The sequel as may be to Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town and for my money the best Leacock I've ever read. Which is saying something; he's second only to Wodehouse in my pantheon of twentieth-century humorists; but if anthologies are anything to go by he was best known for the parodic short stories of the 1920s -- which are often great, smacking down the pretensions of that literary era, and incidentally featuring much great writing in their own right -- rather than the more socially-aware work he wrote in the 1910s.

Sunshine Sketches has recently been reissued with illustrations by Seth; though I've had multiple copies for years, I haven't read it yet: my understanding is that it's a collection of idyllic, sweet and nostalgic Canadian stories, completely unlike the savage satire of the delusional monstrosities wealthy Americans inflict on the world that Arcadian Adventures contains. Leacock was a professor of political economy at McGill, and his close awareness of the ways that institutions self-perpetuate and the wealthy bend the operation of all things toward their own profit underline everything in this book, even the chapters that are dopier Wodehousian farce: like Twain, it starts as a sort of romp and ends in a sort of cosmic despair.

Published on the eve of World War I, nothing has changed except the outer cultural forms by which the vultures of capital pretend to be human.

August 14, 2017