Pissing off Americans

ALL the Chuzzlewits!

Dear Charlie,

I’ve just finished the first volume of Martin Chuzzlewit, and have left Mrs. Gamp ministering at the sick bed of a mysterious stranger, an old friend of John Westlock’s, old Martin and Mary back at the Blue Dragon for reasons unknown, Jonas (mostly) engaged to Mercy and her sister enraged by it, Pecksniff doing his damnedest to keep on old Martin’s good side, and young Martin and the cheerful Mark finding themselves owners of a very dank, very remote piece of an American settlement called Eden.

I suppose I have become used to you, by now, poking fun at various English characters, institutions and cultural idiosyncrasies, so when you turned that sharp eye and caustic wit on the people and politics of the Americans Martin encounters upon his arrival in New York… well, I can see why your American friends weren’t exactly tickled by your exposing their foibles. As you yourself said:

I gather from a letter I have had this morning that Martin has made them all stark staring raving mad across the water.

Oops. I guess it’s true that you can only make fat jokes if you’re fat, eh? Fortunately, your friend Forster noted:

But though an angry they are a good humoured and a very placable people; and as time moved on a little, the laughter on that side of the Atlantic became quite as great as our amusement on this side, at the astonishing fun and comicality of these scenes.

And they are funny. Even if some of the politics went over my head, the behavior of the boarding house residents at dinner, the rigid social hierarchy, and the profusion of tabloids (I think we should definitely bring back your term for them, since ‘screamers’ is exactly what they are) made me laugh out loud. It’s interesting, too, that Martin, who you portray as a bit of a selfish ass, becomes much more sympathetic when you place him in the role of the English observer of American culture and customs. Let’s hope some hardship in the swamps of Eden finally helps him to get over himself and learn some humility before he returns home (assuming he makes it home).

And now this Canadian girl must put up a pair of curtains before wolfing down her dinner in the grand North American style. And, of course, I remain ever,

Affectionately yours,

Melissa

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