#Victorian Middle Class Problems

The Diary of a Nobody, published in 1888 and on the 100 Greatest Novels list, started out life as a serialised feature in Punch magazine. It was written by George Grossmith, who was an actor and comedian, as well as a dashed snappy dresser, as the picture below illustrates.

There’s something confused about the earlier generations of the middle class. It was much easier when there was just barons and serfs, but then everyone started with their reading and writing, the industrial revolution gave birth to rich non-upper class people, and before you knew it there were families living country manses and tall terraced city houses, keeping servants but also having to get off to work at the office each morning. In this diary of Charles Pooter, we see the new breed of clerks, lawyers generally being confused about their position in the class system.

The book is hilarious. Charles is like middle aged dads everywhere, he discovers enamel paint and much to his wife’s and maid’s horror, sets to work painting wooden furniture and even the bath red, which then melts all over him when he has a hot bath. He gets upset when his adult son wears a checked suit to church, and who it was that sent him and insulting Christmas card. My favourite incident is when a blancmange is left uneaten after a party, the maid puts it on the table for every meal afterwards in various incarnations, breakfast included. Charles one day declares to his wife that if it appears one more time, he will walk out of the house.

Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde were published in the same decade, but those bleak worlds of suffering are a universe away form Charles Pooter and his pink blancmange, he’s too busy having indigestion, getting annoyed with a neighbour who threw a firework at his hat, and arguing with the laundress who lost one of his socks.