Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Whither silliness?

An interesting question was posed today in my online book group - in passing, actually, in a discussion of Elizabeth von Arnim - about silliness in books. It was agreed (between the two of us, at least) that silliness could be on the level of either plot or dialogue. I think there's a place for either, but definitely prefer the latter.

Let me briefly explain... Novels that have silliness on the level of plot are those like P.G. Wodehouse that have absurd event after absurd event - a sort of narrative farce - that is expertly organised but so unlikely as to be impossible. Silliness on the level of dialogue encompasses rather more - the example given was from von Arnim's In the Mountains, where a pompous guest begins a reminiscence with "Our father ..." and the narrator thinks she is about to start praying. I suppose it is moments or wordings that are unlikely to happen.

I love dialogue taken to unlikely extremes. It's why I love Ivy Compton-Burnett, and strident heroines like Lady Catherine de Burgh. I also love narratives which leap to hyperbole or litotes - which is why I adore Richmal Crompton's William books and the Provincial Lady series. Silliness perhaps isn't the word, but it isn't realism. Silliness in plot, however, I have only limited tolerance for. Wodehouse yes; almost everyone else, no.

Does this division chime with anyone? What are you thoughts? Did you think I was finally going to blog about the Mr Men? (One day...)

16 comments:

  1. What about Lewis Carroll, Simon? Delicious silliness in plot, yet none in the dialogues (at least that's what I think).

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    1. Interesting case... I do love him, and I can't decide whether any of what they say is silly or not! The Mad Hatter speaks quite foolishly, but the surreal plot is definitely the peak of silliness :)

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  2. Waiting to see your thoughts on Mr Silly :)

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    1. I adore him, and all the real Mr Men! (i.e. none of the ones invented after Roger H died...)

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  3. Wodehouse has silliness in dialogue as well as plot, doesn't he? I'm not sure how much of a fan of silliness in general I am, but I love books that make me chuckle or giggle (Barbara Pym springs to mind), which can be the dialogue or the narrative, but not the plot. So I'm probably with you on that one.

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    1. He is, indeed, the perfect meeting of the two :)

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  4. I've just read two pretty silly (and very enjoyable books) - Paul Magrs' "Mrs Danby and Company" and Professor Elemental and Nimue Brown's "Letters Between Gentlemen" (I daren't put two links in but they're easily findable on my reviews blog at www.librofulltime.wordpress.com ). Both had both silly plots AND silly conversation - perfect! What about that, though, when a book has both?

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    1. I've been meaning to read something by Magrs for ages - thanks for the recommendation! When a book has both, it is either genius or a bit overwhelming....

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  5. Silly witty dialogue is always lovely - and silliness in plots sometimes, but not too often. Wodehouse is best basically.....

    kaggsysbookishramblings

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  6. Interested to see your comment regarding Wodehouse. I read something - I don't know where and I'm obviously paraphrasing - by Wodehouse, where he said that really there were only two ways to write, one was to dig down deep into life and not give a damn (what I've privately dubbed the Evelyn Waugh method) and the other was essentially a musical comedy without the music, which was his.

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    1. What a perfect description of Wodehouse's writing! And I do like 'Evelyn Waugh method' ;)

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  7. It depends on the writers intentions and skill. Georgette Heyer's plots are often silly but she has fun with them and so do I as a reader. Wodehouse is delightfully silly and so it works but there are plenty of very silly plots written by people who clearly don't realise just how silly they are and that's not fun at all.

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    1. Oh, yes, if they don't realise, that's definitely the worst of all. Especially if it's supposed to be filled with pathos.

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  8. Hi,

    I nominated you for Versatile Blogger Award. Check it here:

    http://book-choose.blogspot.in/2015/02/versatile-blogger-award-nomination-i.html

    Happy Reading!! Have fun!!

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