Thursday, January 26, 2006

Who is J. K. Prothero?

Another warning! First, if you still want to try getting the answer to the question, do NOT read this posting! Second, I will again post something really funny.

At least I thought it was funny. Maybe it's because I saw Chesterton and Shaw on stage together - not for real, of course, as I am not that old - but as character actors. I laughed myself silly. Then again that is nearly my normal state of existence. Ahem! Anyway, it is said that when Shaw and Chesterton met, this was what happened:

The Meeting of GBS and GKC

Dramatis Personae

GKC: an exceeding large and plump man, clean-shaven, with hair incredibly askew, probably crumbs of lunch on his shirt-front, not completely tucked in; a cigar in one hand and a mug of beer in the other. He looks as if he either just stopped laughing, or was about to start.

GBS: a thin, almost emaciated bearded man, rather tidily dressed in rather threadbare clothes. If you saw him you would think he had not eaten for over a week, and so would be moved to buy him a sandwich. He looks angry about something - or about everything.

Scene one

GKC: (Looks at GBS, noting his thinness) "to look at you, there was a famine in the land." (chuckles to himself, drinks some beer.)

GBS: (Looks at GKC, noting his girth) "and to look at you, - why - you're the cause of it!" (groans to himself, shaking his head.)

The Beginning

Well, it wasn't the end, but how they met, or at least the story of how they met. What can I say? (Oh, yes - sorry I don't have the reference; when I find it I will post it. It was not put in this very elegant little playlet, which I suggest you might stage someday...)

OK, so that's really funny, but it is not the funny part I meant when I started. I will tell that - oh, sorry. First, the answer to the question.

I will begin by paraphrasing Virgil's opening of his mighty Aeneid
"I sing of pens and the woman."
For the answer to our little challenge in the previous posting - "Who is J. K. Prothero?" is none other than Ada Jones Chesterton - the wife of GK's brother Cecil - who was a journalist and writer herself. Maisie Ward introduces her with these words:
Just before leaving England for the Front, Cecil had married Miss Ada Jones, who had long worked with him on the paper, and who continued to write both for it and later for G.K.'s Weekly, doing especially the dramatic criticism under the penname of J. K. Prothero. Later on she was to become famous for her exploit in spending a fortnight investigating in the guise of a tramp the London of down-and-out women. She wrote <[t]In Darkest London> and founded the Cecil Houses to improve the very bad conditions she had discovered and in memory of her husband. [Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 425]

OK, now that I told you the answer, I can tell you the other really funny thing I found when I was thinking about this pen-name business. You see, GKC and GBS were friends even though they disagreed about nearly everything. Chesterton wrote about about Shaw - sometimes critical, youy might expect - and so of course Shaw then had to write a review of GKC's book, where he could be nice and critical of Chesterton... The newspapers, of course, like nothing more than a good fight, especially when it involves really public and well-known people. So here is what happened, as told by Maisie Ward:

"But when Shaw reviewed Chesterton on Shaw, more than one paper waxed sarcastic on the point of royalties and remuneration gained by these means. The funniest of the more critical comments on the way these men wrote of one another was a suggestion made in the <[t]Bystander> that Shaw and Chesterton were really the same person:"

... Shaw, it is said, tired of Socialism, weary of wearing Jaegers, and broken down by teetotalism and vegetarianism, sought, some years ago, an escape from them. His adoption, however, of these attitudes had a decided commercial value, which he did not think it advisable to prejudice by wholesale surrender. Therefore he, in order to taste the forbidden joys of individualistic philosophy, meat, food and strong drink, created "Chesterton." This mammoth myth, he decided, should enjoy all the forms of fame which Shaw had to deny himself. Outwardly, he should be Shaw's antithesis. He should be beardless, large in girth, smiling of countenance, and he should be licensed to sell paradoxes only in essay and novel form, all stage and platform rights being reserved by Shaw.
To enable the imposition to be safely carried out, Shaw hit on the idea of residence close to the tunnel which connects Adelphi with the Strand. Emerging from his house plain, Jaeger-clad, bearded and saturnine Shaw, he entered the tunnel, in a cleft in which was a cellar. Here he donned the Chesterton properties, the immense padding of chest, and so on, the Chesterton sombrero hat and cloak and pince-nez, and there he left the Shaw beard and the Shaw clothes, the Shaw expression of countenance, and all the Shaw theories. He emerged into the Strand "G.K.C.," in whose identity he visited all the caf├ęs, ate all the meats, rode in all the cabs, and smiled on all the sinners. The day's work done, the Chesterton manuscripts delivered, the proofs read, the bargains driven, the giant figure retumed to the tunnel, and once again was back in Adelphi, the Shaw he was when he left it - back to the Jaegers, the beard, the Socialism, the statistics, and the sardonic letters to the Times.

[Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 236-7, quoting The Bystander 1 September, 1909.]

Now that's funny.


At 27 January, 2006 06:29, Blogger love2learnmom said...

That IS funny. Just when I needed a good laugh too! :)


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