View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Who Reads Thurber? - III

A few months ago, Trunk over at Powerline asked, not knowing what he was getting into, "Who reads Thurber, now?" I let him know that some of us still did. Then, a Thurber piece was included in the incoming reading packet for University of Denver undergrads. Now, F. H. Buckley, he of a recent humor analysis, has a review in the New Criterion of a collection of Thurber's letters, and a re-issue of Thurber Country. It's like buying a new car - you really may have been the first on your block with the new Ford Extrapolation, but suddenly the highways are full of them.

Buckley is fair, and describes in some relief Thurber's darker side, without which his cutting humor would not have been possible. His assesment is that Thurber was hysterical, the "funniest writer of his generation," but that he has been "almost forgotten." This, he attributes to Thurber's lack of depth, his preference for short stories and essays to novels. It isn't that Thurber went for the cheap laugh, so much as that he didn't push it far enough.

For those who are agnostic about meaning, minimalism is the best you can do. But Thurber also lacked deep beliefs, and led a cocktail party life. A less frivolous person might have written sharper satire and given us a more profound critique of his time. Like Waugh he inferred a Fall from the evidence about him, but unlike Waugh did not hope for a Redemption. He and his friends shared a commonsense morality which protected them from modernism’s dissolution of values. They lived off an inheritance which they squandered, but while they possessed it threw great parties. They had the gifts of friendship and of enmity, for they had the jester’s belief that we are put on earth to entertain each other as well as his resentment when the offering of laughter is not reciprocated. They are part of the world we left behind.

Of course, every American humorist has to contend with Twain. Buckley has a point. Twain's funniest stuff was some of his most fleeting. I laugh out loud at his take-downs of Fenimore Cooper, but we remember him for Huckleberry Finn, if it's still in any Politically Correct school libraries anymore, that is. Thurber never got there. But you know, the parties are still there.

Blogarama - The Blog Directory
help Israel
axis of weevils
contact us
site sections