Saturday, 8 August 2009

A Perfectly Edited Lime

A lime - public domainApologies for the long unadvertised break - I've been much caught up in personal and family stuff lately, and running about like something proverbial. Life is good and the sun is shining. As to the rest, like Doctor Who on the Planet of the Plot Holes, I'll explain later...

...Re-reading my favourite Dorothy L Sayers book, Gaudy Night, last week. At some point in the Wimseyical banter therein, a character quotes from a limerick which I didn't recognise. I was put to some puzzlement in trying to work out how it must conclude, and eventually cheated and Googled for it. Much to my annoyance, it turned out to be an Edward Lear cop-out. In case you are unfamiliar with such abominations, this is how the ELCO works:

Pick a promising opening couplet, such as the bit quoted in Gaudy Night:

There was an old man of Thermopylae
Who never did anything properly,

Up the tempo of the performance, racking up the tension and putting the reader on the edge of their seat and all that:

But they said, "If you choose,
To boil eggs in your shoes,"

(In Lear, there is usually an impersonal they.)

Fling off your last veil of decency and reveal beneath it - an ugly flesh-coloured body-stocking!

"You shall never remain in Thermopylae!"

Edward Lear's self in an actual flesh-coloured body-stocking could scarcely be less agreeable; and it's not like he is any spring chicken, these days. He does this all the time. I was severely disappointed in Sayers and her usually-witty characters for evoking this abominable phantom of pasty naffness. And then, dear reader, I realised yet again the true measure of her genius.

Because vile as the original is, the quoted couplet is a uniquely brilliant limerick in its own right - if we read it as complete and self-documenting. Though perhaps 'complete' and 'limerick' aren't quite the words I'm looking for here...

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