Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Auntie Mame Again

Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade by Patrick Dennis
published 1955. This scene set in 1928



From regular guest blogger Colm Redmond 





[It is the morning after ten-year-old Patrick has arrived at his Aunt's to live, as decreed in his late father, her brother's, will.]

Auntie Mame received me in her bedroom on the second floor. It was a vast chamber with black walls, a white carpet, and a gold ceiling. The only furnishings were an enormous gold bed up on a platform and a night table. Such a room might have depressed most people, but not Auntie Mame. She was as cheerful as a bird. In fact she looked rather like a bird in her bed jacket made of pink ostrich feathers. She was reading Gide's Les Faux-Monnayeurs and smoking Melachrino cigarettes through a long amber holder...

"By the way, child," she said... "Did your father ever say anything - that is, tell you anything - about me before he died?"

Norah had told me that all liars went straight to hell, so I gulped and blurted out, "He only said that you were a very peculiar woman and to be left in your hands was a fate he wouldn't wish a dog but beggars can't be choosers and you're my only living relative."

There was a quiet gasp. "That bastard," she said evenly.

I reached for my vocabulary pad.


observations:  There is often humour to be found in the child's-eye view of the adult world, and all the more in this case as Mame's milieu is very adult indeed. She is not used to being around children and not prone to filtering her own behaviour and language, or those of her friends, in consideration of young Patrick or indeed of his saintly innocent Irish Catholic nanny, Norah, who at first continues to live with him.

But Mame does seek to be a good influence on the child, for example by insisting he carry his "vocabulary pad" everywhere so she can direct him as to the spelling, meaning and usage of words he hears. ['"That word, dear, was bastard," she said sweetly. "It's spelled b-a-s-t-a-r-d and it means your late father!"'] And she genuinely believes the outlandish schools she wants to send him to (and does, in one case) will be better for him than "proper" ones. When he gets older she gets less concerned with his welfare and more concerned with his handsome friends, but that's another matter. Most of the book's adventures are riotous but there are some more sombre passages, as Patrick gets older. And there are times when - like interfering relatives in comedy always seem to do - Mame perhaps goes too far. But this is a fantastic book that stands up very well indeed to its 50+ years.

An incongruously serious and savage argument about anti-semitism comes out of nowhere, at a time when WWII is underway but without US involvement. We are glad that it is the people we know who come out of this argument well; but this is 1940, or should be if Patrick claims to be 22, and I do wonder how likely he was to have known that Hitler was in the process of "slaughtering" Jews. However - not that it matters - chronology is never entirely a strong point for the author. In the same chapter someone has "always wanted to read" the novel The Song Of Bernadette, which was not in fact published till two years later.

The picture this time shows Rosalind Russell as Mame herself in the very bed jacket, but a different scene. The item in her mouth must be the "switch" her Broadway-star best friend uses to disguise Mame's bob - still not an entirely respectable hairdo in 1928 - when transforming her into a respectable matron for a key meeting with the trustee who controls Patrick's affairs.

Mame has featured before – a special New Year's Eve entry, and this one featuring Mame doing her exercises. This photo:





- turned up just too late to be used then. It’s Marilyn Monroe looking a lot less focussed than Jane Fonda in the other one. Shorts and a halter indeed - is it possible that she is not really doing her exercises but just posing for the photographer?

With thanks once more to Trish Winter for the suggestion.

Bobbed hair gets a going-over here from F Scott Fitzgerald, with a link back to a discussion of such styles in another novel.

For more from the Guest Blogger, click on his name below.

8 comments:

  1. Nothing to trouble the embargo police here, move along..... I'll report back in same time tomorrow!

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  2. We've finished with this one now, but fair warning: there may be more to come about books by the same author, under one or more of his pseudonyms.

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  3. Moira - Thanks for hosting Colm.

    Colm - I really do love Mame's free spirit. Yes, she's a bit over-the-top sometimes, but I love the she treats Patrick as more or less an equal rather than condescend to him. And that scene where she acquaints him with a new vocabulary word is priceless! Oh, and that bed jacket - too much! :-)

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    1. Yes it's *almost* never possible to be annoyed with Mame for long. Most of us would never wish we'd been orphaned at age 10, but I think most of us could imagine we'd like to have lived with her if it did happen. Great clothes throughout, I must get around to watching the film sometime...

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  4. Both photos are very good. I have to read the book and watch the movie. Maybe not in 2014, but someday. Did not know that much about the book or the author before these posts.

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    1. I guess we'll both enjoy the film one of these years. There's a long afterword, in the Kindle edition of this book at least, about Patrick Dennis and plenty on Wikipedia too.

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    2. I have purchased a copy of the book (paper copy) and it looks like it is easy to get a copy of the movie. It will be a few months before I get to it. Something to look forward to.

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    3. Hope you enjoy the book as much as I did, Tracy.

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