“‘Reality,’ sa Molesworth 2, ‘is so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder.'”
Nigel Molesworth, the schoolboy ‘author’ of Down with Skool!, How to be Topp, Whizz for Atomms, and Back In the Jug Agane (collected as The Compleet Molesworth), is the creation of Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle. Molesworth is a pupil at St.Custards, an appalling prep school – “it smell of chalk Latin books skool ink foopball boots and birdseed” – run by Grimes (“Headmasters are always very ferce and keep thousands of KANES chiz moan drone. With these they hound and persecute all boys who are super like sir galahad.” )and other masters (or ‘beaks’). Sigismond the mad maths master is a particular favourite.
Molesworth considers Fotherington-Thomas a weedy-wet and a swot: as his brother, Molesworth 2, says “‘i diskard him.’”
“‘And wot,’ sa Grimes, ‘wot hav we all been reading in the hols?’
Tremble tremble moan drone, i hav read nothing but red the redskin and Guide to the Pools. i hav also sat with my mouth open looking at lassie, wonder horse ect on t.v. How to escape? But i hav made a plan.
‘fotherington-tomas, sa GRIMES, ‘wot hav you read?’
‘Ivanhoethe vicar of wakefieldwuthering heights treasureislandvanity fairwestwardhothewaterbabies and -‘
‘That is enuff. Good boy. And molesworth?’
He grin horribly.
‘What hav you read, molesworth?’
gulp gulp a rat in a trap.
‘Proust, sir. A grate fr. writer. The book in question was swan’s way.’
‘Gorblimey. Wot did you think of it, eh?’
‘The style was exquisite, sir, and the characterisation superb. The long evocative passages-‘
‘SILENCE!,’ thunder GRIMES. ‘There is no such book, impertinent boy. I shall hav to teach you culture the hard way. Report for the kane after prayers.’
Chiz chiz to think i hav learned all that by hart. It’s not fair they get you every way.”
One may assume from Lissa Evan’s letter below that, if Molesworth was faking the Proust, he was better acquainted with Madame Bovary…
Lissa, a previous guest at The Books That Built Me, won a competition with her letter from Molesworth to Mme Bovary – the competition was to imagine a love letter between two unlikely fictional characters. Molesworth attracts many fans; Lissa, this month’s Books That Built Me guest, Anthony Quinn, June’s guest, Emma Beddington, Charlotte Mendelson, all of us introduced to his delights by fathers who had discovered him in the fifties when It was first published. I couldn’t induce Trefusis Minor to read Molesworth, and nor could my father. I would be interested to know if his appeal survives into a third or fourth generation: The Compleet Molesworth is out of print. Anyway, he still makes me chortle: earlier, re-reading Back in the Jug Agane I was helpless with mirth, and kept muttering ‘chiz chiz’ and ‘hello clouds hello sky’ much to the collective bemusement of the Trefusii.
For more on Molesworth, this LRB piece is very good.
With thanks to Lissa Evans for allowing me to include her brilliant Bovary/Molesworth letter. Her latest book, Crooked Heart, is a delight.