In this post, I’m featuring Augustus Carp, Esq. which is a free download from various sites but I’ve linked to the Manybooks site which let’s you download in just about any format you could need. The other two books I’d like to mention are Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith and Mrs Caudle’s Curtain Lectures by Douglas Jerrold. All three books are similar in style, taking a rise out of Victorian manners and pretensions and showing that among all the intense respectability of the era there was quite an undercurrent of subversiveness flowing in the other direction.
Augustus Carp, Esq. was actually written in 1924 but harks back to the previous century when a respectable Anglicanism was the cover for all manner of hypocritical power-plays and generally rotten behaviour. Augustus is pompous and self-important; a paragon of virtue (or so he believes), but in reality a sanctimonious hypocrite who the author delights in humiliating at every turn. The book is written as Augustus’ autobiography and the opening paragraphs set out the great man’s reasons for setting it before the public,
“On every ground I am an unflinching opponent of sin. I have continually rebuked it in others. I have strictly refrained from it in myself. And for that reason alone I have deemed it incumbent upon me to issue this volume. I propose in the first instance to deal with my earliest surroundings and the influence exerted upon me by my father . . . at the time of my birth, then, and until his death, my father was a civic official in a responsible position, being a collector of outstanding accounts for the Consolidated Water Board“.
The author allows Augustus to condemn himself at every turn, Augustus’s description of his mother being a good example of what is to come,
“. . . her nose was large, but it had been built on lines that were altogether weaker, and the slightly reddish down upon her upper lip might even by some people have been considered a disfigurement. She had inherited, however, together with five hundred pounds, an apparently gentle disposition. Clean in her habits, quiet about the house, and invariably obedient to his slightest wish, he (my father) had very seldom indeed, as he often told me, seriously regretted his choice of a wife“.
Augustus tells his readers of his blessed upbringing, with copious amounts of Bible reading and church-going, all of which served merely to build up his pride and sense of self-righteousness. When at the age of twelve he eventually goes to school (Hopkinson House School for the Sons of Gentlemen) he is shocked by the language and manners of other boys and decodes that “it was only amongst the masters that there seemed any reasonable hope of obtaining an equal and appropriate companionship”. Surprised that the teachers are not exactly thrilled at finding that the new boy expects them to treat him as an equal, Augustus makes half-hearted attempts to mix with the other boys, but fails to achieve the right tone
“Meanwhile I had not neglected my fellow-students, unattractive to me as most of them were, and more than once had I offered my spiritual services to an inexperienced or erring classmate. That these had been fruitless I am not prepared to say”.
His half-hearted attempts to relate to the other boys is soon brought to a halt when during a scripture class he stands up and accuses two of his fellow pupils of cheating when he sees them reading the answers to the teacher’s questions from a Bible hidden under their desk. When the teacher gives the two boys fifty lines to write out, Augustus protests,
“But, sir, in justice to myself, who knew the correct answer without committing sacrilege, nay, injustice to my fellow-scholars, to say nothing of Holy Writ, surely these lads must be subjected to some less trivial and severer penalty.”
Needless to say, later in the day we see Augustus surrounded by a group of boys intent upon assault and battery, to dramatic and humiliating effect.
When he eventually leaves school, Augustus manages to get a job in the showroom of a religious book publishers. He seems to be in his element here but finds it difficult to understand that he has to start at the bottom when surely he is destined for greater things. He dislikes the showroom manager, one Archibald Maidstone, on the grounds that;
“I had found his attitude towards me peculiarly offensive. I had never been accustomed, for example, as I had been obliged to point out to him, to be addressed as `young-feller-me-lad’, or `the bosun’s mate’, and I had even been compelled to report him to Mr Lorton in order to secure more respectful treatment.”
One evening Augustus meets Archibald on his way home from the pub, evidently completely drunk and sees his opportunity to ruin him. Despite the fact that Archibald has several children dependent on him for their up-keep, Augustus goes to the owner of the company and reports Archibald to the owner of the shop and get’s him sacked for disgraceful behaviour. In his new role of Showroom Manager, Augustus becomes the tyrant we expected him to be, treating his underlings abominably and boasting to all and sundry about his new position.
In his spare time, Augustus works for the Anti-Dramatic and Saltatory Union, an organisation dedicated to campaigning against the evil of the theatre;
“I had inaugurated, in my capacity as Vice-President, an intensive campaign of personal exhortation at all the most notorious West End theatres. Thus I had arranged that there should be posted at the stage entrances of all these more popular haunts of vice earnest young workers of the male sex plentifully provided with the Union’s literature. These would then approach the in-coming actors and actresses with a few well-chosen words of warning, pointing out to them the iniquity of their occupation and inviting them to embrace some other profession. Having had our evening meals, Ezekiel and myself would each then visit a group of theatres to encourage our representatives and lend them the personal aid of our riper experience and more gifted oratory”.
However, it is this work which eventually proves to be Augustus’ downfall, when he takes it upon himself to save the actress Mary Moonbeam from her life of sin. Mary proves to be more than a match for Augustus and uses her female wiles to first charm, then ruin (in the most hilarious way) the hideous Carp.
Augustus Carp, Esq is cleverly written and has the classic story-line of the rise and fall of a tyrant. Carp uses and abuses everyone he deals with, whether his mother, his wife, his colleagues or his friends. He uses everyone to advance his position in life with a degree of ruthlessness which is completely at odds with his Christian beliefs. When he fails to achieve what he wants, anyone is to blame but himself, and he has an innate sense of superiority which is at odds with his humble position in life. Having set him up, the author creates a deliciously satisfying downfall which is a delight to read.
If you want to read another review of this book I recommend Guy Savage’s excellent article on his website His Futile Preoccupations.
The illustrations above, by Marjorie Blood are from the original edition of the book and are out of copyright.