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MRS. CAUDLE, A VICTORIAN CURTAIN LECTURER RICHARD KELLY Humorous commentary upon contemporary events has long been 8 popular and important part of journalism. Like so much newspaper material, satire on passing events of the day is qUickly forgotten when the people or institutions that originally called forth the satire are no longer interesting. But by the 1840s in England, comic journalism was becoming an art, and as such, was beginning to surmount the obstacle of obsolescence. The centre of this art was Punch, whose writers and cartoonists rewrote and reviewed the news of the day in a form that may still be enjoyed today. The works of seriously dedicated artists and writers like John Leech, John Tenniel, Gilbert it Beckett, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Douglas Jerrold, although largely still buried in the volumes of Punch, might profitably be resurrected for present and future readers. Not only are the works entertaining in their own right but they provide a valuable source of information concerning the development of the art of comic journalism. The purpose of the present essay is to examine critically the first overwhelmingly popular humorous serial to appear in Punch, "Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures." Its author, Douglas Jerrold, was the man largely responsible for the early success of Punch and for its subsequent literary reputation. In "Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures" he raises comic journalism to an art, for he has created a world that continues to live independent of the social milieu which it mirrors. I The popularity of the "Curtain Lectures" sent the magazine's circulation up by leaps and bounds. From January through December of 1845, newsagents, week by week, would ascertain whether or not there was another installment included before deciding upon how many copies they would require. Margaret Caudle and her henpecked husband, Job, became familiar names in almost every household. The Caudles soon began to appear on commercial advertisements for items as various as soap and liver pills. They even turned up on stoneware gin bottles. Volmne xxxvm. Number 3, April 1969 296 RICHARD KELLY One such bottle shows Mrs. Caudle in her nightcap and bears her familiar prelude to Job's insomnia: "No, Mr. Caudle, I shan not go to sleep." Even Jerrold's co-workers on Punch capitalized upon the popularity of his serial. John Leech, for example, sketched the cantankerous Lord Brougham as Mrs. Caudle and Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst as Job. Unscrupulous publishers began using pirated versions of the "Lectures" and hack playwrights were busily adapting them into comic sketches and musicals that were played 10 laughing thousands both in London and in the provinces. A writer for the New Monthly Magazine hest summarizes the contemporary reaction to Jerrold's unexpected success: there was truth to nature in the matter and manner of Job Caudle's narrative. On the mere closeness to truth of his l'plain statement" was founded its success as a hit, a very palpable hit. Henpecked husbands could not see that it was a bit overdone; others, more happily mated, more equally matched, could see on the face of it, in defect of any personal experience on their own part, a self'asserting, self-evident verisimilitude; and bachelors of every age and degree had an intuitive conviction that the thing was nature itself, and that had a short-hand writer been behind the curtain he could not have reproduced the curtain lecture with a more literal fidelity.' Thackeray, in an anonymous review of the "Curtain Lectures" for the Morning Chronicle, reserved his highest praise for the verisimilitude of the Caudles: "The couple have become real living personages in history, like Queen Elizabeth, or Sancho Panza, or Parson Adams, or any other past character, who, false or real once, is only imaginary now, and for whose existence we have only the word of a book And surely to create these realities is the greatest triumph of a fictitious writer - a serious or humorous poet:'2 Many women did not accept Mrs. Caudle as an entertaining portrayal of their sex but grew furious at her creator and let him know their extreme displeasure in indignant letters and public rebuttals. Mrs. Anne Marsh-Caldwell, one of the most...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 295-309
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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