- A Comedian Sees the World by Charlie Chaplin
On February 13, 1931, Charlie Chaplin left New York to tour Europe and Asia and promote City Lights (1931). He returned to the United States on June 16, 1932. Contracted by Woman's Home Companion to write a 50,000-word manuscript in serial form, Chaplin produced "A Comedian Sees the World," five installments detailing his tour. Until Lisa Stein Haven's 2014 edition of A Comedian Sees the World, these installments had not been published in book form (11). The collection of these pieces in a single book alone warrants its contribution to scholarship on Chaplin, but readers will also value Chaplin's tour narrative for his descriptions of meetings with politicians, writers, celebrities, and world leaders; for his commentary on politics, economics and art; for his humorous and moving retelling of events; and for his writing style. Moreover, Haven's meticulous research and insightful commentary enhance the reading of the narrative and show its importance to Chaplin's career.
A major strength of the edition is Haven's introduction. It not only establishes the exigence for the edition, but also offers a way of reading the text that augments previous readings by Chaplin scholars such as David Robinson, Charles Maland, and even Chaplin himself. Haven shows the importance of "A Comedian Sees the World" to Chaplin's becoming more politically outspoken and developing as a writer—both aspects that influenced his subsequent films. Haven illuminates how Chaplin's writing effectively conflates his film persona, the Little Tramp, with Charlie Chaplin, international film icon.
Haven identifies the similarities and differences between "A Comedian Sees the World" (1932–33) and Chaplin's earlier travel narrative My Trip Abroad (1922). Both tours occurred at crucial professional junctures (two " relative failures" before the success of The Kid in 1921 and the risk of releasing the silent film City Lights in 1931 in the age of the talkie) and during personal turmoil (his two divorce scandals and tax problems) in Chaplin's life. [End Page 133] Haven shows that in 1931 Chaplin seemed to be "on the heartbeat of many of the major events" (4), and even proved prescient in his recommendations (getting of the gold standard in England and ending the reparation regime imposed on Germany). Chaplin offers little of such commentary in My Trip Abroad. Haven confirms that "A Comedian Sees the World" was never published in book form and claims it lacked the same "financial [and] promotional impact" of My Trip Abroad because it didn't have worldwide distribution. Her research also clarifies that Chaplin was not the sole writer for My Trip Abroad, with Chaplin later acknowledging that Monta Bell "ghost wrote" the book (11). Haven asserts, "A Comedian Sees the World" is "perhaps the first instance of his own writing to appear in print" (11). Her examination of archival material also provides "concrete evidence" of his composition process. She compares such evidence to Chaplin's later writing in My Autobiography to illustrate some of Chaplin's rhetorical strategies. To conclude, she connects Chaplin's developed social consciousness from both tours to all of his succeeding films. Reading the narrative that ensues corroborates what Haven sets forth in her introduction.
"Wishing to capture the moods and sensations of [his] childhood," Chaplin "pieces together the fragments of his youth and his struggles, recapturing the past in today's glory" in Part I (23). He recalls meeting his first love, Hetty, reconnecting with her two years later, and later learning, during the 1921 tour, of her death. Upon the 1931 return, he "makes up his mind not to be disappointed" (28). He recounts seeing the City Lights premiere with Einstein in Los Angeles, returning to London to tumultuous crowds, and recalling his mother weeping in the park and soon after moving to the "poorhouse" (34). As in his films, his writing juxtaposes the pathetic with the joyous. For example, the Hetty and mother scenes give way to lunching with Lady Astor and George Bernard Shaw. Reverie about...