Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis

Who first told me about Auntie Mame (1955)? A quick search through blog comments suggests that Vicki from Bibliolathas recommended her when I wrote about Abbie by Dane Chandos, but I already owned the book before that, so… who knows? Anyway, many thanks to whoever it was. Some years later, I took it off to America with me, and finished it on the ‘plane on the way back.

Auntie Mame

The narrator, like the author, is called Patrick Dennis – but it’s not entirely clear how autobiographical this novel is (indeed, it is the matter of much debate in the afterword by Matteo Codignola in the Penguin edition I have). It’s not even clear if it’s a novel or a series of short stories (more on that in the afterword too) – but what is clear is that Auntie Mame features the larger-than-life lady in question and her nephew going through various escapades over the course of many years.

We meet Mame when she takes in the young, recently orphaned, Patrick, against the better judgement of the staid Mr Babcock, who looks after Patrick’s finances. She is dressed in Japanese garb (she is always in garb of some variety; later she wishes to be thought Spaniard), hosting a party, and ushers impressionable Patrick into her socialite lifestyle. She is keen to educate him…

“My dear, a rich vocabulary is the true hallmark of every intellectual person. How now” – she burrowed into the mess on her bedside table and brought forth another pad and pencil – “every time I say a word, or you hear a word, that you don’t understand, you write it down and I’ll tell you what it means. Then you memorize it and soon you’ll have a decent vocabulary. Oh, the adventure,” she cried ecstatically, “of moulding a little new life!” She made another sweeping gesture that somehow went wrong because she knocked over the coffee pot and I immediately wrote down six new words which Auntie Mame said to scratch out and forget about.

You get a feel for the sort of thing. Mame is an irrepressible delight, and – as the novel progresses – we see Patrick both fond of and embarrassed by her. She gatecrashes his college ball; she looks after swathes of unpleasant evacuees; she becomes the unlikely nemesis of the horse-riding set. In one memorable episode, she launches into an anti-anti-Semitic tirade (an entirely admirable one – albeit one which changes the tone of the book quite suddenly). Each event is neatly tied up and self-contained, without any characters really changing – except in age and marital situation.

Each chapter also begins with the narrator-Patrick comparing Auntie Mame to the ‘Unforgettable Character’ of some hagoigraphic newspaper article. Every trait exemplified by this worthy woman is mirrored also, it seems, by Auntie Mame – mostly in an exaggerated and individual manner. This device for linking together unrelated stories isn’t, to my mind, entirely successful; although the afterword praises it for surmounting the difficulties of disparate tales, I think it just felt a bit forced and fake. It didn’t stop me enjoying Auntie Mame, but I’ve had enjoyed the book more without this touch.

But I still really liked Auntie Mame. Any novel about an eccentric spinster is likely to get a thumbs up from me. Perhaps she hasn’t joined Abbie and Miss Hargreaves and Patricia Brent (if one can really use the term ‘spinster’ about her) on the top tier, but it was a jolly fun read nonetheless.

Oh, and while I remember – I’ve figured out how to add those ‘like’ buttons to the bottom of posts! Of course, a comment is always best, but I thought it couldn’t hurt.

 

28 thoughts on “Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis

  • May 11, 2015 at 8:40 am
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    A ‘like’ *and* a comment then! And I do like the sound of this, despite its awkward linking device. Onto the wishlist it goes…. :)

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    • May 11, 2015 at 11:34 pm
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      Bless you, Karen, thank you! And do let me know if you give this a go :)

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  • May 11, 2015 at 9:19 am
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    If it was me, I am glad you enjoyed it so much, as it is one of my favourites, and now I want to read it again and press it on everyone to read as well.

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    • May 11, 2015 at 11:32 pm
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      I think it must have been you, Vicki :) It was certainly you who gave me the push to read it, even if it had somehow already ended up on my shelves.

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  • May 11, 2015 at 9:34 am
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    Maybe not quite perfect but I’m definitely charmed. On the the wishlist it goes!

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    • May 11, 2015 at 11:31 pm
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      Do let me know what you think, Jane!

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  • May 11, 2015 at 11:16 am
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    It is a wonderfully fun book. There’s a excellent film version starring Rosalind Russell that you should see if you get a chance. The stage musical (Mame) is also a lot of fun–I was in a production of it (playing Pegeen) several years ago and have many fond memories. (I understand that the movie of the musical is terrible, so I never bothered to see it.)

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    • May 11, 2015 at 11:29 pm
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      A lot of recommendations for this film – I must track it down and have a watch. The afterword did talk about the movie and Russell’s brilliance in it.

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  • May 11, 2015 at 12:27 pm
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    Ihaven’t read the book but I am completely charmed by the movie every time I see it and the book sounds like it has the same feel. I will definitely look this up!

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    • May 11, 2015 at 11:28 pm
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      I can see that I’m going to have to hunt down this movie!

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  • May 11, 2015 at 12:36 pm
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    I’ve had this book on my shelves for years. Glad it’s fun.

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    • May 11, 2015 at 11:28 pm
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      Definitely a light, fun read for when you’re in the mood for something undemanding.

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  • May 11, 2015 at 12:56 pm
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    I’m glad you liked this. I read it some years ago, and although well written and fun, I didn’t think it had aged well. I think some of the ‘outrageous’ incidents must have been quite shocking when it was first published in 1955 (an older woman with a younger boyfriend, for example), but they have been repeated in later novels, and for modern readers have lost their bite. Still, as I say, fun.

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    • May 11, 2015 at 11:27 pm
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      True. I think, because I spend so much of my time in 1930s and ’40s literature, I’m still able to be a bit shocked by the 1950s. I’m essentially not of the current world… (!)

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  • May 11, 2015 at 1:35 pm
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    I didn’t know this was a book. I remember the movie version of Mame starring Lucille Ball as Auntie Mame from my childhood. (Since its probably been 40 years since I’ve seen it, I don’t trust myself with a recommendation, but I remember singing the theme song constantly. How could you go wrong with Lucille Ball, though? :) )

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    • May 11, 2015 at 11:26 pm
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      I am shamelessly uneducated with Lucille Ball – obviously I know of her, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her in anything. Could this be the start?

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      • May 12, 2015 at 1:14 pm
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        Well, she’ll be older in Mame. You might want to see if you can stream some old episodes of “I Love Lucy” for some of her classic comedy. :)

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  • May 11, 2015 at 8:48 pm
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    One can learn a lot about living from Dear Auntie Mame. She loved life and was fearless!

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    • May 11, 2015 at 11:26 pm
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      That is true! I think she’d terrify me in person, but there is lots to admire.

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  • May 12, 2015 at 1:12 am
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    Loved Auntie Mame when I read it a few years ago – I definitely remember the horse-riding episode! I remember really liking the anti-anti-Semitic tirade too. Hilarious – Dennis knew what he was about, humor-wise.

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    • May 13, 2015 at 10:14 pm
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      The tirade did make me want to cheer, however heavy-handed it felt! But, yes, somehow funny as well as earnest at that point.

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  • May 12, 2015 at 3:22 pm
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    I love fearless literary aunts – Aunt Dot, in Rose Macaulay’s Towers of Trebizond, and Aunt Augusta in Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt are great favourites. And Auntie Robbo, in the fantastic children’s book of the same name. So could Auntie Mame be joining them… She’ll definitely be added to the Wish List.

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    • May 13, 2015 at 10:15 pm
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      I will, will, will read Towers of Trebizond soon; there is another great reason. Somewhere Merenia is rolling her eyes and shaking her head!

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  • May 17, 2015 at 8:01 pm
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    If you enjoyed Auntie Mame, consider another Patrick Dennis book (and better, I think): the title is Tony.

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    • May 18, 2015 at 9:44 pm
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      Thanks Susan! I will keep an eye out.

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  • May 18, 2015 at 3:07 pm
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    Best to add as many “Like” buttons as you can, as you never know what people are on – people have shared my blog posts on Pinterest, I discovered the other day! If you need any WordPress tips, I have quite a lot on one of my blogs so drop me a line if you’d like the link. It’s all working well so far, however – well done!

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    • May 18, 2015 at 9:40 pm
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      Thanks Liz, I’ll have a look! And thanks :)

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  • June 8, 2015 at 8:31 pm
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    I’m currently reading Auntie Mame–what a riotous romp. I suspect the episodic framework of the novel is due to Mr Dennis satirizing the format and content of Reader’s Digest magazine, which was composed of short, upbeat pieces about safely conventional people and social mores. And I think the book is meant to be dipped in and out, much like how Mame picks up (and discards) fancies and fascinations. The story isn’t deep–but it is fun! (BTW I have started reading through your 50 Books list–thank you for introducing me to Tove Jansson–she was a wonder.)

    Reply

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