One of the types of books I most love are those incidental, silly-humour books from between the world wars. The sort that is achingly middle-class and frivolous, neither lewd nor politically astute, but something that folk in the 1930s would have laughed through and put on their coffee tables. Sometimes those books are collections of essays, but occasionally they come in the shape of Muddling Through by Theodora Benson and Betty Askwith (illustrated by Nicolas Bentley).
The subtitle is ‘Britain in a Nutshell’, and such is what it purports to be. It considers England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland in turn, pointing out the national characteristics of each, and the distinctive traits of various regions. All is done in staccato sentences, which are supposedly comprehensive but, of course, are nothing of the kind. (‘Cambridge always wins the boat race. Cambridge has sausages.’)
Yes, the joke is rather one-note, and utterly silly, but it rather beguiled me – as a snapshot of a period, as much as anything else.
The other thing which made this a snapshot of its publication year (1936) was how generous the publisher is with space. It’s an above-average-height hardback, and a lot of the pages are almost empty. It adds to the humour (because it becomes all the clearer that they are dismissing places and people in a handful of words) but, to those of us familiar with the ‘wartime restrictions’ notes in the wafer-thin-paper hardbacks which were soon to follow, it feels anachronistic.
So, a silly book, but just the sort of silly I love.