An interesting question was posed today in my online book group – in passing, actually, in a discussion of Elizabeth von Arnim – about silliness in books. It was agreed (between the two of us, at least) that silliness could be on the level of either plot or dialogue. I think there’s a place for either, but definitely prefer the latter.
Let me briefly explain… Novels that have silliness on the level of plot are those like P.G. Wodehouse that have absurd event after absurd event – a sort of narrative farce – that is expertly organised but so unlikely as to be impossible. Silliness on the level of dialogue encompasses rather more – the example given was from von Arnim’s In the Mountains, where a pompous guest begins a reminiscence with “Our father …” and the narrator thinks she is about to start praying. I suppose it is moments or wordings that are unlikely to happen.
I love dialogue taken to unlikely extremes. It’s why I love Ivy Compton-Burnett, and strident heroines like Lady Catherine de Burgh. I also love narratives which leap to hyperbole or litotes – which is why I adore Richmal Crompton’s William books and the Provincial Lady series. Silliness perhaps isn’t the word, but it isn’t realism. Silliness in plot, however, I have only limited tolerance for. Wodehouse yes; almost everyone else, no.
Does this division chime with anyone? What are you thoughts? Did you think I was finally going to blog about the Mr Men? (One day…)