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The Clumsiest People in Europe: Or, Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian Worldby Todd Pruzan
Synopses & Reviews
A caustic, cranky, and inadvertently hilarious look at foreign countries and their customs by a Victorian woman who rarely left the house.
No matter who your ancestors were, and where they had the misfortune of living, Victorian children's book writer Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer had something nasty to say about them. Their faults, according to Mrs. Mortimer, might have amounted to just about anything. The Irish "are very kind and good-natured when pleased, but if affronted, are filled with rage." In Italy, "the people are ignorant and wicked." In Sweden, "Nothing useful is well done...The carpenters and the blacksmiths are very clumsy in their work."
Remarkably, all of these assertions come from a woman who only twice set foot outside of her native England. But lack of personal experience never kept Mrs. Mortimer from dispensing her horrifying wisdom about the evils of just about every nation on earth. Whether describing Europe ("It is dreadful to think what a number of murders are committed in Italy"), Asia ("The religion of Taou teaches men to act like madmen"), Africa ("The worst quality in any character is hypocrisy, and this is to be found in the Egyptian"), or America ("New Orleans is a dangerous place to live in, both for the body and the soul"), Mrs. Mortimer's views are consistently appalling. One hundred fifty years later, three of her forgotten classics have been compiled into one volume, The Clumsiest People in Europe, reviving the comically misinformed and startling prejudices of this unique Victorian eccentric.
"This abridged version of a once-popular mid — 19th-century children's geography primer invites readers to snicker — and snicker they will — at the prejudices of a bygone age. Mortimer, a forgotten author of children's books, rarely traveled and bowdlerized the information she got from other writers. Though an ardent abolitionist, she shared the knee-jerk racism as well as the religious bigotries of her day. She divides Europe between dour, hard-working Nordics and hot-blooded but idle Mediterranean types, damns Roman Catholicism as a form of idol worship and blithely notes such national idiosyncrasies as '[t]he Greeks... love singing, though they sing badly.' But at heart she is a Victorian domestic reformer. Frivolous housewives who read novels and spoiled children who eat rich food and stay up late with the grownups constitute signs of national degeneracy, and virtually every country stands condemned of dirtiness (China, Wales, France, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Iceland and Switzerland) or drunkenness (Prussia, Sweden and Norway) or both (Scotland, Ireland, Russia and Poland). Pruzan, an editor at Print magazine, supplies an intelligent, engaging biographical introduction and adds some incongruous truth-content to the text by inserting short, prefatory facts on national economies and 19th-century history. It's an amusing diversion, one best read in small doses. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
Mortimer (1802-78) spent most of her 40-year career writing extremely popular children's books, but in the middle of it, she wrote a geographical trilogy that managed to insult just about every nationality in the world. American writer and publisher Pruzan stumbled across them, and here excerpts some of the most amusing passages.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
"A hoot, even if you do feel guilty for laughing."--Entertainment Weekly
Caustic, cranky, and inadvertently hilarious, the bestselling Victorian author Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer rarely left the house--but that didn't stop her from writing several successful travel books. With volumes on Europe, Asia, and Africa and America, Mrs. Mortimer had something nasty to say about your ancestors, no matter where they had the misfortune of living. Todd Pruzan has assembled three of Mrs. Mortimer's very forgotten classics into one volume, The Clumsiest People in Europe, a wild tour through the comically and horrifyingly misinformed prejudices of a unique Victorian eccentric.
About the Author
Todd Pruzan is an editor at the bimonthly design journal Print and has been an editor and writer at several other magazines. He was born in Washington, D.C., and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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