Friday, 14 November 2014

A Creed of Manners

Fiction ~ short story
First published December 1894¹
Reprinted in Bensoniana No. 2 (Hermitage Books, 1993)
(First read 14/11/2014)

Oh dear ... oh deary dear ... oh very very dear indeed ~ A Creed of Manners is an unbelievably stupid story, the 27-year old E. F. Benson at his worst².
It consists largely of a fatuous, epigram-sodden³ dialogue between two male friends, Claude Ackersley and his stooge Jack Anstruther.  Claude is an early example of ... well, this:
[...] rich, good-looking, well-born, perfectly healthy, entirely unambitious, and twenty-five years old.
He also has 'an insatiable appetite for loafing' ~ nice.  As you'd expect from this type of Bensonian person⁴, he describes himself as a 'harmless, unnecessary young man' ~ too right; and his 'creed' is this:
My hope and aim are that under every circumstance, however trying, I may behave like a gentleman.  My fear is that circumstances may be too strong, and that I shall fail, and behave like a coward or a cad.
Luckily the Mad Axe-Murderer EFB is on hand to put him to the test: Claude swallows a piece of glass from a broken soda siphon ['Death by Whisky and Soda'] ... and, despite being in agonizing pain, dies the most excruciatingly gentlemanly and noble kind of death the 19th century had to offer.
As I said, a stupid stupid story ~ by 21st-century standards, obviously ... though I'm willing to bet it caused a certain amount of tittering even in 1894.  Anyway, it's available online here.  

¹ Not sure where this first saw the light of day, either in Phil May's Winter Annual (UK) or in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine (US).  Of course it's conceivable that it was published in both places simultaneously.
² Well, at his worst after Dodo, that is.
³ At one point, in reply to a particularly inane epigram, Jack actually says, "How very Oscaresque!"  A mere two months after this story was published, Wilde was engulfed in the scandal that ended his career.  EFB, who knew him personally if not especially well, continued with the epigrammatic style for the next 40 years, long after the rest of the world had pretty much abandoned it, and, to a degree (see As We Were), remained faithful to the memory of the Great Irish Windbag's supposed genius.
⁴ I admit this wasn't my first choice of word here.

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