Voices from the Margins: Dickens, Wells and Bennett



Perhaps the most famous lower-middle-class figure of the late Victorian period is Mr Pooter, who first appeared in Punch in the 1890s in a series of illustrated comic sketches by George and Weedon Grossmith. The sketches subsequently appeared in book form with the telling title of The Diary of a Nobody (1892). The Grossmiths’ portrayal of an earnest and loyal but intellectually and socially limited clerk is very much in the tradition of Dickens’s affectionate parodies of lower-middle-class figures. Mr Pooter is mocked by the junior clerks in his office, scorned by tradesmen and cab-drivers, and undermined by his charwoman, who uses pages from his diary, in which he professes to have invested ‘much pride’ and ‘a great deal of pains’, to light the fire.1 Pooter’s exaggerated sense of his own dignity and his oversensitivity to the indifference he never fails to inspire in others betray the kind of lower-middle-class pretentiousness deplored by bourgeois observers. But Pooter’s petty pretensions are born of naivety rather than of pomposity or social ambition. By the end of The Diary of a Nobody, Pooter has indeed reached what seems to be the pinnacle of his ambitions with his promotion to senior clerk, which he celebrates in typically Pooterish fashion with a bottle of grocers’ champagne. He is completely satisfied with his modest life and endearingly blind to its limitations.


Middle Class Portable Property Lower Middle Class Fictional World Financial Marginality 
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© Arlene Young 1999

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