Dec 15, 2011

Wednesday Challenge, December 14th.

Kerry's Wednesday challenge at "Imaginary Garden with Real Toads" invites us to write a letter from a literary character/author to another author or character, etc.  This response is hardly a poetic "epistola" but I hope it fills the bill.

The letter that follows was discovered in the personal papers of the late Malcolm Bradbury, author of the sardonic "campus" novel "The History Man." (1975, Secker and Warburg). It is of interest because at least one of the minor acts of vandalsim referred to actually happened subsequent to the novel's publication.

Dear Mr. Bradbury,

    I enclose a single sheet of toilet paper (unused) from a roll in the toilets on the fourth floor (Sociology and Economics) in the Library of Strathkelvin University.  You will see that some mischievous person has printed a sticky label and stuck it to the paper and the label says "Degrees in Sociology. Please Take One."  I soon discovered that every cubicle in every toilet, both Mens' and Womens' had been similarly defaced with similar stickers and in some cases, every hanging-down sheet of paper bore a similar sticker. And further, some toilet rolls had been annotated with the legend "Economics is a Viola," and some of the cubicles had the same legend in yellow graffiti.  It took me a little while to work that one out, whereas the sociology degree allusion is hard to miss.  

    Since Dr. Kirk got me sent down from the University I have found employment in the City and now command a salary which would no doubt confirm Dr. Kirk's view of me, did he but know.

   Please give my best regards to Ms.Carpenter. I hope things did not go too badly for her.  I was dreadfully sorry to hear that Dr. Kirk's wife had made an attempt on her own life, but what would one expect, married to a self-regarding Marxist like Howard Kirk. The whole business was a perfect exemplar of Henry Kissinger's famous quote  - "academic politics is so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small."

Yours very sincerely,

George Carmody.

Dramatis Personae. 

Malcolm Bradbury (1932-2000). Prolific author. Head of the Creative Writing Course in the University of East Anglia, UK;   Best known graduate -  Iain McEwen.

Howard Kirk   Antihero of "The History Man."  Resolute Marxist.  Impossible to thumbnail. Yer gotta read the book!

George Carmody.  Right of centre, middle class student. The only student in the University who owned (and used) a trouser press! A natural victim for Kirk. 

Ann Carpenter.    Another Kirk victim but not before he . . what's the expression . . . has his evil way of her.

Barbara Kirk.     Howard's wife. One wonders how such a nice lady etc etc etc . . .

The novel is set in the University of "Watermouth", U.K, but if Bradbury didn't intend the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK - at the time one of the UK's newer campuses, I'll eat a roll of toilet paper!

The printed stickers stuck on toilet rolls were real enough. The incident found it's way into "Radio Times" reviews when the novel was adapted for TV with Anthony Sher brilliantly malign as Howard Kirk.

"Economics is a Viola"?  Think string instruments.  A viola is like . . er . .  er . .  a big fiddle,  geddit?

Strathkelvin.  A university town in the Scottish central belt. Its University, and indeed the town itself  are no more or less fictional than those of it's august neighbours - Edinburgh and Glasgow.


  1. Your letter contains a subtlety of wit and timing, which is very entertaining. I wish I knew more about your scenario, but your author's note was very helpful in setting the scene.
    Thank you for participating in this challenge.

  2. Ha ...loved this!
    "Economics is a viola" is worth a poem in itself.
    I will if you will:)
    A Merry Christmas to you and yours

  3. My toilet roll only says "'Ello, Vera!"
    N.B. for the puzzled, read - Aloe vera.

  4. brilliant.
    wit and a dry, parker-esque undertone wrap around this dramatic epistola like ... a two-ply degree in sociology, or perhaps, like the trembling threads of music that would be drawn from an economic viola.
    unrelated: i am slightly and somewhat giddily in love with your blog.

  5. This is such a cool response to the prompt. Well done.

  6. A very depthful and unique response... Heavy duty but fulfilling. As I was late to the prompt, I will share my link here, and hope you visit:

    Stunning work! The letter makes me feel SO warm on this chilly winter night.

    As I am late accepting this challenge, I am going to share my link here, hoping you'll visit:

  7. My husband got a degree in Sociology, then had to get a diploma in Education because the Soc degree wasn't worth the paper it was written on. (I exaggerate but, I suspect, so do you.)
    I love "Economics is a Viola"!
    Great response to the epistle challenge.

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

  8. Ouch, ouch!! My appreciation of this is much deeper than it might have been just a week ago, considering I am now much wiser about what it is that makes good writing good, thanks to a book I'm glued to. (Pray read my post, Dr.)
    Always a pleasure to see the form you're in. Bisous and all that from the So. of Fr!

  9. I have, Deborah. The book you're glued to noted.

    All commentators . . the toilet paper prank actually did happen when the novel was adapted for TV. But not in Strathkelvin University, which is a fiction. And the incident did make it into the "Radio Times" (UK Radio and TV listing, feature articles, film reviews etc)

  10. I enjoyed all of it except the reference to a 'viola'. Now, here, sir, you have gone too far.

  11. Lord Henry
    requests the honour of
    Lady Jane's presence
    at the gardener's cottage
    on weekday afternoons at three
    on alternate Sundays
    at half after two.

    How's that?

  12. Hi Doc,
    I gotta say you really give a spicy punch, very true.


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