Patrick Hamilton’s dark humour.


220px-TheSlavesOfSolitude
A number of readers have said how in my story ‘That Scoundrel Emile Dubois’ they enjoyed my facetious use of capitals to emphasize certain phrases (there are probably many who did NOT enjoy it, but never mind about that).

I borrowed the idea from a famous writer and playwright of the early part of the twentieth century, Patrick Hamilton, though I am sure other writers have used versions of it .

I remember reading ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ (not quite such early reading for me as ‘The Queen of Spades’ or ‘Carmela’ but in my teens, anyway) and being delighted by the dark humour that pervades that story.

Patrick Hamilton’s own life was to some extent tragic, though he achieved so much as a writer.

Born into an upper middle class background with an overbearing father who took out his frustrated authoritarian tendencies on his wife and family, Patrick and his beloved brother Bruce retained scars from their childhood all their lives. Patrick slipped early into alcoholism, tormented by and a horror of life, which he feared was meaningless.

His success came early, in his twenties, and he went on to write the fascinating trilogy depicting isolation in the London of the late nineteen twenties ‘Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky’.

His masterpieces, however, are ‘Hangover Square’ (from the preface to which I learned the poem ‘The Light of Other Days’) and ‘The Slaves of Solitude’.

Looking for a creed in which to believe, he became a communist. Bitterly disillusioned by the exposure of Stalin’s dictatorship and the degeneration of the buoyant hopes of a better world which supported so many through terrible war against Nazism into a society based on consumerism, he became a sad and backward looking figure. For the last few years of his life he was hardly able to write at all.

That wonderful sense of the darkly comic aspects of life, of the delightful absurdities to be encountered every day, of the pathos and bathos of life are unique.

I’d like to quote from ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ here, where the dreadful boarding house bully, Mr Thwaites, is ridiculously drunk following Christmas dinner in the local pub (the date is 1942).

‘”Methinks it Behoveth me’, said Mr Thwaites, ‘To taketh me unto my mansion. Doth it not? Peradventure? Perchance?”
“Yes,” said the Lieutenant. “Come along the. Get a move on.”…
“Come along Mr Thwaites.” said Vicki (the vulgar, Hitler admierer who coquettishly who encourages his advances).
“Ah, the Beauteous Dame.” said Mr Thwaites. “The beauteous damsel that keepeth me on tenterhooks.”
“Come on then,” said the Lieutenant. “Take my arm.”
“Hooks. Tenter One.” said Mr Thwaites. “See Inventory.”
“Aw, come on, will you?” said the Lieutenant.
“Damsel, Beauteous, One.” said Mr Thwaites.”Hooks, Tenter, Two. Yea, Verily.”…
“April, too.” said Mr Thawaites. “Thirty days hath November.”
At this he lurched forward, and the Lieutenant caught him…”‘

This book, which deals with a microcosm of the menace of fascism during the huge theatre of World War Two, ends with what I consider a truly inspired phrase from this most irreligious of writers.
‘God help us, God help all of us, Every one, all of us.’

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