The discovery of an online version of E. M. Delafield’s entertaining out-of-print novel, Humbug: A Study in Education, is a real pleasure. Delafield, author of Diary of a Provincial Lady, writes charmingly, and although her novels are not exactly classics, they are the best of literary bonbons.
But unfortunately the Google internet volume of this near-classic is riddled with spelling errors, punctuation peccadillos, and random un-English accents like ^. The spelling errors are so weird that it must be something to do with the computer transformation, about which I know nothing:
“She always sa3rs she doesn’t want to do! It’s not fair!”
Translation: 3r in the third word = “y.” The word is “says.” The 3r makes the heroine sound a bit like a robot, doesn’t it?
“Poor Utde thing!”
Translation: I’m still pondering “Utde.”
More Translations: “Vonnie” is sometimes rendered as “Bonnie.” “1” at the end of the sentence = an exclamation mark. ^ appears after a dash.
It got so irritating that I downloaded another version of the book, still rendered by Google, but this time from the University of Michigan. The typos are still there, so I resolved to learn the language. And the computer typos once mastered, I have galloped through this novel.
The premise of Humbug is that the heroine, Lily, is raised from childhood to doubt herself. Her upper-class parents do not allow self-expression: everything she thinks, challenges, or imagines is a sin. She is much loved, but her real self is ignored. She must keep her imaginary “pretend” life to herself. Her sister, Vonnie, has brain damage and is neglected by their parents. Lily staunchly insists that they inlcude Vonnie on outings, but they tell her she is wrong and that Vonnie won’t mind. Vonnie, who is sickly, shortly dies. Although Lily believes that Vonnie is happier in heaven, Lily herself cannot fit into the baffling world of adults. This vivid, sensitive, independent character must be molded and conform at all costs.
This independent girl is also out of place at school. She is brilliant, but has been educated out of literature rather than for tests. The dates and anecdotes required for history mean nothing to her. When she auditions for a role in Shakespeare, she speaks much better than anyone but “holds herself so badly” that she is rejected. She is hopeless at games. All her passions are held down.
And when her mother dies, things get even worse at home. Her father is whiny and sentimental. Without the intervention of aunts, she would never get away.
I am just halfway through, and a passionate defender of Lily now, who is constantly told independence is wrong. But the only help forthcoming is from a man she doesn’t love, and I’m waiting with bated breath to see if she marries him.
I’m giving this book an A- so far. My guess is that she’ll marry somebody else, but Delafield is not a conformist when it comes to novels. She may just surprise me.
A delicious Sunday book!