Saturday, June 28, 2008

Stephen Leacock

From time to time, we feature stories by Stephen Leacock in the Basement. This week, we've spotlighted four stories written very early in his career (from the 1890s), including one that was not reprinted in his 1910 collection, Literary Lapses

While Mister Ron's Basement primarily focuses on American authors, Leacock is a great big Exception To The Rule. Much too simplistically, people refer to him as "the Canadian Mark Twain," yet there is some truth to that generalization. Even though he began his humorous writing career decades before, his fame really began to spread dramatically in 1910, right about the time of Twain's passing.

Much of his writing centers on Canadian culture and people, especially his 1912 masterpiece, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, dealing with the inhabitants of a fictional rural place he called Mariposa. Some day we may serialize the story in the Basement.  Meanwhile, there is a spoken word version of Sunshine Sketches produced by Librivox here. Since 1947, the most prestigious award for Canadian humorists has been the Leacock Award. Generally speaking though, many of his humorous tales strike a Universal Chord, and hold up remarkably well, almost a century after they were written.

Of course, Leacock was once as popular in the U.S. as any American humorist. His work appeared in American newspapers and magazines, and his books sold like hotcakes.  Somehow or other, his fame in the U.S. slipped over the years. I first learned of him decades ago, when I discovered that he was a huge influence on Groucho Marx and Jack Benny. I found dusty, unread volumes of his in the public library, checked them out and became a fan. Mister Ron's Basement Episode Number One is a Leacock story. 

Most Canadians will talk about Leacock as an old friend when you bring him up. Most Americans today say, "Who?" when you bring up his name. This is a shame. This guy needs to be taught in American schools right along with Twain.

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