Like thousands of “humor” writers before me, I’m a huge admirer of Robert Benchley, the master of the short comic essay. During a recent search, I discovered that some of his work has fallen into the Public Domain. Because everyone deserves a little Robert Benchley to brighten their day, I give you an excerpt from his take on Modern Literature:
The naturalistic literature of this country has reached such a state that no family of characters is considered true to life which does not include at least two hypochondriacs, one sadist, and one old man who spills food down the front of his vest. If this school progresses, the following is what we may expect in our national literature in a year or so.
The living-room in the Twillys’ house was so damp that thick, soppy moss grew all over the walls. It dripped on the picture of Grandfather Twilly that hung over the melodeon, making streaks down the dirty glass like sweat on the old man’s face. It was a mean face. Grandfather Twilly had been a mean man and had little spots of soup on the lapel of his coat. All his children were mean and had soup spots on their clothes.
Grandma Twilly sat in the rocker over by the window, and as she rocked the chair snapped. It sounded like Grandma Twilly’s knees snapping as they did whenever she stooped over to pull the wings off a fly. She was a mean old thing. Her knuckles were grimy and she chewed crumbs that she found in the bottom of her reticule. You would have hated her. She hated herself. But most of all she hated Grandfather Twilly.
“I certainly hope you’re frying good,” she muttered as she looked up at his picture.
“Hasn’t the undertaker come yet, Ma?” asked young Mrs. Wilbur Twilly petulantly. She was boiling water on the oil-heater and every now and again would spill a little of the steaming liquid on the baby who was playing on the floor. She hated the baby because it looked like her father. The hot water raised little white blisters on the baby’s red neck and Mabel Twilly felt short, sharp twinges of pleasure at the sight. It was the only pleasure she had had for four months.
“Why don’t you kill yourself, Ma?” she continued…
Couldn’t resist adding a line of his I wish I had written: “A great many people have come up to me and asked me how I manage to get so much work done while looking so dissipated. My answer is ‘Don’t you wish you knew?’ and a pretty good answer it is, too, when you consider that nine times out of ten I didn’t hear the original question.”