MARIPOSA VERSUS MR. SMITH
One of the principal concerns of Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town is perception, and the primary subject of the book's perception is Mariposa.1 Mariposa is the typical Canadian town between city and wilderness; populated with colourful individuals, it is Leacock's qualified ideal of an interdependent community. Mariposa is the place from which many affluent city-dwellers migrated, the community which they have partly forgotten, and the "home" towards which they nostalgically yearn. Mariposa is the past, at once individual and collective. And Mariposa is the temporary location of "JOS. SMITH, PROP."
The focus of the present study is a much-needed intensive analysis of the opposition between Mariposa and Mr. Josh Smith. Although many of Leacock's critics have suggested that Josh Smith plays a central role in the Sketches, none has recognized that the primary tension in Leacock's masterpiece arises from the opposition between the individualist Smith and the community. Critical studies of the Sketches, from Desmond Pacey's early analysis to recent comparative studies, have shown that this "minor masterpiece" too readily lends itself to personal response, selective analysis, and reductionist conclusions.2 The present analysis will of course deal also with those aspects of Sunshine Sketches already mentioned, particularly with the many connotations and implications of "Mariposa." Because this paper argues that the Sketches is a qualified affirmation of Mariposa in contrast to Mr. Josh Smith, it will limit itself to the first three and the last two sketches. The following analysis will show, moreover, that Sunshine Sketches is a more highly organized and complex work than has hitherto been convincingly demonstrated.
Before embarking on an analysis of Josh Smith's relation to Mariposa, a few words must be said on the important matter of perspective. Peacock's preface to the Sketches, the narrator of the sketches proper, and the narrator of "L'Envoi. The Train to Mariposa" (hereafter called the Envoi narrator) persistently reveal an interest bordering on obsession with the reader's perspective on and knowledge of "Mariposa." This interest arises before the reader is permitted to enter fully into "the present work" (xi), and it persists until the auditor of "L'Envoi" is allowed figuratively to leave "such a book as the present one" (225). A parallel concern with the reader's response to Sunshine Sketches as fiction is announced when the prefacer disdainfully disclaims that he is "trying to do anything ridiculously easy as writing about a real place and real people" (xi). With this disclaimer, the prefacer not only forestalls legal suits for libel, but also implicitly opposes the relative merits of an imaginative, romantic literature to those of a more documentary realism. Taking over from the prefacer, the narrator of the sketches begins his first story with the doubly doubting remark, "I don't know whether you know Mariposa" (1), and thereby reveals his intention of introducing "you" to Mariposa by showing you around the town (almost as if he were a tour guide). Finally, the narrator begins his second sentence, "Strange that you did not know it . . ." (225). Five times within the space of the following five short paragraphs, the Envoi narrator presumes upon what his auditor either "knows" or "knew." The Envoi narrator's closing remarks, the last words of the Sketches, refer to "the little Town in the Sunshine that once we knew" (264), thus emphasizing that his main concern, evident throughout "L'Envoi,"is with memory and imagination in so far as these contribute to self-knowledge. As an imaginative work of fiction, Sunshine Sketches enacts that which so concerns its 'narrators': a correct perception of "Mariposa" which is to be achieved by means of sight, knowledge, memory, and imagination.
As a book dealing so insistently with perspective on and knowledge of Mariposa, Sunshine Sketches is best approached on its own terms as a treatment of the incongruities between appearances and reality, or illusion and reality. More precisely, the book is a humorous treatment of characters, actions, and themes which illustrate the incongruity between appearances and reality, aspiration and achievement, intention and realization. The humour of the Sketches is in most instances self-evident, and it is not the intention of this essay to analyze the book's humour in the sense of what is 'funny'. Because Leacock treats his subjects humourously, ironically, satirically, much of the tension and many of the questions which arise the incongruity between appearances and reality must remain unresolved.3 Leacock's irony does not simply reveal to the reader the truth of the opposite to what is stated. (It may be observed that the irony of Arcadian Adventures more clearly conforms to this definition of dramatic irony.) Leacock accepts the possibility of truth in both appearances and reality. His insistently ironic attitude implies, in essence, the impossibility of discovering simple truth and reveals the Leacock who admired Charles II because the king saw "things as they are" and knew "that no opinion is altogether right, no purpose altogether laudable, and no calamity altogether deplorable."4 As will be seen, there are in the Sketches repeated movements of appearances towards reality, followed by a failing back.5 Moreover, there is repeated manipulation of appearances by the prefacer, by the narrator of the sketches, by the Envoi narrator, and by characters in the sketches. In "L'Envoi," Mariposa and Sunshine Sketches themselves recede into the realms of illusion, the illusions of memory and literature. When appearances are manipulated by Leacock or his narrators, the result is an ironic truth or insight of the equivocal kind touched upon above. When appearances are exploited by Josh Smith, the product is self-enrichment at the expense of, and frequently to the diminution of, Mariposans. When, on the other hand, the manipulator is an indigenous Mariposan such as judge Pepperleigh in his 'fore-ordination' of the Pupkin-Pepperleigh romance, the result is humanly and communally beneficial. In short, Sunshine Sketches is Leacock's humorous anatomy of the useful illusions by which Mariposans live, whereas the later (1914) Arcadian Adventures With the Idle Rich is a dissection of the illusory nature of dehumanizing reality in "the City." The difference between Mariposa and Plutoria is not so much quantitative as it is qualitative.' Generally, the illusions of Mariposa sustain a commendable community (though they allow also for Josh Smith's manipulative machinations): the accepted realities of Plutoria "weigh on the other side of the scale."7 In both books, illusions serve good and evil purposes; in both books, images of transformation and transmutation suggest that magic--a favourite image of Leacock's--can be either white or black.
This final point concerns the utilization of the past, of memory and imagination. "L'Envoi. The Train to Mariposa" finally and firmly underscores the importance of maintaining an enlightened response to "Mariposa" in order properly to incorporate its values into the present. Sunshine Sketches demonstrates that Leacock, whose writings emerge from a centre which is the confluence of the two traditions of humanism and nineteenth-century Toryism, believes that such an appreciation of the past is necessary to a full life, a life which develops organically rather than one which is radically cut off from its roots. By means of its imaginative humorous vision, Sunshine Sketches enacts that which the Envoi narrator leads his auditor to attempt--a return to Mariposa via the train which is the book itself, a distillation and embodiment of its virtues with an honest appraisal of its faults. There is, of course, shadow as well as sunshine in Leacock's portrayal of the little town. As shrewd and skeptical as he was humane and idealistic, Leacock did not write a wholly laudatory regional idyll.
It will prove rewarding at this point to examine further the structure of Sunshine Sketches as it reveals thematic concerns and to attempt to distinguish the three narrative voices of the book with respect to their functions.
It would be difficult not to notice that the sketches of Sunshine Sketches are framed by Leacock's preface and "L'Envoi." As has been suggested, the preface is concerned with the reader's perspective on the book itself, "L'Envoi" with the reader's/auditor's knowledge of Mariposa in imaginative retrospect. (It should be noted that Arcadian Adventures possesses neither preface nor postscript--the implication being that the "affection" which the prefacer evinces for Mariposa and the country which 'inspired' the book [xii] is lacking in the case of Plutoria.) The sketches proper can be grouped into five thematic sections with respect to those aspects of Mariposan life of which they treat: 1) sketches one and two, concerning Josh Smith and Jeff Thorpe respectively, deal primarily with business, the first including a crucial reference to and anticipation of the political concerns of the last two sketches; 2) sketch three portrays in microcosm the social life of Mariposa aboard the Mariposa Belle; 3) sketches four through six deal with the religious dimension to life in the town; 4) sketches seven through nine centre their concern on romance, love, marriage and family; and 5) sketches ten and eleven depict the political life of Mariposans and the practices of their candidates for the national legislature.
Viewed thus in terms of its structure, the two-sketch business and political portions of Sunshine Sketches can be seen to contain the social, religious and romantic concerns of the book. This is what might be expected in the fiction of a political-economist, and the exigencies of such a writer's priorities offer a reason why the social-microcosm sketch, "The Marine Excursion," is not the first sketch, as might be expected. In terms of structure, the first and last two sketches can be understood to function as a kind of frame within a frame. Considered consecutively, Sunshine Sketches moves from the authorial concerns of its preface to business (and political) matters, through the social and religious dimensions, to love and marriage, then outward to the political issues and the ambiguous finality of "L'Envoi's" Mausoleum Club. The last sketch, "The Candidacy of Mr. Smith," looks outward to a city (Ottawa), as the Mariposans are forever looking ambivalently toward "the City." The structure of the book mirrors the priorities of life within the town and, in a pragmatic sense, the priorities of its author--the realities of business and politics first and last, and at the heart of the book what may be called the spiritual realities of religion and love.
Excepting for the moment "The Marine Excursion" and the redemptive three-sketch Pupkin-Pepperleigh romance, Sunshine Sketches deals humorously with those three taboos of polite conversation: business, religion, and politics. Josh Smith is central to all three in Mariposa and is peripheral only to the love interest. Smith, the principal character of the first and last sketches, can be conceived as straddling the Mariposans, as it were, in a manner similar to his bestriding the stubborn beam of the Rev. Drone's burning driving shed (14 1). With regard to the practical aspects of Mariposan life, Sunshine Sketches is Smith's book; with respect to the heart of the community, it is Peter Pupkin's and Zena Pepperleigh' s. Ralph Curry has written that Leacock had intended the Pupkin-Pepperleigh romance to be "the central theme to unify" the Sketches.8 Although the love story is certainly central, it does not serve as a unifying device. Quite possibly it was the attraction of Smith, the hard-nosed realist, which seduced the worldly Leacock away from his intended plans for the romance. For Smith is, as will be shown, a self-serving manipulator of appearances and illusions equal to his author. Only the prefacer and the narrator precede the looming figure of JOS. SMITH, PROP. Only the Envoi narrator figures after Smiths ominously silent appearance on the victory platform. Without the love story and "L'Envoi," Sunshine Sketches would of course be a drastically different book--even more Smith's book and less reflective of its author's Tory-humanism and romantic idealism.
Smith remains, nonetheless, the Sketches' most convincing argument for a unity of plot. He moves through this time-suspended work seemingly knitting together by his actions and ambitions the frequently fraying fabric of Mariposan life: he purchases eggs from Jeff Thorpe's "woman" and thereby assists financially the bankrupt barber; he "saves" the Mariposa Belle; he burns down the church for the redemptive insurance money; and by championing the cause of protectionism against reciprocity with the United States, Smith by ironic extension saves "the Empire." of course, Smith acts in every instance for patently selfish reasons. He moves into Mariposa, exploits its deluded residents, and by the last sketch is on his way out. Sunshine Sketches is not, however, a novel, an observation which is often uncritically lamented by Leacock's critics.9 Only by torturing such accepted definitions as character development and plot can it be claimed that Leacock's superb series of sketches is a novel, or a 'proto-novel,' or something which reveals only the critic's lack of appreciation for the linked series of stories. Like the best story cycles (Joyce's Dubliners and Alice Munro's Who Do You Think You Are? for example), Sunshine Sketches possesses thematic unity and, as has been shown, an underlying structure which substantiate the prefacer's architectonic claim that such humorous productions as "the present work" are an "arduous contrivance" (xi). And like the best linked series of stories, Sunshine Sketches is arguably the first published work to conclude with a final story, "L'Envoi," which acts as a peroration to the book, restating its central theme in a refrain-like manner, and, in effect, demanding a rereading and re-evaluation of the entire series. The prefacer's use of "contrivance" should alert the reader of Sunshine Sketches that "the present work" may be something more than a collection of simply sunny and unconnected "sketches." (It may be noted further that the original edition of the Sketches, unlike the popular New Canadian Library edition, designates each "sketch" a "chapter.")
Authorial contrivance first manifests itself in Leacock's preface, wherein he thinks it advantageous to introduce "his work" by introducing himself (vii). Like his narrator, who will insist that the reader learn to see Mariposa properly before proceeding to meet Josh Smith, Leacock contrives that the reader become acquainted with the author's version of himself before proceeding to what he insists is imaginative fiction. The prefacer portrays himself in terms that are by turns equally boastful and self-effacing. In fact, his thumbnail autobiography is as charming as is his narrator's portrayal of Mariposa, as charming and as incongruous. (This is not to say that the biographical details of the preface are inaccurate, only that the ironic tone in which they are related establishes an immediate identification between Leacock and Mariposa.) The prefacer ironically inflates his own importance, thinking it "extremely likely" that there might have been a "particular conjunction of the planets" at the time of his birth (vii). The narrator of the sketches tends also to employ mock-heroic, inflated comparisons, as is evidenced in his opening description of Mariposa (1-3). And like the narrator's Mariposa, which occupies a medial position between city and wilderness, the Leacock of the preface feels himself to be "singularly fortunate" in his position as university professor because it provides a middle ground of a kind: "the emolument is so high as to place me distinctly above the policemen, postmen, street-car conductors, and other salaried officials of the neighborhood, while I am able to mix with the poorer of the business men of the city on terms of something like equality" (ix). This process of ironic inflation and deflation is a technique shared--if not overworked--by the narrator of the sketches. On a larger scale, it is a method of plot development which Paul Fussell, Jr., has identified as "a pervasive ironic pattern of literary action" in the latter half of the eighteenth century--"the pattern of comic reversal."10 The psychological and metaphoric implications of Fussell's observations are especially relevant to such sketches as "The Whirlwind Campaign" and "The Beacon on the Hill." For present purposes, it is sufficient to observe that Leacock's primary rhetorical device--ironic reversal, deflation, undercutting--is magnified in the larger movements of his plots and is practiced equally by his narrators.
Before the prefacer will relinquish the reader to the adeptly ironic and overly-concerned narrator of the sketches, he must deny that either Mariposa or its inhabitants are real or based on living individuals. Leacock's remarks in this instance anticipate his defence of Charles Dickens' method of characterization; namely, his claim that caricature and selective (or metonymous) realism are the surest means of achieving universality, a quality which Leacock understood to be one of the chief purposes of literary art.11 The prefacer insists that not only Mariposa but "the Reverend Mr. Drone, . . . Mullins and Bagshaw and Judge Pepperleigh and the rest" are compilations or types. But it is the prefacer's unapologetic anticipation of Josh Smith which is of especial interest. The remarks occur emphatically last in the comments about the book's characters"
As for Mr. Smith, with his two hundred and eighty pounds, his hoarse voice, his loud check suit, his diamonds, the roughness of his address and the goodness his heart--all of this is known by everybody to be a necessary al adjunct of the hotel business. (xii).
Certainly Smith learns in the first sketch that a good heart is an asset to the hotel business. As the narrator notes following an instance of Smith's self-enriching philanthropy, "Mr. Smith learned, if he had not already, suspected it, the blessedness of giving" (21).
In its subtle anticipation of the political concerns of the last two sketches, the first sketch develops most purposefully towards Smith's further realization "that the hotel business formed the natural and proper threshold of the national legislature" (34). Smith progresses from a political apprenticeship of sorts in the first sketch to his election victory in the last. In a limited sense, this is plot and character development. Smith develops by manipulating the illusions of grandeur which define life in Mariposa and allow its citizens to be victimized by his adroit handling of appearances. The prefacer's comments on Smith's good heart as it relates to the hotel business should alert the reader to be wary of Smith. (Indeed, in the subtlety of it's irony, the prefacer's seemingl innocuous statement should suggest further to the reader that he be wary of appearances in general.) Unguarded readings of the prefacer's comment on Smith have misled many critics to view him as a commendable character, even to regard him, in William H. Magee's opinion, as "the amiable representative of the small town at its best."12 With all due respect to Magee, nothing could be more wrong. If Mariposa possesses an amiable representative; that role is most fittingly filled by Judge Pepperleigh, Peter Pupkin, or the narrator himself.
Because the preface, the sketches, and "L'Envoi" serve different, though certainly related, purposes, it is necessary to distinguish further the three voices of Sunshine Sketches: the prefacer who is nominally Leacock; the narrator of the sketches who is changeable, yet always identifiable as himself, and who is omniscient at times and at other times is limited to a witnessing "I"; and the Envoi narrator, who seems to be neither the prefacer nor the narrator. It would be unwise, however, to push too far these distinctions. Leacock had no compunctions about writing that "Dickens, who could break all the rules of art, as Napoleon broke all the rules of battle, would narrate through a character and still be talking as Charles Dickens," and that Bleak House's Esther Summerson "saves her face by now and again using the namby-pamby 'nice' language of Victorian women, but most of the time she is Charles Dickens."13 Leacock's practice in many of his humorous pieces further complicates this problem of author and narrator. Often his narrator is indistinguishable from Leacock, while in other instances he is evidently an un-Leacockian persona, and yet in the majority of pieces the narrator is and is not like his author. Even when the reader brings a thorough knowledge of Leacock and his nonfiction to bear on the task, discrimination frequently remains elusive. Yet the three voices of Sunshine Sketches do reveal different concerns, and a number of pertinent comparisons can be noted, though sharply drawn characterizations of the 'narrators' must remain beyond realization.
The fact that the prefacer is aware of "about seventy or eighty" towns like Mariposa, while the narrator is aware only of a "dozen towns just like it," suggests that the narrator's experience is more limited than is his author's. The narrator begins by wondering whether the reader knows Mariposa, whereas the Envoi narrator is confident that his auditor knows Mariposa, or--since his auditor came from Mariposa--that he once knew it. The Envoi narrator is consistently omniscient, and, though he knows Mariposa, he may or may not have come from what is by "L'Envoi," for all intents and purposes, a symbolic "Mariposa." The narrator of the sketches is a citizen of Mariposa who, for all the reader can induce, remains in Mariposa, at times ironically distanced from Mariposa while at other times becoming fully Mariposan. There is, arguably, a greater similarity between the prefacer and the Envoi narrator than between the narrator of the sketches and the Envoi narrator. It may be that the Envoi narrator is a combination, or narrative conflation, of the prefacer and the narrator--in Vincent Sharman's phrase, "the third eye of the Sketches."14 The Envoi narrator's concern with Mariposa as an abstraction of a kind meaning at once "home" and memories thereof is reminiscent of the prefacer's admonishment that Mariposa and its residents not be taken for the real but as a compilation of numerous towns and many persons. And yet, the Envoi narrator is also similar to the narrator of the sketches in that both share concrete knowledge of Mariposa as a geographically real place. The prefacer and the Envoi narrator share a similar concern about the reader's and the auditor's interpretation and memory of Mariposa. That is, both manipulatively point to the fictive nature of the book and suggest how Sunshine Sketches should be viewed. In contrast, to the narrator of the sketches, Mariposa is a more immediately real place, his place. It may be the narrator's familiarity with Mariposa that causes him, in contrast to the prefacer, to think only of a "dozen towns just like it"--if not 'no place,' there are fewer places like home. The narrator desires the reader--"you"--to know his Mariposa (as do the prefacer and the Envoi narrator), but he conveys his knowledge by making you see Mariposa, concretely and in proper ironic perspective. The prefacer and the Envoi narrator desire the reader/auditor to think about Mariposa, to recollect and to reflect on his relation to it. In "L'Envoi," and to a lesser degree in the preface, the view of Mariposa that is provided is the heightened retrospective perspective which characterizes Leacock's conception of the "humour of sublimity," which "views life, even life now, in as soft a light as we view the past."15
Although the narrator of the sketches is distinct from the prefacer and the Envoi narrator, the distinctions blur again at the realization that all three share a similar style, especially in their use of inflated comparisons and an ironic voice of a purity that makes discriminations difficult. As already noted, the prefacer, like the narrator, boasts then undercuts. He was head boy at Upper Canada College and is a graduate of the University of Toronto, which education left him "intellectually bankrupt" (viii). He received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and attained a sort of intellectual closure wherein "no new ideas can be imparted to him" (ix). He is a member of a number of prestigious societies which, "surely, are a proof of respectability" (ix). He has lectured internationally on Imperial organization, the impressiveness of which is undercut by the subsequent conflation/concatenation of the "Union of South Africa, the Banana Riots in Trinidad, and the Turco-Italian War" (x). If such "proof of respectability" has not prepared the reader for fiction written from a conservative point of view, Leacock states plainly, "in Canada I belong to the Conservative party" (x). He then undercuts the value of his political affiliation and the integrity of practical politics generally by ironically complaining that he has received no political patronage and, in so doing, implicitly boasts of his honesty. Such ironic undercutting is here called 'pure' because Leacock, as has been suggested, can only be understood finally as holding to both views--the involved and the disenchanted--though certainly keeping them at arms' length. It can yet be concluded that the preface reveals a Leacock who is, perhaps because ironically aware of the ultimate vapidness of his boasted accomplishments, "deeply conservative in a human sense." This is characteristic of Canada's humorists which Northrop Frye has designated "the prevailing tone of Canadian humour ever since" Thomas McCulloch.16
Like the prefacer, the narrator of the sketches maintains his Mariposa and Mariposans at an ironic distance. Perhaps this is because he is guiding "you" through Mariposa and is therefore forced to be more immediately aware of the incongruity between appearances and reality, the incongruity between his Mariposa's mistaken aspirations and achievements. At other times, such as when the Mariposa Belle is sinking, the narrator becomes fully Mariposan, This last point suggests another characteristic of the narrator: he has trouble at times with the chronological development of his narrative. For instance, he prematurely and disingenuously reveals the climax to "The Marine Excursion" sketch:
But when you write about Mariposa, or hear of it, if you know the place, it's all so vivid and real, that a thing like the contrast between the excursion crowd in the morning and the scene at night leaps into your mind and you must think of it. (73).
What the narrator has in mind is everybody "crowding so eagerly to be in the accident" (70). He reflects on the incongruity: "perhaps life is like that all through"(70). Such attempts to complicate and universalize his story reflect the complexity of the narrator, who can be omniscient, cleverly ingenuous, and frankly disingenuous. Donald Cameron has observed that "Leacock evidently conceived of the narrator as an intelligent man feigning simplicity."17 Although generally valid, Cameron's characterization is surely an oversimplification, for the narrator of the sketches is chameleonlike, and his changeableness serves a number of authorial purposes, foremost among which is that it prevents the continual ironic undercutting from degenerating, in Leacock's opinion, into one-dimensional caustic satire. The narrator of the sketches, like the Leacock of the preface and the Envoi narrator, is a man among and talking to his fellows (or.'fellers', in Leacock's assumed idiom).
Although the narrator of the sketches is changeable--from sketch to sketch and even within sketches--it can be said generally that Leacock endowed him with a conservative, sympathetic, ironically honest, mature point of view. If satire that castigates with reference to a rigid moral norm had been Leacock's intention in the Sketches, then surely an adolescent, naively innocent, or persistently ingenuous narrator would better have served the purpose--Mariposa as seen by a Huck Finn, a Lemuel Gulliver, or even an Incomparable Atuk. But such a narrator would not have suited Leacock's purpose in Sunshine Sketches, for the satiric and moral norms which operate within the book are provided, as Northrop Frye has perceived, "by Mariposa itself." Frye writes that the reader often finds
in Leacock, a spirit of criticism, even of satire that is the complementary half of a strong attachment to the mores that provoke the satire. That is, a good deal of what goes on in Mariposa may look ridiculous, but the norms or standards against which it looks ridiculous are provided by Mariposa itself.18
In Sunshine Sketches Mariposa is at once the object of much humorous satire and the satiric norm, morally lacking and the moral norm. The foils to these norms are Josh Smith and, to a lesser degree, the auditor in "L'Envoi"--Smith because of his blatant avaricious individualism, the auditor because he has forgotten the worthwhile of Mariposa while developing in himself its faults.
The prefacer is concerned, then, with the reader's knowledge of the author and the correct approach to his fiction. He is concerned to place on view his basically conservative values, his implicit dislike of relentlessly realistic fiction, his affection for the imaginative Mariposa and the country which inspired the book, and his suggestion that the reader be wary of appearances, particularly Smith's. In contrast, the narrator of the sketches is primarily occupied by the incongruities between appearances and reality within Mariposa, and he is concerned insistently that "you" do not simply take the appearance for the reality. The Envoi narrator's final emphasis is with his auditor's knowledge of himself in relation to "Mariposa." It can safely be concluded, though, that all three 'narrators' share an essentially conservative orientation and an ironic style that prohibits the assertion of simple or unequivocal truth. With these characterizations and distinctions in mind, it is time to proceed into Mariposa and towards the looming figure of JOS. SMITH, PROP. And immediately the reader of the Sketches encounters yet another instance of pre-conditions to entry.
Before the narrator will introduce Josh Smith, "you" must have your perspective adjusted. You must learn to see Mariposa properly, with "the eye of discernment" rather than "the careless eye" (3). Seen with the careless eye, Mariposa is a slumbering little town, "but this quiet is mere appearance. In reality, and to those who know it, the place is a perfect hive of activity" (3). What the narrator offers by way of illustration of Mariposa's activity--that is, by way of contradicting its slumbering appearance--seems, however, to prove that the town is not a hive of activity. The "perfect jostle of public institutions" is obviously not "comparable to Threadneedle Street or Broadway" (3); nor do the four men working on the sausage machine in the basement of Netley's butcher shop argue for "a busy, hustling, thriving town" (4). It would be a mistake, though, to assume that the narrator is here satirizing only the affectations of Mariposans. As the sketches to follow prove, Mariposa seen from within is a relative hive of activity. The viewer's/visitor's perception of the town depends on perspective or point of view, as the narrator well knows.19 Of course Mariposa appears to slumber "if you come to the place fresh from New York" (4), but so, too, might London, Ontario, appear relatively languorous in the sunshine if perceived by a visitor fresh from the bigger London. As a consequence of such a juxtaposition, "your standard of vision is all astray" (4). By way of contradicting appearances, the narrator, in a pre-introductory reference to Josh Smith, presents Smith as standing with his eyes closed, presumably slumbering in the sunshine like the town itself. However, as the first sketch will amply demonstrate, Smith's brain never idles and is, if ever anything is, a "hive of activity" buzzing about the main chance.
The narrator proceeds over-cautiously towards the slouching figure of Smith (almost as though he were reluctant to disturb him). All that the narrator mentions concerning Mariposa relates to the incongruity between appearances and reality. The Mariposa Local, as opposed to the express train, "is a real train" (7). The shanty-men who come down from the lumber woods are "calculated to terrorize the soul of a new comer who does not understand that this also is only an appearance"(8). In reality, the shanty-men are farmers. After a spell in Mariposa, they undergo a transformation "and turn back again into farmers"(8). Even electricity (which would be, in view of Leacock's reactionary tendencies, a questionable benefit of technological modernity) is "turned into coal oil again" by the time it enters Mariposa(8). It would seem that in Mariposa things are not what they first appear, though in another sense they are what they appear to be. With respect to Mariposa, this must remain in large part the equivocal kind of "truth" which Sunshine Sketches portrays. Objective truth, knowable to any rational perceiver, does not exist--Leacock's narrator is not a philosophical realist in that sense. The truth about Mariposa depends upon perspective, subjectivity, or in literary terms, on point of view.
The narrator begins the paragraph that introduces Smith in a tentative vein:
If, then, you feel that you know the town well enough to be admitted into the inner life and movement of it, walk down this June afternoon halfway down the Main Street--or, if you like, halfway up from the wharf--to where Mr. Smith is standing at the door of his hostelry. (9).
It appears from this that Smith has somehow situated himself at the "inner life and movement" of Mariposa. He and his hostelry are located halfway along Main Street, Missinaba Street. The narrator adopts the Mariposan name for the street and invites the reader to enter Mariposa physically. Having done his best to adjust the reader's perspective to an ambivalent Mariposan point of view, the narrator ironically reveals his acceptance of that perspective and guides the reader/visitor towards the imposing and ominous figure of Smith, that "strange dominating personality . . . that somehow holds you captive" (10). With reference to perspective and the "truth" about Mariposa, the reader/visitor should willingly and courteously suspend his disbelief. The irony and humour of the narrator's remarks knowingly suggests that "you" should however retain your critical faculties. If the narrator of the sketches can be visualized, the reader might picture him as winking at such a rate that from one eye he must forever see his Mariposa as though in the light of a stroboscope.
Smith, like all that is connected to the Mariposa of the narrator's introductory remarks, undergoes within the space of one paragraph a transformation from the appearance of "an over-dressed pirate" to "one of the greatest minds in the hotel business" (10). Smith's facility at manipulating his and his hotel's appearance allows him to undergo a similar transformation in the eyes of the Mariposans (18-22). Simplicity of style and an imposing appearance assist Smith to do so. Having situated himself at the "inner life" of Mariposa, he is adept at exploiting the residents' respect for appearances. Unlike the former proprietors of the hotel, who affected such names for their transient establishment as the Royal, the Queen's, and the Alexandria, Smith simply hangs a sign bearing the legend, "JOS. SMITH, PROP." Simplicity in the abbreviations coupled with the assertive block lettering help provide "living proof that a man who weighs nearly three hundred pounds is the natural king of the hotel business" (11). In short, Smith's appearance as a hostelry king serves in Mariposa for the reality.
Before proceeding to his account of Smith's present professional dilemma, the narrator refocuses attention on Smith's appearance and contrasts this to "reality":
His appearance, to the untrained eye, was merely that of an extremely stout hotel keeper walking from the rotunda to the back bar. In reality, Mr. Smith was on the eve of one of the most brilliant and daring strokes ever effected in the history of licensed liquor. (13)
(Note that the relation between Smith and his hostelry--their shared fate--is reinforced rhetorically by the progression of the "extremely stout hotel keeper" from the "rotunda to the back bar," a progression which also conjures up a somewhat nether view of the lumbering Smith.) The narrator desires to keep before the reader the incongruity between Smith's appearance and his secret ambitions. Smith appears to be an "extremely stout hotel keeper." He looks like an over-dressed pirate--which of course he proves himself to be. Yet the narrator's description of the stroke which Smith is contemplating as "one of the most brilliant and daring" is equally a statement of truth, for this stroke is immediately associated with "Ladies' and Gents' Cafe" (13), which is, indeed, as the subsequent sketches prove, the greatest illusion which Smith conjures into reality. The "caff" saves Smith's liquor license and temporarily maintains him in Mariposa. It also awakens his political ambitions and, thus, indirectly opens his avenue out of Mariposa. And as the narrator indicates in the above passage, the caff is but one of Smith's brilliant and daring strokes another is the "stroke!" (141) of his axe on the main supporting beam of Dean Drone's driving shed; and as the arsonist who fires into reality Dean Drone's metaphoric "beacon," Smith is responsible also for Drone's "stroke" (146). Smith's "brilliant and daring stroke" with the caff reflects and resonates throughout Sunshine Sketches.
Smith's professional dilemma is itself the result of the Mariposan confusion of appearances and reality. His liquor license is threatened, not because he served liquor after the legal time, but because he locked in the town's dedicated drinkers and locked out a thirsty Judge Pepperleigh. "This," as the narrator ironically remonstrates, "was the kind of thing not to be tolerated. Either a hotel must be run decently or quit" (12). The narrator then illustrates further the importance of appearances in Mariposa. Mr. Distone's failure to maintain appearances causes him to be labeled the "'one who drank,'" a mistaken distillation that precludes a raise in his teacher's salary because "public morality wouldn't permit" it (15). An overwhelming respect for appearances is practiced also by Golgotha Gingham, who realizes the importance of dressing the part of an undertaker and knows the value of euphemism for dealing with the reality of death: "'funeral' or 'coffin' or 'hearse' never passed his lips. He spoke always of 'interments,' of 'caskets,' and 'coaches,' using terms that were calculated rather to bring out the majesty and sublimity of death than to parade its horrors" (15). Leacock, who cautioned that death has no place in humour, would perhaps approve the artful use of euphemism.20 The humorous satire is contained in the word "calculated," which implies that Gingham's decorum is motivated by pecuniary considerations. Appropriately, the sympathetic remarks on Diston and the humorous paragraph on Gingham precede the first section of dialogue in Sunshine Sketches, the section wherein Smith demonstrates his knowledge of Mariposan mores and his considerable powers of calculation.
In the conversation of Gingham, Henry Mullins and Smith, the latter introduces what he knows to be the decisive factor in determining Mariposan opinion--the city. "'If I have to quit,"' threatens Smith, "'the next move is to the city'" (16). It is pertinent to note, though, that Smith already has in mind the idea of the Caff, the Rats' Cooler, and the Girl Room: "'But I don't reckon that I will have to quit. I've got an idee that I think's good every time"' (16). Smith's "idee" is to construct an impressive piece of the city in Mariposa, or at least to conjure up temporarily the illusion of a city hotel. Mullins' question to Smith--"'Could you run a hotel in the city?"' (16)--demonstrates the open-mouthed awe which the magical word "city" evokes from Mariposans. It also betrays a 'goshJosh' admiration of Smith which betrays the Mariposans' childlike impressionableness and justifies Smith's addressing the assembled as "Boys" (16). As the narrator observes parenthetically in the second sketch, "in Mariposa all really important speeches are addressed to an imaginary audience of boys" (58). Like children, Mariposans are fascinated by appearances, particularly 'biggness,' such as Smith's physical size and the impressive trappings of such urban schemes as a "whirlwind campaign." It is this misinformed emulation of things which are big and related to the city which continually gets the Mariposans into trouble and allows Smith to dupe them. As Desmond Pacey has observed, their desire to "ape" the city is what Leacock persistently regrets by implication.21
'Biggness' is in fact the key concept in Smith's reply to Mullins' question: "'There's big things doin' in the hotel business right now, big chances . . ."' (16). Smith then dangles before the assembled--Mullins, George Duff, Diston, and Gingham--the picture of what they Mariposans will miss if he moves: the Caff, the Rats' Cooler, and the Girl Room. Smith concludes: "'If I go to the city that's the kind of place mean to run'" (17). But as Smith has previously hinted to his interlocutors, he has no "idee" of going to the city, at least not yet. The enticing vision of hotel in the city is employed by Smith as a lure (though he may also be sounding his audience's response to his "idee"). In either case, the open-mouthed fish are hooked when Smith, further enticing his prey, offers a free drink to Gingham: "'What's yours, Gol?'" "' It's on the house"' (17). It would be galling indeed to let such a "king" slip away to the city.
The negative verdict on his license compels Smith not to leave Mariposa but to carry out his plan for the Caff and the Rats' Cooler Ordered to "close down" (24), Smith, in one of the book's most significant inversions, expands his business. A further illustration of the incipient childlikeness of Mariposans is that they do not remember Smith's plan for Caff, Rats' Cooler, and Girl Room when he commences the additions to Smith's Hotel. Children have short memories. Compared with Smith, Mariposans are guileless and ingenuous. The contention here that Smith is in full control even at this point in the first sketch--that he knows calculatingly which negative Mariposan illusions will best serve his needs--is substantiated by the flashback which elucidates Smith's dilemma. This flashback concerns Smith's life prior to his arrival in Mariposa and explains how he has come to figure in the "inner life" of the little town in the sunshine.
"But stop--" interjects the concerned narrator as Billy arrives with the telegram (17). As has been his practice to this point, the narrator is worried that the uninformed reader will not fully appreciate the anxiety Smith and his associates. "You" could not enter Sunshine Sketches until Leacock as prefacer had offered his terms for allowing you to do so. You could not proceed into Mariposa and toward Smith until the narrator had adjusted your perspective--that is, until the narrator had taught you to see the "eye of discernment." And now, "it is impossible for you to understand" Smith's predicament without a fuller knowledge of his background (17). This knowledge makes clear that Mariposa is for Smith but a stopover, a springboard to greater things (if political life in Ottawa may so be termed).
The reader learns that Smith is in though not of the little town, in and casting a looming shadow. He has come from the north, having risen from a cook in a lumber camp to running a river driver's boarding-house, and, thence, to holding a "food contract for a gang of railroad navvies on the transcontinental," after which "the whole world was open to him" (18). The implications of this latter remark should recall the prefacer's ironical lament about his "failure" in Canadian politics; though an avowed Conservative, he never received a contract "to construct even the smallest section of the Transcontinental Railway" (x). Thus the echo effectively distances the character of Smith from Leacock and suggests further that Smith is corrupt and already knows something of political patronage. Moreover, Smith's association with the timber trade may suggest the lawless threat to communities which characterized the timber trade along the Ottawa River (and elsewhere) in the mid-nineteenth century (the "river driver's boarding-house" being understood here to suggest vaguely such lumber rivers as the Ottawa).22 This may be overstating the case, though, for upon first consideration Smith's career may equally appear to be an instance of the 'small' man making good (or big), pulling himself up by the straps of his lumberjack boots. At this point in his mythical rise, Smith arrives in Mariposa and picks from the opened whole world "the 'inside' of what had been the Royal Hotel" (18). Notably, Smith does not want the "loafers and shanty-men" for customers (19). These are the same loafers and shanty-men who--being, as noted, "only an appearance"--are in reality local farmers who have worked in the "lumber woods" and are simply on a binge before returning to their farms. To put plainly what the kindly narrator's account of Smith's past strongly suggests, Smith uses and discards people. From Leacock's responsible and tolerant Tory-humanist's point of view, Smith might more properly be regarded as somewhat pushy, as 'on the make.'
It is Smith's attention to the details of his and his hotel's appearance which drives away the low-lifers and secures the relatively high-class trade. By assuming what was previously described as the appearance of "an overdressed pirate," Mr. Smith had become a local character. Mariposa, like the whole world after his contract with the transcontinental, "was at his feet" (20). Mr. Smith overcomes Mariposa's lingering opposition to him--what the narrator actually terms "this opposition"--"by a wide and sagacious philanthropy" (21, emphasis added). By buying ten-dollars worth of free rides for the Mariposan children from a visiting merry-go-round operator, Smith effectively frees their parents and ingratiates himself with them to the extent that they stand "four deep along his bar" (21). The narrator anticipates the reader's mistaken presumption that Smith's original gesture was truly motivated by kindly intentions: "Mr. Smith learned, if he had not already suspected it, the blessedness of giving" (21). If any doubts linger, the narrator removes them by beginning the following paragraph, "the uses of philanthropy went further" (21, emphasis added). Not one to store up riches in heaven, Josh Smith proceeds to donate to every organization in town, knowing full well that what he gives thus in his "sagacious philanthropy" will be returned at least a hundredfold.
Instead of illuminating the source of Smith's anxiety, the flashback leaves little doubt that he will be more than adequate to any situation. When Billy returns with the negative verdict--the telegram ordering Smith to "close down"--it should come as no surprise that Smith acts quickly, forcefully, and deviously because apparently for the benefit of the town. There is something of the furious in the manner in which the additions to Smith's Hotel take shape, something of demoniacal energy, of the construction of Pandemonium, in the way his "idees" assume form:
Then the excavation deepened and the dirt flew, and the beam went up and the joists across ... Spacious and graceful it looked as it reared its uprights into the air. (25)23
Smith informs the curious, baffled and forgetful Mariposans that the additions are "'a caff--like what they have in the city,"' a Rats' Cooler and "'a "girl room," like what they have in the city hotels'" (26). The description of the completed additions further presents Smith's Hotel as having undergone a sort of magical transformation:
Not only was the caff built but the very hotel was transformed. Awnings had broken out in a red and white cloud upon its face, its every window carried a box of hanging plants, and above in glory floated the Union Jack. The very stationery was changed. (26).
The impressionable and sensation-seeking Mariposans fall down, figuratively, before this gilded "caff" which Smith has shaped from their worshipful golden dreams of city life.
Smith achieves his crowning touch when he brazenly reverts to the similarly affected names used by former proprietors. His transformed establishment is now called "Smith's Summer Pavilion" and is advertised in the city as "Smith's Tourists' Emporium and Smith's Northern Hotel Resort" (26). By enticing weekend sportsmen from the city, Smith demonstrates his ability to exploit the illusions of city-dwellers with regard to the benefits of northern holiday as readily as he manipulates the illusions of the semi-rural Mariposans with respect to city life. Smith's ruse of importing the city-dwellers anticipates his ploy in having his election victory prematurely wired from the city--a tactic that assures his victory as surely as the flocking of the city-dwellers for his Tourists' Emporium assures his esteem in the wide eyes of the Mariposans. Smith's successful manipulation of the city-dwellers for his own purposes hints further that Mariposa may ultimately prove to be too small a pond for this swelling toad. And it should be kept in mind that the transformation of Smith's Hotel initiates Smith's transformation to a political prince of sorts.
The transformed hotel is of course false, illusory. "The standing marvel of Mariposa" proves in reality to be as temporary as is Smith's residency in the town. Both marvel and residency serve temporarily but to further the realization of Smith's ambitions. Only Smith, "who knew it by instinct, ever guessed that waiters and palms and marble tables can be rented over the long distance telephone" (27). The French chef is as transient as are the artificially deflated prices of his meals. The Rats' Cooler, into which you "step from the glare of Canadian August to the deep shadow of an enchanted glade" (39), is not only an ephemeral enchantment but a questionable one: "he who entered the Rats' Cooler at three of a summer afternoon was buried there for the day" (30). Golgotha Gingham, ever with an eye on trade, "spent anything from four to seven hours there of every day. In his mind the place had all the quiet charm of an interment, with none of its sorrows" (30). The Rats' Cooler with its "German waiter noiseless as moving foam" (30) momentarily holds the reality of "a Canadian August" and of Mariposan life at bay. But it is a figurative crypt, a place for undertakers and German waiters (the latter being, in view of Leacock's anti-Germanism, suggestively negative24). The magic of the Rats' Cooler - the "enchanted glade" whose "charm" is "of an interment"--is decidedly black. Only Smith, who bears the burden of expense for this delusory charm and enchantment, understands the real situation. When he sits down with Billy at the end of the day to assess the situation, his languge with reference to his clientele is revealingly brutal:
"Billy, just wait till I get the license renood, and I'll close up this damn caff so tight they'll never know what hit her. What did that lamb cost? Fifty cents a pound, was it? I figure it, Billy, that every one of them hogs eats about a dollars worth of grub for every twenty-five cents they pay for it. As for Alf--by gosh, I'm through with him." (30).
It has cost Smith dearly to appear as a lamb. But in terms of the relation between Mariposa and Mr. Smith, the Mariposans are the lambs and Smith is the wolf in "shepherd's plaid trousers" (9). His calling them "hogs" is in marked contrast to that other, most frequently employed term of Mariposan derision, "skunks." And as the last sentence of the above speech again demonstrates, Smith thinks nothing of using and discarding people--in this case, Alphonse, the "French Chief" (27).
Aware as the reader has been made of Smith's manipulative skills, aware, too, as the reader is of his exploitive practice of using and discarding people, it is to be expected that the illusion of the caff with its bargain-priced lamb and the Rats' Cooler will vanish when they have served their purpose, leaving behind but a rack of their former selves. Although the primary purpose of the additions had been the renewal of Smith's license, the successful illusion inadvertently endows Smith with an aura of prestige which transforms his vision of himself. At the height of his hotel's popularity, some of the awed and excited Mariposans "wanted to make him the Conservative candidate for the next Dominion election" (33). Their reason for so wishing is associated, not with Smith's political acuity, but with his having "done more to boom Mariposa than any ten men in town" (33). This blind boosterism--and the "boom' may also suggest demolish, as there may be a pun on "hostelry" in the sketch's title--is not lost upon the perceptive Smith, though its ramifications could be missed by the uncritical reader. For, to repeat, Smith's transformation of his hotel effects nothing less than a transformation of Smith and sets the stage for the events of the final two sketches:
There was a quiet and a dignity about his manner that had never been there before. I think it must have been the new halo of the Conservative candidacy that already radiated from his brow. It was, I imagine, at this very moment that Mr. Smith first realized that the hotel business formed the natural and proper threshold of the national legislature. (34).
"Halo" and "radiated" imply that Smith here attains an ironic apotheosis, or, at least, a political canonization of sorts.
If the disappearance of the caff and the Rats' Cooler should come as no surprise to the reader, Smith's candidacy and election in the last two sketches should equally be expected, especially so in the light of the hints given in the first sketch. The eight sketches which come between "The Hostelry of Mr. Smith" and "The Great Election in Missinaba County" deal with what is destined to become Mr. Smith's constituency. These eight sketches, which humorously anatomize Mariposan business, religion, and romance (along with what is revealed about Mariposa in the first and last two sketches), provide the norm against which Smith is to be judged. But Smith does become Mariposa's elected representative, and not simply because the electors are blind to their own interests. As was remarked earlier, Mariposa does not absolutely or obviously provide a referential moral. The moral norms of the book can be induced only from a careful consideration of the events portrayed, from an appraisal of what motivates its characters and from a thoughtful assessment of the narrator's relentlessly ironic commentary. Mariposa is anatomized humorously and satirically, with a kindly and discerning eye. Its ambitions are Smith's writ small, and its reflective faults are heightened by Mariposan ineffectuality. Put simply, if Mariposans did not possess serious shortcomings reflective of Smith's glaring faults, he would not be able to manipulate and exploit the townsfolk as he does. What Mariposans do possess in opposition to Smith is a concern for their community and a frequently nagging conscience which enable the reader to pass judgment on Smith's rampant individualism and materialism. It might also be said that Smith brings out the worst in the Mariposans, the shadows. Granted, the first sketch does not fully reveal these aspects of the Mariposans; here, they emerge as children playing in the sunshine and living on dreams of grandeur. Smith is portrayed as clever, exploitive, and deceptively energetic in his own interests--characteristics which point toward bigger things. (It is worth opening a lengthy parenthesis here to remark that Smith's competitive individualism and insistent pecuniary motivations suggest that his surname alludes to the material individualism upon which Adam Smith's economic theory was based. In many of his non-fictional essays and books, Leacock dismissed Adam Smith's theory and the policy of laissez-faire because such economics is antithetical to a just and increasingly interdependent society.25 It should be noted, though, that in the Sketches Smith is Josh Smith, which name suggests further that he is Leacock's burlesque of the sort of individual who is encouraged by the free play of Adam Smith's laissez-faire economic system. And it may be noted still further that Adam Smith is mentioned in the Sketches in the title of Mr. Dreery's lecture, the "Great Humorists from Chaucer to Adam Smith" [ 117].)
Before proceeding to the election and Smith's campaign, it will prove illuminating to examine first an instance of the direct opposition of Mariposa to Mr. Smith. The second sketch, "The Speculations of Jefferson Thorpe," makes obvious this pattern of contrast and reveals the stance of Leacock's narrator with respect to Smith and Mariposa.
Whereas the first sketch deals with real business, the second deals with illusory business. The parallel and opposition is suggested at the beginning of "The Speculations" by the location of Jeff Thorpe's little barber shop "just across the street from Smith's Hotel" (37). The eighth paragraph of the sketch, comprising one sentence, repeats and emphasizes the relation between Thorpe and Smith: "the barber shop, you will remember, stands across the street from Smith's Hotel, and stares at it face to face" (39). By implication, Jeff's barber shop, like Smith's Hotel, is located at the centre or "inner life" of Mariposa, "halfway down the Main Street--or, if you like, halfway up from the wharf" (9). However, in contrast to the guardedly taciturn Smith, Jeff is distinguished for his loquacity, and conversation is "the real charm" of his barber shop (41). This "real charm"--leisurely communal intercourse--bespeaks opposition to the delusive, dark enchantments of Smith's Rats' Cooler. Unlike Jeff, who loses all the money he makes from mining speculations, Mr. Smith profits by the boom. Smith, the realist, is not seduced by the romance of northern riches: "you see, Mr. Smith had come down from there, and he knew all about rocks and mining and canoes and the north country" (46). Rather than speculating wildly, Smith realizes a tidy profit by shipping potatoes to the northern speculators. Jeff, on the other hand, "had looked at so many prospectuses and so many pictures of mines and pine trees and smelters; that .... he'd forgotten that he'd never been in the country" (46). The opposition between Smith, the real businessman, and Jeff, the speculative dreamer, is made plain: "Mr. Smith, I say, hung back. But Jeff Thorpe was in the mining boom right from the start" (46).
It would be naive, though, to assume that this opposition between real and illusory business is simply for the purpose of exposing the baseless fabric of the former and chastising the ruthlessness of the latter. In business matters, the relation of the real to the illusory is more complicated than simple opposition. In "The Speculations," the illusion, Jeff's dream of riches, moves towards and becomes reality, only to revert at the end to the illusive reality operative in Mariposa. This movement from illusion to reality and back again parallels that of Smith's caff, which briefly materialized only to dissipate. And it should be kept in mind that the illusive Mariposan reality to which Jeff and his dream return contains the faults that allow Smith to operate as successfully as he does. With respect to the opposition of real and illusory business, it is Jeff's and Mariposa's mistaken desire to emulate big business and the city which makes both appear deluded.
Jeff's barber shop is falsely fronted, the type of building which Sinclair Ross will later employ in his As For Me and My House to symbolize small-town affectation (though perhaps 'hypocrisy' would be the better word for Ross's Horizon). The narrator describes Jeff's false-fronted shop as "a form of architecture much used in Mariposa and understood to be in keeping with the pretentious and artificial character of modern business" (39). It is to be doubted, however, that the Mariposans 'understand' their architecture in this evaluative sense. No doubt they take the appearance for the reality, feeling that they require chimerical buildings to accommodate their inflated census figures (5-6). Rather, the assessment of "modern business" as "pretentious and artificial" is a statement which stands out stylistically from the page. It is satiric without a trace of gentle irony or kindliness. Here, Leacock's narrator states as flatly as he ever allows himself to do that it is big business, not the mistaken Mariposans or their pathetically affected architecture, that is truly "pretentious and artificial." In effect, this stylistically incongruous remark is a statement of theme. The plot of this sketch--the rise and fall of Jeff's financial fortunes--is relatively unimportant. The narrator has already revealed the central action of the sketch: "as I say, it was when Jeff made money that they saw how gifted he was, and when he lost it--" (38). Here, the narrator subverts the development of his story to allow his readers to concentrate on the contrasted aspects of "The Speculations"--on its characters and its theme. This is a narrative strategy which he will employ again for similar reasons in "The Marine Excursion." "But, dear me," he will disingenuously lament, "this is no way to tell a story" (73). Leacock cared little for plot.26
With the exception of "L'Envoi," no other section of Sunshine Sketches so insistently contrasts Smith and the city to Mariposa as does "The Speculations." In each instance of contrast, the narrator favours Mariposa: "in Mariposa, shaving isn't the hurried perfunctory thing that it is in the city. A shave is looked upon as a form of physical pleasure" (40). City-dwellers.do not even have time to read their newspapers, "but in Mariposa it's different" (41). Not only is Mariposan life distinguished for its pleasures and leisurely pace, Mariposans are individuated to an extent unknown in the city. The city financiers whom Jeff imagines to be working his undoing are lumped together as "that unseen nefarious crowd in the city" (49). And the narrator remarks with only a hint of condescending, mitigating irony, "after all, the capitalists of the world are just one and the same crowd" (53). Although the Mariposans (like most people) judge a man by his material possessions, the pleasurable, leisurely atmosphere of the small town more than compensates for this human failing of its distinctive residents. Furthermore, it is merely the reputation of being a wealthy man that Jeff truly covets: "what Jeff liked best of it all was the sort of public recognition that it meant" (50). In contrast to the pathetically insecure Jeff, Smith's business practices are motivated by unqualified avariciousness.
Prior to his favourable comparisons, the narrator ironically regrets the distinctiveness of Mariposans: "that's the trouble with the people in Mariposa; they're all so separate and so different--not a bit like the people in the cities" (51). Here, though, he is referring specifically to the "trouble" that they present him as narrator, for he is thinking of an overlooked character who bears on his story. In this instance, the individual relevant to Jeff's story is his daughter Myra, whose recitation of the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice is so well done that "everybody in Mariposa admitted that you couldn't have told it from the original" (52). The humour of this comment should not be allowed to obscure the allusion to a play which contrasts vengeance and monetary avariciousness to humane mercy. Shylock adequately demonstrates in the "hath-not" speech that he, too, is motivated partially by a need for recognition. It is, therefore, pertinent to note that Jeff wears "a little black skull cap" (39). It may be that Leacock is implying that Jeff, the only native Mariposan obsessed with monetary riches, is a Jew. If this is the case, Leacock's anti-Semitism is unfortunate, unfortunate in itself of course, but unfortunate also because it implies an insupportable reason for the good-hearted barber's obsession. Of course, it may be that Jeff is obsessed with getting rich and a Jew, not because he is a Jew. Leacock was, however, quite capable of suggesting the cause and effect relation. In the global range of his racism--taking in just about all nationalities but English-speaking peoples--there is, within my knowledge, but one other suggestively anti-Semitic remark.27
Apologies aside, the more relevant aspect of the reference to The Merchant of Venice--that Leacock's theme is one of equal seriousness--is substantiated indirectly by the mention of "young Fizzlechip's" suicide. The aptly named Fizzlechip (a gamble that 'fizzled' out) also made a fortune in the mining boom, then "shot himself in the back of the Mariposa House" (45). The only motive suggested is that Fizzlechip found himself with nothing to do (45). The third reference to Fizzlechip occurs immediately after Jeff strikes it rich: "and the queer thing was that the very next afternoon was the funeral of young Fizzlechip" (50). Although the name Fizzlechip tends further to obscure the serious intention, the references to his suicide gain in significance in light of Leacock's admonition on the relation of death to humour:
Nor can humour, even where it is meant to be merely comic and harmless, venture to associate itself with images or recollections of pain, cruelty and death . . . We must not jest over death.28
The intrusion of Fizzlechip's suicide argues that "The Speculations" is not intended to be appreciated only in a "merely comic and harmless" sense. It is consistent with Leacock's Tory-humanist satiric norm that he dislikes the gambling aspect of financial speculation: for every winner there must be a loser, perhaps a suicidal one. Consider by way of contrast Leacock's humorous treatment of Peter Pupkin's 'suicides': "suicide is a thing that ought not to be committed without very careful thought" (187).
With the exception of the actual sinking of the Mariposa Belle, where the narrator becomes for the moment thoroughly Mariposan, in no other sketch of Sunshine Sketches is he so completely in Mariposa as in "The Speculations." He is shaved by Jeff, whose greatest business asset is the way in which he suits his banter to the interests of his customer (42). It is worth noting, then, what Jeff talks about with the narrator: "to a humble intellect like mine he would explain in full the relation of the Keesar to the German Rich Dog" (42). Presumably, the narrator has an interest in international affairs and political economy, as does the Leacock of the preface (ix-x). This presumption is supported by Jeff's asking him, "Did you ever see this Rockefeller?" (57). If such a possibility exists, then the narrator has not only travelled but he has perhaps moved in social and financial circles which would warrant Jeff's inquiry (and the context of Jeff's question argues that he is not referring to a photograph). It may be argued, therefore, that the narrator of "The Speculations," though certainly not completely identifiable with the Leacock of the preface, does share interests with the political economist and international lecturer. (And again the business of the "Keesar and the German Rich Dog" suggests Leacock's anti-Germanism.)
These parallels are noteworthy because the narrator of "The Speculations" reveals a patronizing interest in keeping Jeff in his barber shop and content with his life in Mariposa. The narrator "liked it about Jeff that he didn't stop shaving" after he made his killing in the market (55). What the narrator does not like is the seeming shift in Jeff's interests, a threatened transformation in self-regard reminiscent of that which elevated Smith in the first sketch. The narrator notes
a sort of new element in the way Jeff fell out of his monotone into lapses of thought that I, for one, misunderstood. I thought that perhaps getting so much money,--well, you know the way it acts on people in the larger cities. It seemed to spoil one's idea of Jeff that copper and asbestos and banana lands should form the goal of his thought when, if he knew it, the little shop and the sunlight of Mariposa was so much better. (56)
Jeff does not 'know it'--the value of his life in Mariposa--but the relatively sophisticated narrator knows it. Of the many ironies in this sketch, perhaps the greatest is that Jeff's failure and loss is, from the narrator's point of view, his salvation. Although the conclusion is somewhat pathetic, the narrator is justified in admonishing, "pathetic? tut! tut! You don't know Mariposa" (60). But by this point, the careful reader does know Mariposa and can view Jeff's situation with an ironic vision which approaches that of the narrator. That is, the reader can view Jeff's situation as both pathetic and acceptably resolved--in Leacock's understanding of the word, as humorous.29
Jeff is much better off in his leisurely-paced environment, where people are individuated. The small-town barber, with his commendable if unsophisticated notions of advertising for "incurables" and giving "an acre of banana land in Cuba to every idiot in Missinaba county" (59), would have lasted neither long nor happily in the outside world, where philanthropy--as seen from Smith's use of it--is a euphemism for self-interest. Jeff ends where he began, poorer though not significantly worse off, unlike young Fizzlechip, alive in Mariposa. The emphasis of the conclusion to "The Speculations" is on the brave face with which Jeff and his family accept their lot. Jeff must work a longer day but he is accustomed to such work; his daughter Myra bravely and admirably relinquishes her former affected ambition of becoming an actress (61). Perhaps it is Jeff's work habits--his communal function which is associated with his sense of familial responsibility--which, in contrast to the indolent and lonely Fizzlechip, save him from suicidal despair. The ethic of work and duty aside (those Carlylean-Victorian virtues), it must be faced that Jeff is also aided by Mr. Smith.
The final irony of "The Speculations" resides in its closing reference to Josh Smith's caff. The reader learns here that Jeff's rise and fall has been concurrent with Smith's threatened fall and rise. Jeff is helped financially when Smith contracts with "Jeff's Woman" for seven dozen eggs a day: "You see it was just at this time that Mr. Smith's caff opened" (61). The coincidence of events suggests much, not the least of which is that Mariposa at this time, when experienced from within, must indeed have been a "hive of activity." Real business, as practiced by Smith, transpires concomitantly with the illusion of business (market speculation) as practiced by Jeff. The caff, which was itself finally an illusion, served to further Smith's real business and latent political ambitions. Jeff's paper fortune, which was an appearance that moved towards reality only to vanish, served to effect his financial undoing and to return him to where he began. The final reference to Smith and his caff contrasts Smith's progress to Jeff's stationary position in Mariposa. Smith is outward-bound; Jeff, like the accident-prone Mariposa Belle, returns to where he began. It may be that Smith's progress is contingent upon Jeff's stability. It may also be that Leacock is suggesting that some good--the helpful egg contract, results from Smith's rampant individualism and crass materialism. As for Smith's motives, however, it is most probable that his seeming benevolence in the matter of the egg contract is further evidence of his exploitive selfishness, his desire to keep Mariposa relatively stable for his own purposes.30 Moreover, Smith knows, even as he contracts for the eggs, that the caff will remain in full operation and in need of extra eggs only so long as it is useful to him. Jeff and "the Woman," like the shanty-men, the German waiter, and the "French Chief," will soon have to fend for themselves.
Again, this is not to say that Mariposa is guiltless. It will be recalled that Jeff is obsessed with riches because that is one standard of value in Mariposa: "it was a favourite method in Mariposa if you wanted to get at the real worth of a man, to imagine him clean sold out, put up for auction, as it were" (58, emphasis added). Not only is Smith, the realist, unwilling to pay Billy the desk clerk his back wages when Billy wants "to put it into Cuba" (59), but Henry Mullins, the bank manager, similarly anticipates Jeff's collapse and makes "a fuss about selling a draft for forty thousand on New York" (59). Nevertheless, for all of Mariposa's faults, Leacock's narrator bears it an obvious affection that is seldom withheld. (And it may be that Mullins desires to save Jeff as well as himself and his community's bank, whereas Smith simply does not want to pay Billy.) Smith is the only character in Sunshine Sketches who is never treated with affection. Smith does not belong to Mariposa and only temporarily resides in Mariposa. Although Mariposa may not provide a clearly-defined moral standard against which Smith can be measured, Smith embodies a selfishness in the shadow of which the virtues of the community shine and can generously be assessed. The reader would be mistaken to slight Jeff's intention to use part of his illusory fortune for charitable purposes. In terms of philanthropy versus selfishness, Jeff's humanitarian motives count for everything, his mistaken method and misplaced ambitions count for little (if the source of such rich humour can be called "little"). As was shown in the discussion of the first sketch, every instance of Smith's "philanthropy" illustrates his self-serving material ambitions. If Smith's exit is to be accomplished by his election to the national legislature, the reader of the Sketches is meant to feel that such is the inevitable consequence of the relation between business and politics, and that political office is but the tacky laurel for those who are ambitious, energetic, and cunning enough to exploit this relationship.
Smith's election victory, "the crowning triumph of Mr. Smith's career" (244), is of a piece with his previous triumph in the matter of the caff, itself "one of the most brilliant and daring strokes ever affected in t e history of licensed liquor" (13). Like the earlier triumph (though presumably not much earlier), Smith's election victory is the product of his industrious manipulation of Mariposan illusions and delusions of grandeur. But the narrator, who insisted in the opening sketch that the reader could not meet Smith until he had learned to see Mariposa properly (that is, until "you" had discarded the mere appearance in favour of the inner reality), cautions in "The Great Election" that "you can't understand the election at all ... unless you first appreciate the peculiar complexion of politics in Mariposa" (214).
The narrator adopts the Mariposan perspective from the opening of "The Great Election." It is a perspective which may be termed a determinedly 'Maripocentric' point of view: "I saw it all [the election] from Missinaba County which, with the town of Mariposa, was, of course, the storm centre and focus point of the whole turmoil" (213). Having thus identified himself with the Mariposans, the narrator reasons that in "the great election Canada saved the British Empire, . . . " and so inward until he concludes "that those of us who carried the third concession, -" (214). The narrator arrests the tendencies of his Maripocentric thinking, realizing that he is about to imply that Mariposa "saved the British Empire." He then reveals the basis of Mariposan political opinion in the following: "as soon as they grab the city papers out of the morning mail, they know the whole solution of any problem" (215). Once the reader knows this, he can begin to "appreciate the peculiar complexion of politics in Mariposa," for it is this fact of city-orientation which Smith exploits for victory. And yet, the narrator can remark, fully cognizant, as he is, of the derivation of Mariposan political opinion, that politics in Missinaba County "is not the miserable, crooked, money-ridden politics of the cities, but the straight, real old-fashioned thing that is an honour to the countryside" (219). This is, as is soon revealed, the truly ironic or backhanded compliment. Leacock harboured no illusions about practical politics, whether urban or rural.31 In "The Great Election," his narrator proceeds to illustrate that politics in Missinaba County is nothing but bribery and patronage (219), where voting is a simple matter of herd mentality: "nobody cares to vote first for fear of being fooled after all and voting on the wrong side" (244). Although the herd mentality is but one face of the coin whose reverse is the commendable sense of community, it must be conceded that in political matters Mariposa gets the M.P. it deserves.
Employing a narrative strategy which parallels the movement of the opening sketch, the narrator of "The Great Election" concludes his general analysis of Mariposan politics with the statement, "so now, I think, you understand something of the general political surroundings of the great election in Missinaba County" (221). Reminiscent of the way in which the circumlocutions of the first sketch centered finally on Smith, here the ironic anatomy of political life leads to an introduction to "John Henry Bagshaw, . . . the sitting member, the Liberal member, for Missinaba County" (221). In many respects, and in a manner which typifies Leacock's paralleling techniques, Bagshaw is Smith's mirror image. Whereas Smith has situated himself at the "inner life" of Mariposa and is moving towards the politically representative, Bagshaw is the representative returning involuntarily to the inner life. Both characters are adept at manipulating Mariposa's respect for appearances, Mariposans' illusions, delusions, and appetites.
Perhaps Bagshaw loses the election because he has been away from Mariposa for too long (twenty years interrupted by intermittent, campaigning returns) and so has lost touch to some extent with the pulse that fancies itself a throbbing metropolis. In any event, the Liberal Bagshaw, running on the issue of trade reciprocity with the United States, attempts to win only through traditional patronage. (Leacock held that protective tariffs within the British Empire were necessary for its economic and political unity.32 Smith, the conservative champion of protectionism and "the Empire," stands upon a somewhat wavering platform. But Smith knows that the small Canadian town of Mariposa will unseat a Liberal who threatens the British connection. Smith wins, though, not because of his changeable policies or his opportune Imperialism, but because he has his victory prematurely telegraphed from the city. (Leacock, a Conservative and public defender of protectionism in the 1911 general election,33 must ultimately have held as little hope for the possibility of integrity in politics as he as prefacer implies and as the portrayal of the virtuous, though ineffectual, Edward Drone would suggest.) By exploiting Mariposan awe of the city, Smith assures the overly cohesive electorate that a vote for him will not be a vote "on the wrong side," the losing side. Bagshaw, "the old war horse" and "old jackass" (221), fails to exploit this perhaps-recent, ambivalent city reverence and so loses the election.
As might be expected, Smith's campaign draws much of its incidental credibility from things civic and from references to 'bigger' things. He answers the question on Imperial defence by claiming that he is "'fer'" whatever "'the Conservative boys at Ottaway think"' (236). He inflates impressive "'statissicks'": "'Shove it up to four,' said Mr. Smith, 'And I tell you,' he added, 'if any of them farmers says the figures ain't correct, tell them to go to Washington and see for themselves'" (241). And he imports "a special speaker from the city" (243), though in this instance the appropriate tactic backfires, as the speaker is a prohibitionist and Smith has uncharacteristically miscalculated the extent to which Mariposans wish to appear "dry." By contrasting the success of Smith's political strategy to Bagshaw's failure to realize the importance of "the city," Leacock may be suggesting a shift in Mariposan orientation that is even more biased towards the city. Since this presumed shift allows for Smith's election, it follows that the figurative movement away from provincial self-sufficiency, or Maripocentrism, is not a commendable development.34 The implication is certainly there in the tactics of the two campaigns and in Smith's telling coup. Yet such an interpretation is finally beside the point. Partisan politics is an unseemly business, complete with the mathematical trappings of business--"statissicks" and "figures" (240). In the final analysis, there is little to choose between Smith and Bagshaw.
Bagshaw is presented as a formidable candidate and adversary. In a Maripocentric sense, he is "one of the greatest political forces in the world" (221). The illustrations of his political prowess which follow this childish superlative concern Bagshaw's 'Smithian' manipulation of appearances. He maintains the appearance of residency in his riding while being in reality an absentee farmer. He sends hogs to the "Missinaba County Agricultural Exposition and World's Fair" (Maripocentrism), accompanying them in his corduroy breeches with a straw in his mouth. "After that," observes the narrator, "if any farmer thought that he was not properly represented in Parliament, it showed that he was an ass" (222). Bagshaw's tokenism extends equally to business, religion, and education, and it is capped by the revelation that he keeps "a little account in one bank and a big account in the other, so that he was a rich man or a poor man at the same time" (223). If Bagshaw's dress (223) and behaviour are illustrative of his facility at manipulating appearances, his very presence in Mariposa is equally significant: "you could see, if you knew the signs of it, that there was politics in the air" (224). The narrator's observation is revealingly to the point: in many respects Sunshine Sketches is an encyclopedia of signs, the significance of which "you" are taught to read. With regard to Missinaban politics, the reader might well prefer to remain charmed by the humorous display of these signs rather than to peer painstakingly into the dark areas which they indicate.
Bagshaw's political strategy is one of the more striking instances of inversion in the Sketches, though even it is surpassed by that flexible secondary plank in Smith's platform--"temperance and total prohibition" (230). Bagshaw would rather not run on the tariff question but on the issue of graft--not because he can prove that the Conservatives are corrupt but in order to publicize his free use of political patronage (226). His reasons for so desiring reveal the limits of his manipulative skills relative to Mr. Smith's. Bagshaw's desire for an opportunity to have his corrupt practices publicized also provides one of the more damning indictments of Mariposan political life: "Let Drone have plenty of material of this sort and he'll draw off every honest vote in the Conservative party" (226). That is, Drone will lose by a landslide.
If Sunshine Sketches has a climax with regard to the opposition between Mariposa and Mr. Smith, it occurs at Golgotha Gingham's timorous announcement to Bagshaw that the Conservatives "are going to put up Josh Smith" (228). Bagshaw, nobody's fool, realizes immediately the Herculean task before him, and so he comes "as near to turning pale as a man in federal Politics can" (229). Appropriately, it is Gingham, the undertaker, who informs Bagshaw of Smith's candidacy, figuratively sounding Bagshaw's death knell (or the 'tones of his interment'). The news is a blow to Bagshaw and of such import that the narrator, in a manner reminiscent of Fielding, Sterne, and Dickens, announces that he must close his chapter. What follows in the eleventh sketch, "The Candidacy of Mr. Smith," is the opening of a new chapter in Mr. Smith's life. In this final sketch, Smith is insistently called "Mr. Smith." To some extent, the 'Joshing' is past, and the change to the formal "Mr." further distances the familiar narrator from this apparently transformed, "over-dressed pirate."
It is crucial to an appreciation of Mr. Smith's progress to realize that he risks his standing in Mariposa by running for federal office. Before the reader learns that Smith is "put up" by the Conservatives, the narrator notes that "hotel keepers," along with "office holders, and the clergy and the school teachers," are "allowed to claim to have no politics" (216). The implication is that they must appear--" claim"--to be disinterested in order to maintain their sinecures. Smith's profession is remarked upon twice when Bagshaw learns that he is to be the Conservative candidate: "'Smith! the hotel keeper,'" exclaims Bagshaw (228); and the narrator, following a few mock-heroic metaphors, remarks redundantly "that the Conservatives had selected Josh Smith, proprietor of Smith's Hotel" (229). Bagshaw and the long-empowered Liberals either have not learned or have forgotten what Smith realized in the first sketch: that "the hotel business formed the natural and proper threshold of the national legislature" (34). The election is, then, a must-win and, because Smith is so successful in the hotel business, a will-win competition for Mr. Smith. As hotel-keeper, he displays his facility for a broad bribery and patronage, knowing that he must contribute covertly to both political parties if his business is to flourish. In fact, it was Judge Pepperleigh's discovery that Smith had also contributed to the Liberal party which dealt the first of the two telling blows to Smith's operator's license (23). But in Mariposa Josh Smith is self-licensed, his cunning and greed, in service to his will, providing the only license the licentious Josh requires.
Smith's solution to the problem of his revoked hotelier's license was the illusion of the caff and the Rats' Cooler, an illusion which temporarily inhabited reality and then receded to the realms of Mariposan appearance. But the caff--an idea imported from the city to awe the impressionable Mariposans--served Smith well: it returned his license and demonstrated that he could exploit the illusions of Mariposans and the 'back-to-nature' longings of city-dwellers. As a result of accrediting Smith with having done more to "boom Mariposa than any ten men in town" (33), the entire scam brought about mention of his running for political office and transformed Smit 's vision of himself. The scam and its effects prove the validity of the narrator's observation on the relationship between business and politics. It is appropriate, therefore, that Smith's ace in winning his greatest gamble--the telegram from the city announcing his victory--is an extension of his scheme for getting back his hotel license. Mr. Smith is a quick study, a taker of calculated risks, and a gambler who is uncaring of the loser's fortune (a suicidal loser such as Fizzlechip). Displaying a subtle symmetry, the sketches proper begin and conclude with telling telegrams: Smith is victimized by the first, the victor with the second. Furthermore, the telegram from the city which proclaims Smith's victory is a more sophisticated version of the caff. Both caff and telegram depend for their effectiveness upon the awe with which Mariposans view things metropolitan; neither caff nor telegram has a basis in reality. Both are illusions of sorts which are conjured up by Smith and are based upon a nebula of Maripocentric characteristics, most prominent among which are affection, envy, physical appetite, and the provincial herd mentality. This may sound like an indictment of Mariposa equal to that notoriously ungenerous assessment of Robertson Davies.35 It is not intended as such.
The crucial distinction to be made between Smith and Mariposa is that the negative characteristics just rehearsed are evoked, cajoled, and exploited by Smith for the gratification of these same and apparently sole attributes of himself. Smith possesses no redeeming features. Mariposa does. Particularly, and in opposition to Smith, Mariposa's most obvious virtue is its nature as an interdependent community. This opposition was made clear in the contrasting first two sketches, a contrast between real business as practiced by Smith - for his own enrichment - and the illusory business speculations of Jeff Thorpe, whose evanescent fortune was to be used partially for local philanthropic purposes, and whose real business, barbering, provides a meeting place for leisurely communal intercourse. To suggest an indecent, rather un-Leacockian double entendre, Smith's rapacious relation to Mariposa can best be surmised from his instructions to his supporters to hold back their votes: "'Wait till she begins to warm up and then let 'em have it good and hard"' (245).
As has been stressed in this analysis, Mariposa is an ironically idyllic community, not an ideal one. Smith is successful in his machinations, not merely because of the concentrated greed within himself, but because similar faults exist and persist within the community. These glaring human foibles are the source of Leacock's humour: the incongruities between aspiration and achievement, between appearances and reality. The seven middle sketches of Sunshine Sketches treat the social, religious, and romantic dimensions to life in this riding which Mr. Smith carries before him and leaves behind him. But the removal of JOS. SMITH., PROP., does not threaten Mariposa with collapse. If anything, Mariposa 'props up' Smith, or Smith is a 'prop' in the theatrical sense of the word--he is a colourful villain in the melodrama of Mariposan life. Smith is also, as this discussion has shown, a foil.
Smith's removal to Ottawa brings about the return of his mirror image, the equally effectual and explosive Bagshaw. It is to be wondered, though, whether Bagshaw's twenty years in "Ottaway" would enable the former encumbent to raise, as Smith does, the periodically sinking Mariposa Belle. But there is no call for a Maripocentric kind of alarm. The following analysis of the third sketch,"The Marine Excursion of the Knights of Pythias," will conclude this paper, demonstrating once again the opposition between Mariposa and Mr. Smith. It will further show that Smith is in the final analysis unnecessary to the life of the community.
There are repeated hints throughout "The Marine Excursion" that the sketch should be considered as presenting a microcosm of social life in Mariposa. The narrator remarks that "the Mariposa Belle always seems to me to have some of these strange properties that distinguish Mariposa itself" (68). One of these properties is, like the town's population figures, ths steamer's variable size as a function of perspective: "after you've been in Mariposa for a month or two ... she gets larger and taller" (68). The image of the steamer as a kind of floating Mariposa is further suggested by the behaviour of the passengers aboard her: they occupy themselves exactly as they would at home, particularly the older women who "all gravitated into the cabin on the lower deck and by getting round the table with needlework, and with all the windows shut . . . soon had it, as they said themselves, just like being at home" (74-75). It should be remembered, moreover, that in both the preface and the first paragraph of the opening sketch, Mariposa was established as the small Canadian town. That the steamer, symbolic of Mariposa, also represents something essentially Canadian is indicated by the Pythian band's departure song, the "Maple Leaf for Ever" (74), and by the recurrent singing of "Oh Canada." Most notable is the politically telling, "I think that it was just as they were singing like this: 'O-Can-a-da,' that word went round that the boat was sinking" (83). And there is of course the final block-lettered transcription of the singing as the boat "steams safe and sound to the town--"O-CAN-A-DA"--the last syllables of the sketch (93). "The Marine Excursion" suggests in these ways that Sunshine Sketches was indeed the only fiction that Leacock wrote on commission for a specifically Canadian audience.36 Pertinently, it is during the sinking of the Mariposa Belle - which craft, by extension, becomes a symbolic 'ship of state' -that Leacock's narrator becomes most fully Mariposan. By so revealing himself, the narrator fictionally affirms Leacock's later patriotic reply to an invitation to retire to England, "I'll Stay In Canada."37
It’s a sweeping generalisation, of course, but Arabs and Muslims really don’t have much to laugh about these days: mayhem and death, war and repression, dictatorship and terrorism are daily fare across the region. Yet satire and humour, much of it fairly black, are alive and kicking, from Iraqis poking fun at the Islamic State (Isis) to Saudi standup comics, and Palestinians grinning and bearing life under a corrupt government and Israeli occupation.
There are no crude Charlie Hebdo-style cartoons portraying the Prophet Muhammad – strictly taboo – but plenty of clever and excoriating images of corrupt and hypocritical leaders – and enemies.
Lebanese band the Great Departed use oudh music and untranslatable cultural references to target Isis – “Daesh” in the pejorative Arabic term – to side-splitting laughter in Beirut nightclubs. Jordan’s al-Hudoud, a bundle of irreverent online fun, recently ran a delightful story about the arrest of Father Christmas and the confiscation of presents he was distributing.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed Caliph of Isis, is the object of plain ridicule. Karl Sharro, the London-based Lebanese satirist, brilliantly “re-created” a session between Baghdadi and his psychiatrist. Having declared the caliphate, the jihadi chief is stumped about what to do next. There’s no handbook. The psychiatrist helpfully advises him to try Google. Baghdadi wonders whether to start wearing a big turban, maybe mauve or even pistachio with a silver pin. But he frets that would make him look silly.
Fahad al-Butairi is the star of the wildly successful YouTube comedy La Yekthar – tolerated by an autocratic Saudi regime that is currently flogging a jailed liberal blogger and does not allow women to drive – an issue that is brilliantly satirised in Butairi’s Bob Marley-inspired “No Woman, No Drive” video. Surprisingly, the show has survived, perhaps because it uses coded messages about social and economic issues and hints at corruption. Royalty and religion are strictly off limits.
Negotiating the red lines laid down by government censors has encouraged extraordinary creativity. The Palestinian comedy team Watan a Watar have enjoyed huge success with their take on an Isis propaganda video featuring a roadblock and a quiz: incorrect answers mean instant execution but these jolly, bumbling jihadis win points to get them to Paradise. It’s gallows humour with a twist.
Yet Isis is, in a sense, an easy target in the grim aftermath of the Arab spring – and the dichotomy between jihadis and dictators fashionable but false. “A lot of this is at the expense of satire against counter-revolutionary regimes we are not laughing at any more,” says Sharro. “Now there is a sense of an existential battle so we are linking arms with the Egyptians and Jordanians and Saudi regimes. And that’s very muddling because a lot of the grievances in the region are created by those same autocrats.”
Ian Black, Middle East editor
Egypt: ‘If I was on TV, they might shut me down. That’s why I’m on the internet’
In some respects, the state of Egyptian satire can be summarised by the fact that Egypt’s most famous contemporary satirist no longer feels safe to work. And that when he was in work, he came under pressure from every government he lampooned. For a golden period, between 2011 and 2013, Bassem Youssef, a heart surgeon in a past life, was the poster boy of Egypt’s revolution. His political satire show, which he first broadcast on YouTube from his spare bedroom, and which later drew up to 30 million viewers on television, took aim at politicians from across the spectrum.
Among all the bloggers, vloggers and comics that the 2011 uprising spawned, it was Youssef’s show that was the most visible emblem of the enhanced public discourse of the post-revolution period. Within two years, Youssef was the most-watched satirist in the Middle East, and became known internationally as Egypt’s Jon Stewart. Like Stewart, Youssef played humorous video clips of his targets, and then mercilessly ripped them apart for whatever blooper they had uttered. But he also found time for both serious soliloquies and low-brow slapstick. In one memorable programme, he wears an absurdly large academic’s hat, a piss-take of a similar, if smaller, hat that Egypt’s first post-revolution president, Mohamed Morsi, once wore in Pakistan.
But his experiences under the rule of first Morsi, an Islamist, and Egypt’s first post-revolution president, and then the man who ousted him, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, highlight the limits for satirists in Egypt. Under Morsi, prosecutors detained and questioned Youssef on charges of insulting both the president and Islam in general. A devout Muslim, Youssef never criticised Islam – but he did poke fun of Islamists who, he felt, were tarnishing Islam’s image. “Religion, I’m not touching religion,” he said in these pages that year. “I’m actually attacking people who are using religion and give [it] a bad name.”
Youssef’s show survived under Morsi, but with interim president Adly Mansour and then Sisi it was a different story. In September 2013, just as a crackdown on all forms of opposition was getting going, Youssef told viewers: “What we fear is that fascism in the name of religion will be replaced by fascism in the name of patriotism and national security.”
Within weeks, his own channel had pulled the show. While the government has locked up other journalists, in his case there was no direct government order to end his satire. According to Youssef, he was the victim of the environment the government had helped create in which media moguls are only too happy to do the authorities’ work for them. “You can always implement some sort of a mood, without actually giving direct orders,” he later told the Observer. Youssef returned on a different channel months later, but again his show quickly folded. Once more, there was no direct order to do so – even from his new employers. But he felt that the threat posed by either the government or its supporters was too great to justify the continuation of his satire.
In Egypt’s mainstream media, Youssef’s departure has left a void. But his satirical baton is still carried by a younger generation of cartoonists and writers who push social and (sometimes) political boundaries in a few daring websites, magazines – or to their own substantial followings on Facebook. One such writer is 23-year-old Wageeh Sabry, who started producing satirical sketches on Facebook last summer – ironically around the time that Youssef finally wound down his show. At first Sabry was just talking to his friends, posting idiosyncratic yarns or musings that gently push at social mores. But his writing proved a hit and, six months later, he has nearly 100,000 followers on Facebook and a book of his work out this month.
Sabry doesn’t take direct potshots at political figures or events. But the surreal scenes he dreams up are a satire of the Egyptian moment. Recently, he imagined a bizarre conversation with a ghost at an “atheist cafe”, a riff on a recent raid on a cafe the authorities said was run by blasphemers. In another sketch, aliens invade Tahrir Square, and a woman, oblivious to their extraterrestrial nature, robotically chants pro-regime slogans at their commander.
“In the mainstream media, there aren’t satirical journalists who talk about religion, sex, politics. The only one who broke these boundaries was Bassem Youssef,” says Sabry, who is mentored by Youssef. “If I was broadcasting on TV, they might shut down my programme, and I might not be able to express myself. But that’s why I work on the internet.”
Patrick Kingsley and Manu Abdo
Turkey: ‘Erdogan sued, but satire had the last laugh and the prime minister lost’
The Turkish political satire magazine Penguen (Penguin) was founded in 2002 by four Turkish cartoonists, Metin Üstündag, Selçuk Erdem, Bahadır Baruter and Erdil Yaşaroğlu. It has since become one of the country’s most widely read cartoon magazines. Its popularity soared during the Gezi protests in 2013, when Turkish TV channel CNNTurk unwittingly turned the penguin into the mascot of activists; it had aired a penguin documentary instead of reporting from the uprising in Taksim Square.
While political caricatures in Turkey go back to Ottoman times, – Sultan Abdülhamid II, who failed to see the humour in satire and the depictions of his large nose, went on to ban them – they saw their golden age in the 1970s and 80s when Oğuz Aral, often considered the father of several generations of Turkish cartoonists, founded the hugely popular magazine Gırgır (Chuckle). Penguen’s co-founders emerged from Aral’s school of political satire.
The magazine has never shied away from controversy. After a Turkish court sued caricaturist Musa Kart for depicting then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a cat entangled in a ball of wool in 2005, Penguen published a series of animals all sporting the heads of Erdoğan – a Turkish government leader known for his lack of a sense of humour and his love of suing unruly cartoonists – and promptly found itself facing a court case for defaming authority. This time satire had the last laugh and Erdoğan lost. But the threats against political satire and cartoon artists in Turkey, a country that currently ranks 154th out of 175 on the RSF Press Freedom index, are not just of a legal nature.
Arsonists attacked the offices of Penguen in 2012 while two cartoonists were still working inside. No one was hurt. The perpetrators were never found. In early 2011, Penguen drew the ire of conservative Turks after it published a cartoon depicting the writing “there is no god, religion is a lie” on the wall of a mosque. The magazine later apologised, but underlined the right to freedom of expression: “We might like or not like a certain caricature, but it is important to protect this freedom. We respect the criticism. We are saddened by the angry reactions, and apologise to those who felt disrespected.”
Author Bahadır Baruter, who faced a prison sentence of up to one year for the caricature, later said the outrage expressed in other newspapers and on social media amounted to a “lynching”, and insisted the cartoon reflected his personal opinion and was “not something he had sought to consult over with anyone” prior to drawing it. “As my friends in the magazine have already stated, a magazine column is a space of free speech.”
His mosque cartoon again became the subject of heated debate – and threats of violence – after the attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last Wednesday. Ibrahim Yörük, a writer for the newly founded Islamic daily Vahdet, tweeted, using the hashtag #CharlieHebdo: “Look, one does not make fun out of insulting the people’s beliefs @penguendergi, you’d better pay attention to this …” He attached a picture of the controversial caricature, with red arrows pointing to the writings on the mosque wall. Yörük was later dismissed from his newspaper.
Syria: ‘Ali Farzat was dragged from his car and had his hands broken’
Satire is a popular, and dangerous, political weapon in Syria, where its practitioners choose targets at their peril. Before the uprising that has ravaged the country over the past three years, political enemies of the Syrian regime were considered fair game for cartoonists, television sketches and social media campaigns. While not completely out of bounds, any mocking of senior officials, though, was restricted to a gentle ribbing. After the insurrection, state tolerance for dissent plummeted. Ali Farzat, an internationally renowned cartoonist who in better times had poked fun at Bashar al-Assad, found himself very much out of favour when he drew an image of the Syrian leader sweating and carrying a suitcase after Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in mid-2011. Farzat was dragged into a car and savagely beaten, and his hands were broken. He said his attackers told him “this is a warning”, and he now lives in exile. Around the same time, a singer of anti-regime songs, Ibrahim Qashoush, was found dead with his vocal chords removed.
Now Syrian satirists tend to restrict themselves to safer targets. It is the terror group Isis, which controls part of Syria’s north and much of its east, that has become the focus of pointed satirical attacks from both the opposition and regime. State-run television has begun regularly deriding the group through comedic sketches and cartoons.
Pakistan: ‘Only satire that has the sense to limit its targets is tolerated’
When I sent my collected satirical columns, The Diary of a Social Butterfly – narrated by a ditzy, wealthy socialite in Lahore – to a publisher in India, she snapped it up. Later she told me: “I expected something like this to come out of India. Not from Pakistan.”
Those who know Pakistan only from the grim headlines it regularly generates cannot imagine there is much scope there for humour. But in fact Pakistanis have a long tradition of laughing at themselves. Urdu literature is replete with first-rate satirists – Akbar Allah Abadi, Ibne Insha, Mushtaq Yusufi. Bhaands, traditional performers who entertain with fast and furious monologues of cutting political commentary, are widely loved. Mimics are stars and the country’s finest impersonators have their own television shows.
There are three separate satirical programmes on Geo, the country’s biggest and most watched independent television channel, where politicians come in for a regular drubbing. It broadcasts Hum Sub Umeed Say Hain (We Are All Expecting), known for its biting political comment, as is Dunya’s satirical programme Hasb-e-Haal. The Friday Times, a weekly from Lahore, has published a series of fictitious satirical diaries over the years: Dear Diary by Benazir Bhutto; Ittefaqnama by Nawaz Sharif (the current prime minister); Mush and Bush, a telephone conversation between General Musharraf and President Bush; Howzzat by Im the Dim (Imran Khan) – all written by the publisher, Jugnu Mohsin. Subversive cartoonists, such as Sabir Nazar, Feica, Zahoor and Javaid Iqbal, whose work is published in leading national newspapers, are household names. So satire is alive and kicking in Pakistan. But only satire that has the sense to limit itself to permissible targets is tolerated.
Politicians are fair game, as are celebrities from the worlds of entertainment and sport. The chattering classes, too, are readily ridiculed. And that’s it. The two most powerful actors in the country – religious extremists and the military – are strictly off limits. You take them on at the risk of your life. Religion, generally, is a no-go area. Pakistan has strict blasphemy laws.
Blaspheming against Muhammad is punishable by death. Four years ago, Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan’s most populous province, was gunned down by his own security guard for proposing a review of the law. Leaders of mainstream religious parties are occasionally mocked on TV, but gently, almost affectionately.
Few dare to laugh at the army and its feared intelligence wing – the ISI, Inter Services Intelligence. One group that did was the band Beghairat Brigade (Dishonourable Brigade). They released a song on (the now banned) YouTube, called Alu Anday (Potatoes and Eggs) taking a swipe at the military as well as sectarian killers. Its latest single, Dhinak Dhinak, again mocking the army was released in 2013 and promptly blocked on Vimeo. Mohammed Hanif, the award winning novelist, also parodied General Zia and his inner circle in his novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes. But writers of English, because of their comparatively small readership, can sometimes get away with more than Urdu writers. Hence even though The Friday Times published Mush and Bush during General Musharraf’s regime, it escaped censure.
The one place that satirists can safely let rip against the military and jihadists alike is cyberspace. One of the country’s foremost wits is an anonymous character on Twitter called Majorly Profound. Ridiculing the military’s propensity for fiddling with the constitution and its vast business interests, he recently wrote: “I demand a constitutional amendment in Pakistan to take back cornflakes manufacturing from armed forces and place it under civilian control.”
Moni Mohsin’s satirical novel, Duty Free, is published by Vintage
Iran: ‘Despite restrictions – and floggings – satire is present in everyday life’
Satire in Iran starts with two familiar words: Gol Agha. That was the title of a weekly publication founded in 1990 by one of Iran’s most celebrated satirists, Kioumars Saberi Foumani, who also went by the pen name Gol Agha. It was the first such publication in post-revolutionary Iran, maintaining its dominance for more than two decades after its debut, adding monthly and annual editions as well as producing a new generation of satirists and cartoonists.
Throughout the reformist years under Mohammad Khatami in the late 90s and early 2000s, when journalism in the country flourished, Gol Agha had a freer hand in critiquing politicians and other senior figures. In late 2002, Foumani closed down the weekly publication for reasons unknown, although it resumed after his death in 2004 in other forms. At the height of the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s mandate (2005-13), Gol Agha’s various publications began to disappear, although it serves as a small publishing house today.
Iranian satirists and cartoonists face strict red lines in their work, such as longstanding bans on depicting clerics, ridiculing religions or satirising anything to do with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Many defy those bans online, publishing anonymously if they reside inside the country.
The first opportunity Iranian cartoonists had to freely depict an Iranian president came when Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005. He was not a cleric and his eight acrimonious years provided plenty of material. But restrictions were widespread. In 2012, the case of one Iranian cartoonist, Mahmoud Shokraye, drew international condemnation when a local court sentenced him to 25 lashes for insulting an MP. Cartoonists from Iran and across the world stepped forward in his support, drawing their own version of the parliamentarian. In the face of the protest, MP Ahmad Lotfi Ashtiani ultimately withdrew his complaint.
A number of satirists and cartoonists have been forced to flee Iran in the past decades, including Mana Neyestani. He fell victim to the state’s aggression in 2006 when he spent two months in jail for a cartoon deemed insulting to the country’s Azeri ethnic minority. Neyestani is now based in Paris and has published a graphic novel, An Iranian Metamorphosis, which tells the Kafkaesque story of his time in jail.