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The Clumsiest People in Europe: Or, Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World (2005)

af Favell Lee Mortimer

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3301179,328 (3.38)12
A caustic, cranky, and inadvertently hilarious look at foreign countries and their customs by a Victorian woman who rarely left the house. No matter who your ancestors were, and where they had the misfortune of living, Victorian children's book writer Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer had something nasty to say about them. Their faults, according to Mrs. Mortimer, might have amounted to just about anything. The Irish "are very kind and good-natured when pleased, but if affronted, are filled with rage." In Italy, "the people are ignorant and wicked." In Sweden, "Nothing useful is well done...The carpenters and the blacksmiths are very clumsy in their work." Remarkably, all of these assertions come from a woman who only twice set foot outside of her native England. But lack of personal experience never kept Mrs. Mortimer from dispensing her horrifying wisdom about the evils of just about every nation on earth. Whether describing Europe ("It is dreadful to think what a number of murders are committed in Italy"), Asia ("The religion of Taou teaches men to act like madmen"), Africa ("The worst quality in any character is hypocrisy, and this is to be found in the Egyptian"), or America ("New Orleans is a dangerous place to live in, both for the body and the soul"), Mrs. Mortimer's views are consistently appalling. One hundred fifty years later, three of her forgotten classics have been compiled into one volume, The Clumsiest People in Europe, reviving the comically misinformed and startling prejudices of this unique Victorian eccentric.… (mere)
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Engelsk (9)  Tysk (1)  Alle sprog (10)
Viser 1-5 af 10 (næste | vis alle)
Absolutely hilarious, because it's true (not that people are clumsy, but that someone actually wrote this god-awful book in all seriousness). It's not mediocre and bland bad writing, it's truly jaw-dropping I-can't-believe-it demented prose.

A good illustration of the old adage "if you can't say anything nice, write a travel guide." ( )
  ashleytylerjohn | Sep 19, 2018 |
HA! She's so sweet. Well, when she's not hating on Catholics and heathens, and ah... teaching kids the weirdest bullshit about people. ( )
  Joanna.Oyzon | Apr 17, 2018 |
When Mortimer sat down to write about the world in the mid-nineteenth century she refreshingly believed she didn't have to leave England to do so. You also have to be impressed with Mortimer's determination to find fault with every group of people, every country and every major city in the world.

You begin reading every entry in "The Clumsiest People in Europe" wondering what insult Mortimer will hurl at the subject, and you don't have to wonder long. Whether it's declaring that the Greeks sing badly or scream like babies when unhappy, stating that the Kurds have "a fierce and malicious look", that Buddhists "are full of tricks by which to get presents out of people", that it is common to stumble over baby corpses in Chinese streets because the Chinese murder babies by the truckload or that the Siamese are deceitful, cowardly and cruel. I could go on and note that Mortimer believed the Australian Aboriginals to be flat out ugly or that Egyptians were famous for lying but you get the point. Indeed, the closest Mortimer gets to praise is describing Bostonians as being serious.

It's almost a shock then to find Mortimer railing against the injustices of slavery. She hides it at the back of her book though. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Sep 7, 2016 |
As Pruzan says in his introduction, "No matter where your ancestors had the misfortune of living--no doubt smoking too much, or taking snuff, or reading useless novels--Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer had something nasty to say about them." Mrs. Mortimer had a successful, forty-year career writing Victorian children's books. Here's an example of her style from her bestselling [b:The Peep of Day or a Series of the Earliest Religious Instruction the Infant Mind is Capable of Receiving]:
"God has covered your bones with flesh. Your flesh is soft and warm...How easy it would be to hurt your poor little body! If it were to fall into a fire, it would be burned up. If a great knife were run through your body, the blood would come out. If a great box were to fall out of a window, your neck would be broken. If you were not to eat some food for a few days, your little body would be very sick, your breath would stop, and you would grow cold, and you would soon be dead." Children's books were written just a tad differently, back in the day.

Mrs.Mortimer wrote a number of books about other countries, despite having only been outside England twice--once to Brussels and Paris, and once to Edinburgh. Hardly a world traveler, and yet she churned out chapter after chapter. To no reader's surprise, her descriptions of other nations are wildly inaccurate and viciously prejudiced. Pruzan has collected some of his favorite chapters and pulled them together with a little preface of what was actually going on in that region. I enjoyed this book a great deal, but it's hard to read in one sitting. This would make an excellent bathroom book, or joke present. ( )
1 stem wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
In the middle of the 19th century, an Englishwoman named Favell Lee Mortimer anonymously wrote a series of books for children about many of the countries of the world. Today her comments, excerpted by Todd Pruzan in "The Clumsiest People in Europe," are both amusing and shocking. She had hardly a kind word to say about anyone:

Portugal: "No people in Europe are as clumsy and awkward with their hands as the Portuguese. It is curious to see how badly the carpenters make boxes, and the smiths make keys."

Italy: "... the people are ignorant and wicked."

Iceland: "Sometimes the Icelanders do bathe in the warm basins -- not as often as they should, for they are dirty people -- even their hands are so dirty that you would not like them to touch you or to help you off with your things."

Greece: "They do not bear their troubles well; when they are unhappy, they scream like babies."

South Africa: "There are also many Hottentots, but they no longer look like savages, and they are useful as servants."

As awful as Mrs. Mortimer's view of the non-English world is -- and I have not quoted the worst of her comments -- most people today are not necessarily more enlightened in their opinions of people unlike themselves, as Pruzan observes in his introduction to the book. If you were to collect in a book the things many Americans say about the French or Mexicans -- or what the French and Mexicans say about Americans -- the result would not necessarily be any more civil than Mrs. Mortimer's books.

Mrs. Mortimer left England just twice in her life, once in a trip to Scotland and another time in a short tour of Europe. The anthropologist Ruth Benedict wrote a highly respected book ("The Chrysanthemum and the Sword") about the Japanese people without ever visiting Japan, so Mrs. Mortimer's lack of travel may be less to blame for her ill-tempered viewpoints than her reliance on books written by her contemporaries who had visited these countries, That her books were published and widely read suggests that her attitudes were widely accepted at the time, as are, unfortunately, so many of the biases and false generalizations of our own time. ( )
2 stem hardlyhardy | Jul 21, 2012 |
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A caustic, cranky, and inadvertently hilarious look at foreign countries and their customs by a Victorian woman who rarely left the house. No matter who your ancestors were, and where they had the misfortune of living, Victorian children's book writer Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer had something nasty to say about them. Their faults, according to Mrs. Mortimer, might have amounted to just about anything. The Irish "are very kind and good-natured when pleased, but if affronted, are filled with rage." In Italy, "the people are ignorant and wicked." In Sweden, "Nothing useful is well done...The carpenters and the blacksmiths are very clumsy in their work." Remarkably, all of these assertions come from a woman who only twice set foot outside of her native England. But lack of personal experience never kept Mrs. Mortimer from dispensing her horrifying wisdom about the evils of just about every nation on earth. Whether describing Europe ("It is dreadful to think what a number of murders are committed in Italy"), Asia ("The religion of Taou teaches men to act like madmen"), Africa ("The worst quality in any character is hypocrisy, and this is to be found in the Egyptian"), or America ("New Orleans is a dangerous place to live in, both for the body and the soul"), Mrs. Mortimer's views are consistently appalling. One hundred fifty years later, three of her forgotten classics have been compiled into one volume, The Clumsiest People in Europe, reviving the comically misinformed and startling prejudices of this unique Victorian eccentric.

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