Poohed Out

On this day in 1928, under her New Yorker pen name Constant Reader, Dorothy Parker reviewed A. A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner, with predictable and now legendary results. Over the previous three years, Milne’s children’s books — When We Were Very Young, Winnie-the-Pooh, Now We Are Six — had swept England and North America. Parker had shown a degree of restraint when panning Now We Are Six, acknowledging that “to speak against Mr. Milne puts one immediately in the ranks of those who set fire to orphanages.” But when Pooh revealed in The House at Pooh Corner that he added the “tiddely pom” to his Outdoor Song in order “to make it more hummy,” Parker lost it: “And it is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.”

Parker did not have a special grudge against Milne. Her review of a book titled Happiness described it as “second only to a rubber duck as the ideal bathtub companion,” given that “it may be held in the hand without causing muscular fatigue or nerve strain, it may be neatly balanced back of the faucets, and it may be read through before the water has cooled. And if it slips down the drain pipe, all right, it slips down the drain pipe. “

Nor did Parker neglect the contemporary masters. Sinclair Lewis published six books in the 1920s, the list including many of his big hits — Main Street, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, and Elmer Gantry. When he capped this industrious decade with Dodsworth, Parker cried out in protest:

The industry of Mr. Sinclair Lewis is a thing to marvel at, to ponder of a white night, and, if such is your way, to hoist high as an example. To my own admittedly slanted vision, industry ranks with such sour and spinster virtues as thrift, punctuality, level-headedness, and caution. I think that Aldous Huxley utters the loud truth when he says, in Point Counter Point, that industry can never substitute for talent. There exists, especially in the American mind, a sort of proud confusion between the two. A list of our authors who have made themselves most beloved and, therefore, most comfortable financially, shows that it is our national joy to mistake for the first-rate, the fecund rate.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.