"a deeply-moving human drama" from Whiteley’s General Catalogue
March 31, 2018 5:33 PM   Subscribe

What a Life!: An Autobiography is a satirical work of fiction published in 1911 by Edward Verrall Lucas (Wikipedia) and George Morrow (Wikipedia). They created it by writing text fitted around illustrations from the catalogue of a department store, Whiteley's. The book tells the story of the narrator's childhood, his role in the Closure Castle jewel robbery and his love affairs. The book was shown in a 1936 Museum of Modern Art exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism (PDF link to catalogue).

If you prefer, there is a PDF copy of the book at Scruss.com. Lucas's autobiography, Reading, Writing And Remembering: A Literary Record is online; he discusses What a Life! in Chapter XIII. Lucas, Morrow and another Punch writer, Charles Larcom Graves, also produced in 1905 a parody of advertising, Change for a Halfpenny: Being the Prospectus of the Napolio Syndicate. And for a different side of Lucas's writing, see his First World War poem The Debt.
posted by paduasoy (7 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
This is great. When I was in college I was really into Donald Barthelme's writing that took this sort of form (I redid a version here) but I didn't know that it was ... maybe... based on a real thing. Thanks!
posted by jessamyn at 7:28 AM on April 1, 2018

Poor Belinda, her fits were frequent.

I put it to you that Edward Gorey was not unacquainted with this masterpiece. Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 12:20 PM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I really love it when people discover this book. I'm not so enamoured that this cakeordeath fella lifted the markup and images wholesale from my website without credit. I scanned the book and put it online 18 years ago: http://scruss.com/wal/.

I'm glad I found out about Barthelme's The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine from you, jessamyn. It's pretty neat. A book in a similar vein is Spike Milligan's “The Little Pot Boiler”, but tw on outrageous racism, sexism and messed-upness because milligan. George Saunders' The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil might be a more readable parallel.
posted by scruss at 2:27 PM on April 1, 2018 [7 favorites]

For more of this sort of thing, please see Chris Mullen's epic The Visual Telling of Stories: especially Collage - a popular perspective
posted by scruss at 4:09 PM on April 1, 2018

I put it to you that Edward Gorey was not unacquainted with this masterpiece.

I also wonder about Glen Baxter. Anyway, fantastic post.
posted by gamera at 8:36 PM on April 1, 2018

Thanks, scruss, both for letting me know and for posting the book online in the first place. I've asked the mods to replace my first link with one to your site. Sorry not to have given you proper credit in the first place.

While I'm commenting - I came across the book via reading Lucas's London Lavender. This is sort of domestic fiction in an essay form, sub-Elia stuff. If anyone else likes this sort of thing, several of his many books are available online. It's nothing like What a Life! though.
posted by paduasoy at 3:05 AM on April 2, 2018

Mod note: Replaced that link, sorry for the delay!
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:40 AM on April 3, 2018

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