Thursday, 10 June 2010

A ruder pest

I am writing a letter to a friend, a fellow poet, to whom I want to send a few poems, and I feel vaguely apologetic about taking up his time, despite his invitation, because I know that it nevertheless imposes an obligation of some sort, and I inevitably think of this wonderful set-piece from Lerner and Lowe.

After countless lessons in elocution, Professor Higgins, the great linguist, has just passed off cockney Eliza Doolittle as a princess at a society ball. Now they are home and celebrating their great triumph. To them Eliza is just a guinea pig on which they have conducted a brilliant experiment.

Cruel and funny at the same time - the way they do it here - is difficult, because it is hard to laugh at a third subject while contemplating the sadness of the second subject being ignored by the first subject and all around him. It is perhaps a warning about self-admiring verse, or self-admiring wit, or indeed self-admiring anything.

But, of course, I thought of it because it is a brilliant sketch of the received image of a Hungarian, the pushy man who enters revolving doors behind you but comes out in front of you. Simply not cricket.

Thank Heavens for Zoltan Karparthy
If it weren't for him I would have died of boredom
He was there, all right
And up to his old tricks

Mrs. Pearce
That dreadful Hungarian
Was he there?

That blackguard who uses the science of speech
More to blackmail and swindle than teach
He made it the devilish business of his
"To find out who this Miss Doolittle is"
Ev'ry time we looked around
There he was, that hairy hound
From Budapest
Never leaving us alone
Never have I ever known
A ruder pest
Fin'lly I decided it was foolish
Not to let him have his chance with her
So I stepped aside and let him dance with her
Oozing charm from ev'ry pore
He oiled his way around the floor
Ev'ry trick that he could play
He used to strip her mask away
And when at last the dance was done
He glowed as if he knew he'd won
And with a voice to eager
And a smile too broad
He announced to the hostess
That she was a fraud

Mrs. Pearce

Ja wohl
Her English is too good, he said
Which clearly indicates that she is foreign
Whereas others are instructed in their native language
English people aren't
And although she may have studied with an expert
Di'lectician and grammarian
I can tell that she was born Hungarian
Not only Hungarian, but of royal blood
She is a princess...

Oozing charm from ev'ry pore / He oiled his way around the floor is wonderful, practically Sporus, aka Lord Hervey from Alexander Pope's 'Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot' (...Or at the ear of Eve, venomous toad, / Half-froth, half-venom, spits himself abroad)...

Darn - I can't resist the ballroom scene that precedes it. There would be so much to say about this - but another time. Here it is:

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