Reconcerting Sunshine Sketches: A Pocketful of Mariposies

I am not at all disconcerted by the need to reconcert our Leacock concert, planned for this summer. We received word last week that we have been blessed with the support of the Ontario Arts Council for preparation of this concert. We had proposed to create one along certain lines, and had wandered from them, as is our wont. There’s nothing like a nice grant to get us back on track. So here we are.

The concert will now be called A Pocketful of Mariposies, and will talk about Mariposa, our Mariposa, which is derived from but not the same as Stephen Leacock’s Mariposa. His Mariposa is a somewhat restricted place, with seven main characters (I refer to them as the Seven Dwarfs), a handful of comprimarios, a chorus, and an indeterminate number of shadows on the wall. The Dwarfs are, by frequency of mention: Josh Smith, Peter Pupkin, Dean Drone, Jefferson Thorpe, Judge Pepperleigh, Henry Mullins, and Zena Pepperleigh. The comprimarios are Golgotha Gingham, Dr. Gallagher, George Duff, Billy the Desk Clerk, John Henry Bagshaw, and Edward Drone. You will perhaps notice that only one of these characters is a woman, making Leacock’s Mariposa a quite unusual “little town”, to say the least.

It’s as if an artist set out to paint a series of sketches of a garden, but systematically left out half the flowers. Occasionally he puts in one of the neglected ones, but only in the background, or in the shade of the others. The resulting sketches form an interesting portrayal of the artist’s habits of sight, but say little about the actual state of the garden. The pictures become works of art to be enjoyed for their own sake, in their own terms.

As I ponder this analogy, and how far it might be pushed, I wonder what would happen if we viewed Stephen Leacock, the artist, as an amalgam of Hogarth (for the English influence), Norman Rockwell (for the American influence) and the Automatistes of Canada, specifically Montreal. I am not suggesting that he might have been influenced by any of these artists, some of which post-dated him, but that we might learn by viewing him that way. I think that if we did we would not be surprised to find a somewhat inchoate blend of satire, sentimentalism, and delight in the spontaneous play of shape and colour, constituting a form of art uniquely enjoyable but defying analysis.

In the case of Leacock’s fiction I would put first the spontaneous play, in his case of words and wit, evoking laughter, followed by satire and sentimentalism. However else he may want us to react to the antics of his absurd caricatures, he first of all wants us to laugh.

The artistic soul-brethren of Smith, Pupkin, Drone and the rest are the cartoon men of the village of Astérix, not the more elaborate characters and settings of Dickens, Twain, or Sinclair Lewis, let alone Canada’s George Elliott, Margaret Laurence, or Alice Munro. As for women, Leacock avoids them wherever he can, and keeps them firmly in their places when he does write about them. Even Zena Pepperleigh, although sympathetically portrayed (unlike, say, Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown or Mrs. Everleigh of Arcadian Adventures), is merely an incomplete sketch, vanishing from the reader’s sight after her marriage.

Musicians are said to “play” their instruments. Leslie and I, as storytellers, are this summer going to play Stephen Leacock’s Mariposa, proposing to find therein some melodies and harmonies of our own, at the same time celebrating the original instrument-maker. We trust that the result, even if it does not enlarge literary horizons to any measurable extent, will at least be good for a laugh. That is, first of all, what Stephen Leacock would have wanted.

You will find more about both our 2015 summer concerts at: http://www.voyageurstorytelling.ca/Repertoire15.htm

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