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Macdonell writes with a droll wit taking everything that occurs in this excerpt from England, Their England perfectly seriously. It is this brilliantly understated approach to associations with English society common at a local amateur cricket match that express the humor of the story with a mild tweak of surprise.
For example, in one of the opening paragraphs related to the cricket match, the narrator, assumed to be the voice of Macdonell himself, uses indirect dialogue to explain the inexplicable presence of one unnamed gentleman in flannels at the cricket match. The narrator says the man in flannels says that Mr. Hodge invited him and "that he was jolly well going to play." This bit of humorous understated insistence on English rights of manhood shows the importance of cricket in society and the role of understated humor in describing society. The man's demands were respected. The game was renegotiated successfully "upon a twelve-a-side basis" that included the man in flannels.
The humor is so subtle and understated that when removed from the context and looked at in isolation, the humor often seems to fall away. Nonetheless, a second example of the humor that describes English society is the energy with which cricket players retire to the local pub, the Three Horseshoes. The mild mannered professor was defending his wickets nobly but then had the misfortune to get "the fifth ball on the left ear and went back to the Three Horseshoes." This glimpse of society and humor is amplified when, a bit later, the inkeeper's feeling of dejection is expressed after a sequence of events relating to the Three Horseshoes occurs:
Mr. Southcott hit [the ball] into the saloon bar of the Shoes, giving Mr. Harcourt such a fright that he required several pints [more] before he fully recovered his nerve.
He halted at the wicket [and] glared at Mr. Harcourt, who had been driven out [of the Shoes] to umpire by his colleagues--greatly to the regret of Mr. Bason, the landlord of the Shoes ....
As you look for more examples, look for behavior, comments, and associations with places or professions that reveal English society (use a dictionary to define words like "sexton") and look for that understated humor that perhaps slips past if not specifically looked for. Here are two examples:
the batsmen, by nature cautious men, one being old and the sexton, the other the postman and therefore a Government official, were taking no risks.
[Society: view of government officials; humor: caution related to postmen and sextons.]
At last the ball came down. To Mr. Hodge it seemed a long time before the invention of Sir Isaac Newton finally triumphed.
[Society: allusions to English science; humor: gravity called an "invention."]
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