Literary Lapses is Leacock’s first book of humor. It is not an easy volume to classify. Russel Nye calls it a collection of esssays, but only a handful of the sketches are truly essays. It is composed of twenty-six short pieces, ranging from short stories to burlesques of severely condensed romantic novels to essays that solemnly develop mad premises. Leacock’s typical narrator is established in the very first sketch, “My Financial Career.” After several ludicrous missteps, he succeeds in opening his first bank account; then, because of the bank’s intimidating ambiance, he inadvertently draws a check for the total amount of his deposit. Thereafter, he keeps his savings in a sock.
The literary parodies, although comprising only a fraction of the text, appear to give the volume its title. “Lord Oxhead’s Secret” is subtitled “A Romance in One Chapter.” The peer’s daughter, Gwendoline, is a beautiful “girl” of thirty-three who is being courted by the dashing Edwin Einstein of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. At the climactic moment, as the father and the unsuitable suitor come face to face, Lord Oxhead falls dead, taking his secret with him to the grave. It is too complicated to be of interest anyway, concludes the narrator. In “Getting the Thread of It,” the narrator’s friend Sinclair attempts, by fits and starts, to familiarize him with the plot of the historical novel that Sinclair is reading. It is set in Italy in the time of Pius the something and features such characters as Carlo Carlotti the Condottiere and the Dog of Venice. “A Lesson in Fiction” is a sort of quiz on the modern melodramatic novel. The reader is asked to predict the behavior of the hero, Gaspard de Vaux, boy lieutenant, and is able to do so at every juncture of the plot. The critic in...
(The entire section is 735 words.)