Just as my mother used to claim that you can be "too Irish", it's also possible to be too English.
If the English were really too English, I mean too TOO English, there wouldn't be any more English and the problem would be solved.
In case you think I'm a racist or at least a cultural philistine (whatever that is), be assured I'm both English and Irish, and the two bloods have been clashing in my veins since my birth (if not before). I carry around with me a tiny IRA of the mind.
But never mind all that, I've been trying once again to get my mind around E. M. Forster, a writer I've attempted a few other times (always running away screaming). He's an odd one, always taking twists and turns that seldom make sense. I decided to start with "the gay one", Maurice, a semi-autobiographical novel about a young Englishman (what else?) of wealth and privilege, trying to resist his overwhelming attraction to another Englishman (of same).
Forster is all about class distinction and is often dead-accurate about the hideous emotional damage it can do, repressing the soul unto suicide, but he also plays games with it. When poor closeted Maurice finally has a consummated sexual relationship with another man, it's with a servant, a gamekeeper named Scudder. As if he has to roll in the mud to gratify his senses in such an unthinkable way.
The passionate kiss in the field of barley by a virtual stranger, the free-spirited and somewhate declasse George Emerson, is much played up in the movie, but in the book it's pretty tame. Lucy Honeychurch (and what delicious oxymoron in that name!) is a sweet young thing on her first trip to Europe, and while gallivanting in the fields of Tuscany she has her first taste of eroticism. Well, almost; quite. In the book it's a field of violets, and George "stepped quickly forward and kissed her". On the cheek, we later learn. But even this mild little display threatens to ruin Lucy's virginal reputation.
So OK, we have all that class/sex stuff that the author obsessed about. But this isn't what I wanted to write about, at all. As I mush through the forests with Forster, occasionally coming up for great gasps of air, I encounter things so odd, so droll, so English that it beggars description.
Like this sentence. "Playing bumble-puppy with Minnie Beebe, niece to the rector, and aged thirteen - an ancient and most honourable game, which consists in striking tennis-balls high into the air, so that they fall over the net and immoderately bounce; some hit Mrs. Honeychurch; others are lost."
Not a sentence, really - can't follow the syntax, but what's this bumble-puppy? Who ever heard of such a thing? I do like the sound of it though. It evokes images of very young puppies bumbling around, their eyes not yet open and barely able to properly walk.
Bumble-puppy. . . almost sounds like a dessert, doesn't it, a cobbler or a Brown Betty? My Dad, English (but not that kind of English - way down the ladder) used to talk about a pudding called "plum dupp". Turns out it was a mispronunciation of plum duff, though I must say I've never had it.
Should I invent a dessert called bumble-puppy? Could it have bumbleberries in it? Come to think of it, there's no such thing as a bumbleberry. It just means a whole lot of berries mixed together, doesn't it? And what about a hush-puppy? Can you eat them too, or only wear them?
It all gets so confusing.
Trying to find images for bumble-puppy yielded pictures of puppies in bumblebee suits. This reflects the literal way we North Americans interpret things. To the British, at least to Forster's surreal exalted British, it's a made-up game with, it sounds to me, a made-up name.
Lucy sums it all up: "Oh, it has been such a nuisance - first he, then they - no one knowing what they wanted, and every one so tiresome."