Stephen Leacock’s Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich”
Jonathan Swift has suggested that “Satire is a sort of Glass, wherein Beholders do generally discover every body’s Face, their own; which is the chief reason… that so few are offended with it.” Richard Garnett suggests that “Without humour, satire is invective; without literary form, it is mere clownish jeering” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 14th ed., vol. 20, p. 5). Whereas Swift’s statement suggests that people are not offended by satire because readers identify the characters’ faults with their own faults, Garnett suggests that humor is the key element that does not make satire offensive.
With any satire, someone is bound to be offended, but the technique the author uses can change something offensive into something embarrassing. Stephen Leacock’s Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich is a nonthreatening, humorous, and revealing satire of the moral faults of upper-class society. The satire acts as a moral instrument to expose the effect money can have on religion, government, and anything within its touch. Writing about such topics is hard to do without offending people. Leacock’s technique combines money with humor and accompanies his moral message with ironic characters, their exaggerated actions, and a constant comical tone to prevent readers from being offended.
Leacock’s utopian world is filled with humorous labels that represent the “Plutonians'” personalities. “Ourselves Monthly,” a magazine for the modern self-centered, is a Plutonian favorite. To fill their idle days, the Plutonian women are in an endless search for trends in literature and religion. Without the distractions of club luncheons and trying to achieve the “Higher Indifference,” the women would have to do something productive. Readers who identify themselves with the class of people the Plutonians represent would be embarrassed rather than offended by Leacock’s satirical portrayal of them. “The Yahi-Bahi Oriental Society” exaggerates the stupidity of the Plutonians to a point where the reader laughs at the characters’ misfortunes.
The con men give ridiculous prophecies such as “Many things are yet to happen before others begin” (Leacock 87) and eventually take their money and jewelry. The exaggeration increases the humor while the moral message is displayed. The characters of the novel are ironic in the sense that they perceive themselves as being the pinnacle of society, yet Leacock makes them look like fools.
For someone who prides themselves on being an expert on just about everything, Mr. Lucullus Fyshe’s (as slimy and cold as his name represents) perceptions are proven false. Mr. Fyshe makes hypocritical statements about ruling-class tyranny while barking down the neck of a poor waiter for serving cold asparagus. Leacock exposes the whole Plutonian business world to be fools by their encounter with Mr. Tomlinson.
A man who knows livestock, not stock market, is perceived as a financial genius. When Mr. Tomlinson replies that he does know about an investment, the Plutonian reaction is: ‘He said he didn’t know!’ repeated the listener in a tone of amazement and respect. ‘By Jove! eh? he said he didn’t know! The man’s a wizard!’ ‘And he looked as if he didn’t!’ went on Mr. Fyshe.” (Leacock 47)
After Mr. Tomlinson is discovered to be a plain farmer, and his fortune falls, the Plutorians are seen eating their words: “Now, ‘I said, for I wanted to test the fellow, ‘tell me what that means?’ Would you believe me, he looked me right in the face in that stupid way of his, and he said, ‘I don’t know!” ‘He said he didn’t know!’ repeated the listener contemptuously. ‘The man is a fool!'” (Leacock 66)
On Plutoria Avenue, money makes the man and the fool. Worth and expense are important for the inhabitants of Plutoria Avenue. Even the birds are “the most expensive kind of birds” (Leacock 7). The innocents, Mr. Tomlinson and his family, show that for Plutorians personal worth is based on the amount of money an individual has.
The media builds up Mr. Tomlinson to be a financial genius because of his great amount of money and his mysterious look. His “look” is a confused man caught in a world of which he has no understanding, but the money makes him the “great dominating character of the newest and highest finance” (Leacock 36). Mr. Tomlinson’s wife is described by the media as setting new trends and shaking the fashion world. She could have worn a garbage bag in public and probably received the same review.
Leacock exaggerates the obsession with money to a humorous point that not even religion is spared. Religion is a social event and a business opportunity for Plutonians. Rather than spiritual worth, St. Asaph and St. Osoph churches are humorously described by mortgages, dollars per square foot, and Bible giveaway debits. Priests work for the church that offers them the most money and has the best social life. It would not be surprising if the two churches sold indulgences. In the real world, corruption of the church would be offensive to a lot of people, but when disguised in humor, Leacock shields the readers from personal offense.
Leacock touches on the controversial topic of updating church doctrine by creating a humorous misunderstanding between Rev. Furlong and his father: “Now we, I mean the Hymnal Supply Corporation, have an idea for bringing out an entirely new Bible.” “A new Bible!” he gasped. “Precisely!” said his father, “a new Bible! This one – and we find it every day in our business – is all wrong.” “All wrong!” said the rector with horror on his face. “For the market of today, this Bible -” and he poised it again on his hand, as to test its weight, “is too heavy. The people of today want something lighter, something easier to get hold of.” (Leacock 149). The humorous exchange is not offensive, yet maintains its moral undertone. Satire’s primary use is to expose. If no one was offended or embarrassed by it, then the work and the humor are an end in itself. Leacock’s technique creates a Works Cited: Garnett, Richard. Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th ed. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica.