Archive for July 6th, 2011

July 6, 2011

Don Marquis, Hermione and Her Little Group of Serious Thinkers

My regular KindleMag column on out of copyright books returns this month and can be read in the magazine or at the site, here. This month I focused on a wonderful collection of satirical pieces by Don Marquis. You can read them here. The version of the column I sent in to the magazine was written before Pottermore was announced – the timing meant that they had to change it in the final piece, but I prefer my ignorant first version and that’s the one I’m using here.


As I write this column, J. K Rowling is teasing the world with her “pottermore” publicity campaign in which she reveals that she will reveal (but not just yet!) what her new project is about. By the time this is published I expect the big reveal to have taken place. If it has not, I will be quite annoyed.

The one thing I do not expect the book to be is a spin-off from the original series in which Hermione gathers together a select group of Hogwarts students to discuss art, literature and spiritual improvement.

Luckily, Hermione and Her Little Group of Serious Thinkers does exist. Don Marquis’ 1916 book is a glorious little collection of sketches in which Hermione and her friends explore the intellectual climate of America at the beginning of the Twentieth century (“We took up economics not long ago—our Little Group of Serious Thinkers, you know and gave an entire evening to it”).

Dr. Jagades Chunder Bose says that plants are almost as sensitive as human beings—they have feelings and susceptibilities, you know, and all that sort of thing.
Isn’t it wonderful how the Hindus find these things out?

This group of thinkers is not afraid to tackle serious issues: Will the best people receive the Superman socially? What is one to do about the mid-Victorian values of one’s parents? Does all this study of sex hygiene mean the death of romance? Nor are they afraid take up serious causes: though so very often the Masses are ungrateful. And the women’s rights movement is all very well, but what about “that horrid yellow color on the banners and things”?

A prominent member of Hermione’s circle is Fothergil Finch, the poet. “Fothy”, though he may not look it, is virile in his soul and in revolt against organized society (Once, he fed a peanut to a caged monkey in defiance of the sign telling visitors not to feed the animals). There’s also the artist Voke Easeley who has a large, expressive Adam’s Apple and has pioneered the art of painting sound portraits with his larynx. Voke Easeley’s wife has a talent for talking about books she hasn’t read that I can only admire. The Swami Brandranath has seven wives, one for each of the spiritual planes upon which he exists. (“How wonderful they are, the Orientals. And just think of India, with all its yogis and bazaars and mahatmas and howdahs and rajahs and things!”) Isis the Astrologer disapproves of the Swami, but he in turn thinks she is a charlatan.

Marquis skewers this sort of half-understood, dilettantish engagement with the world. And yet, he protests, it’s not entirely mean-spirited. In a verse titled “Hermione’s Boswell Explains” he protests that Hermione’s antics inspire sadness, not scorn in him. I’m not so sure that’s true. With a few minor changes in topic, Little Groups of Serious Thinkers can be found anywhere. And for me, at least, the familiarity and the opportunity to mock play a big role in making Hermione and Her Little Group of Serious Thinkersthe comic masterpiece that it is.