Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sordid Lives, Kid-Lit Division

The Goops they lick their fingers,
and the Goops they lick their knives;
They spill their broth on the tablecloth,
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!

Were you raised with the Goops? I was, and every now and then I will find myself realizing that I've violated one of the cardinal rules of good behavior first laid out for me in the battered copy of The Goops and How to be Them that started out as a present to my father sometime in the early '20s.

The little demons were the brainchild of author and illustrator Gelett Burgess, seen above with a pair of his creations.

They are nothing less than the spirit of childhood anarchy in proper Edwardian knickers and pinafores. They kick, they scream, they abuse the furniture, they eat like feral monkeys and they generally rebel against every genteel stricture of their day.

In short, they have a marvelous time, and I'm not entirely sure that I took all of their lessons in exactly the spirit in which they were meant.

But one never knows. Burgess himself was something of a cutup, far from the disapproving-vicar type his occasionally moralistic little verses might suggest.

He also wrote "I never saw a purple cow," for instance, and invented the word "blurb." In a 1910 essay he introduced American audiences to the revolutionary new art being created in Paris by people like Picasso, Matisse, and Braque, a good three years before the Armory Show brought Cubism to Manhattan.

He realized, as well, that Goopism is an international phenomenon, and this season - this season, here, of terrible driving, of spitting in public, of pushing in the shops, and of breaking-fast meals that resemble middle-school food fights - so do I.

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