Max of the Month 7. When reading non-fiction books from the 19th Century, one finds no shortage of great writers who have now been largely forgotten. However, occasionally a writer comes to light whose work is so entertaining, and who was so incredibly popular in his lifetime, that is it almost inconceivable that he is not still a household name. One such author is Max O’Rell.
This month’s quote from the writings of O’Rell is taken from John Bull and his Island, published in 1883, which focusses on Britain. O’Rell was from France, so this was an outsider’s perspective.
Englishwomen are remarkable for their fresh complexions, their decided and fearless gait, and the length of their feet, which reminds one that twelve inches go to the foot in England. Impossible to make faux pas with such bases as these. They cannot lose their centre of gravity.
When they are pretty, Englishwomen have no equals upon earth – they are angels of beauty; but, too often, their faces have no expression, their eyes lack lustre and piquancy, their teeth are long and protruding, and when they laugh, they show their gums like a rhinoceros. They have only the beauty of youth. An Englishwoman is seldom handsome after thirty. The lower-class women of London are thin-faced or bloated-looking. They are horribly pale; there is no colour to be seen except on the tips of their noses.
Their sculptural lines (generally straight ones) are suggestive, pronounced, exaggerated, or suppressed, according to the fashion of the day.
In 1879, it became fashionable to display a protuberant corsage. There was not a woman, even the thinnest, that was not in a position to exhibit a bust that would have been a splendid capital to a Burgundian wet-nurse. In shop windows might have been seen twin gutta-percha balloons, or bags of millet-seed, which were sold under the name of figure improvers.
Max O’Rell was born Léon Pierre Blouet, but chose a pen name to avoid any embarrassment in his role as a teacher at St Paul’s School in London. He had worked there since 1874, and the same year married his English wife. Such was the success of his writing that he resigned in 1885 to tour, lecture and write full time. O’Rell wrote more than a dozen books, which fall broadly into two categories: characteristics of different nationalities, and characteristics of women.
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