The Comic Lovers by Jerome K Jerome

Story type: Essay

Oh, they are funny! The comic lovers’ mission in life is to serve as a sort of “relief” to the misery caused the audience by the other characters in the play; and all that is wanted now is something that will be a relief to the comic lovers.

They have nothing to do with the play, but they come on immediately after anything very sad has happened and make love. This is why we watch sad scenes on the stage with such patience. We are not eager for them to be got over. Maybe they are very uninteresting scenes, as well as sad ones, and they make us yawn; but we have no desire to see them hurried through. The longer they take the better pleased we are: we know that when they are finished the comic lovers will come on.

They are always very rude to each other, the comic lovers. Everybody is more or less rude and insulting to every body else on the stage; they call it repartee there! We tried the effect of a little stage “repartee” once upon some people in real life, and we wished we hadn’t afterward. It was too subtle for them. They summoned us before a magistrate for “using language calculated to cause a breach of the peace.” We were fined 2 pounds and costs!

They are more lenient to “wit and humor” on the stage, and know how to encourage the art of vituperation. But the comic lovers carry the practice almost to excess. They are more than rude–they are abusive. They insult each other from morning to night. What their married life will be like we shudder to think!

In the various slanging matches and bullyragging competitions which form their courtship it is always the maiden that is most successful. Against her merry flow of invective and her girlish wealth of offensive personalities the insolence and abuse of her boyish adorer cannot stand for one moment.

To give an idea of how the comic lovers woo, we perhaps cannot do better than subjoin the following brief example:

SCENE: Main thoroughfare in populous district of London. Time: Noon. Not a soul to be seen anywhere.

Enter comic loveress R., walking in the middle of the road.

Enter comic lover L., also walking in the middle of the road.

They neither see the other until they bump against each other in the center.

HE. Why, Jane! Who’d a’ thought o’ meeting you here!

SHE. You evidently didn’t–stoopid!

HE. Halloo! got out o’ bed the wrong side again? I say, Jane, if you go on like that you’ll never get a man to marry you.

SHE. So I thought when I engaged myself to you.

HE. Oh! come, Jane, don’t be hard.

SHE. Well, one of us must be hard. You’re soft enough.

HE. Yes, I shouldn’t want to marry you if I weren’t. Ha! ha! ha!

SHE. Oh, you gibbering idiot! (Said archly.)

HE. So glad I am. We shall make a capital match (attempts to kiss her).

SHE (slipping away). Yes, and you’ll find I’m a match that can strike (fetches him a violent blow over the side if the head).

HE (holding his jaw–in a literal sense, we mean). I can’t help feeling smitten by her.

SHE. Yes, I’m a bit of a spanker, ain’t I?

HE. Spanker. I call you a regular stunner. You’ve nearly made me silly.

SHE (laughing playfully). No, nature did that for you, Joe, long ago.

HE. Ah, well, you’ve made me smart enough now, you boss-eyed old cow, you!

SHE. Cow! am I? Ah, I suppose that’s what makes me so fond of a calf, you German sausage on legs! You–

HE. Go along. Your mother brought you up on sour milk.

SHE. Yah! They weaned you on thistles, didn’t they?

And so on, with such like badinage do they hang about in the middle of that road, showering derision and contumely upon each other for full ten minutes, when, with one culminating burst of mutual abuse, they go off together fighting and the street is left once more deserted.

It is very curious, by the bye, how deserted all public places become whenever a stage character is about. It would seem as though ordinary citizens sought to avoid them. We have known a couple of stage villains to have Waterloo Bridge, Lancaster Place, and a bit of the Strand entirely to themselves for nearly a quarter of an hour on a summer’s afternoon while they plotted a most diabolical outrage.

As for Trafalgar Square, the hero always chooses that spot when he wants to get away from the busy crowd and commune in solitude with his own bitter thoughts; and the good old lawyer leaves his office and goes there to discuss any very delicate business over which he particularly does not wish to be disturbed.

And they all make speeches there to an extent sufficient to have turned the hair of the late lamented Sir Charles Warren White with horror. But it is all right, because there is nobody near to hear them. As far as the eye can reach, not a living thing is to be seen. Northumberland Avenue, the Strand, and St. Martin’s Lane are simply a wilderness. The only sign of life about is a ‘bus at the top of Whitehall, and it appears to be blocked.

How it has managed to get blocked we cannot say. It has the whole road to itself, and is, in fact, itself the only traffic for miles round. Yet there it sticks for hours. The police make no attempt to move it on and the passengers seem quite contented.

The Thames Embankment is an even still more lonesome and desolate part. Wounded (stage) spirits fly from the haunts of men and, leaving the hard, cold world far, far behind them, go and die in peace on the Thames Embankment. And other wanderers, finding their skeletons afterward, bury them there and put up rude crosses over the graves to mark the spot.

The comic lovers are often very young, and when people on the stage are young they are young. He is supposed to be about sixteen and she is fifteen. But they both talk as if they were not more than seven.

In real life “boys” of sixteen know a thing or two, we have generally found. The average “boy” of sixteen nowadays usually smokes cavendish and does a little on the Stock Exchange or makes a book; and as for love! he has quite got over it by that age. On the stage, however, the new-born babe is not in it for innocence with the boy lover of sixteen.

So, too, with the maiden. Most girls of fifteen off the stage, so our experience goes, know as much as there is any actual necessity for them to know, Mr. Gilbert notwithstanding; but when we see a young lady of fifteen on the stage we wonder where her cradle is.

The comic lovers do not have the facilities for love-making that the hero and heroine do. The hero and heroine have big rooms to make love in, with a fire and plenty of easy-chairs, so that they can sit about in picturesque attitudes and do it comfortably. Or if they want to do it out of doors they have a ruined abbey, with a big stone seat in the center, and moonlight.

The comic lovers, on the other hand, have to do it standing up all the time, in busy streets, or in cheerless-looking and curiously narrow rooms in which there is no furniture whatever and no fire.

And there is always a tremendous row going on in the house when the comic lovers are making love. Somebody always seems to be putting up pictures in the next room, and putting them up boisterously, too, so that the comic lovers have to shout at each other.

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