Friday, January 28, 2011

Mark Twain Insult of the Day #4

Today's insult is more of a back-handed compliment. While living briefly in Vienna, the Clemens family hired a maid who stuck her nose in everybody's business and never shut up. Mr. Clemens nicknamed her Wuthering Heights, no doubt for her melodramatic flair, and she entertained him greatly:

. . . I find myself diffident about finding fault. Not so the family. It gravels the family. I like that. Not maliciously, but because it spices the monotony to see the family graveled. Sometimes they are driven to a point where they are sure they cannot endure her any longer, and they rise in revolt; but I stand between her and harm, for I adore Wuthering Heights . . . She is not monotonous, she does not stale, she is fruitful of surprises, she is always breaking out in a new place. The family are always training her, always caulking her, but it does not make me uneasy any more, now, for I know that as fast as they stop one leak she will spring another. Her talk is my circus, my menagerie, my fireworks, my spiritual refreshment. When she is at it I would rather be there than at a fire.

I really love "gravel," which I don't think I've ever heard used like that but is perfect. Also the caulking metaphor; again, quirky but perfect. I'm starting to think the old guy knew what he was doing.


Sherwood Harrington said...

I've never heard "gravel" used that way before, either, but I'm now going to make a conscious effort to work it into my daily vocabulary. Lord knows I've got enough opportunities.

ronnie said...

I've had to skip this series because I haven't read the book yet (saving it for an upcoming vacation) and I don't want to be "spoiled". But I think it's an awesome series of posts. The man could string him some words together.