Worst. Henry James. Title. Ever.

Originally published in a magazine and included in a collection of his short stories from 1910, "Crapy Cornelia" should be pronounced, I'd guess, with the first syllable of the first word sounding like "crepe."

But still.

Via the Valve

March 27, 2008 3:57 PM | | Comments (4)



I was a little surprised by this. It's not that these titles are beyond snickering at -- it's that if you're going to read James at all, you have to get past the need to snicker at the oblivious innocence of his lexicon. Similarly, an American learning German may be surprised to find that Schmuck, Putz, etc. are normal words with neutral or positive connotations -- but if you can't get past the Beavis and Butthead response, you're not really learning the language.

Paul Fussell in The Great War... claims that the upheaval of social stratifications in the war made it impossible thereafter to ignore the vulgar interpretations of words -- including the Latinate ones like "ejaculation". Whether the War was the cause or not, the change was real, and James is a prime example. That one so sophisticated should be the exemplar of irrecoverable innocence!

Surprising that you're surprised, Vance. Then again it seems you underestimate the sophistication of Beavis and Butthead.

Are we right to assume that James was being naive here?

I think he was very conscious of double meanings.

Consider the character Fanny Assingham (from the Golden Bowl). It was George Steiner who first noticed that her name contains three references to the buttocks: Fanny, Ass, and Ham

It's natural to snicker at this (terrible) title, even if, on giving it a second look, you realize that it has to do with "crepe." Having read the story, I think it's safe to say that "Crapy Cornelia" lives up to its title.

Janet Heer:I wonder when the word "crap" came into common usage. It probably was current at the time, but I'm to lazy to drag down the OED.

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