Augustus Carp, Esq., By Himself is one of those legendary books you hear about and add immediately to your wants list. After years of searching I spotted a ‘Carp’ on the shelf of a charity bookshop and purchased it without hesitation. On arriving home, however, I discovered the book was in fact The Journal of Edwin Carp by Richard Haydn. I’d bought the wrong Carp.
But the wrong Carp repays study. The illustrations alone, by Ronald Searle, are worth the admission price. The author, Richard Haydn, was an actor, best known for playing the von Trapps’ impresario in The Sound of Music. Set in the late 1930s, the book purports to be the journal of Edwin Osric Carp, a 42-year-old bachelor who runs a boarding-house with his increasingly deaf and senile mother and an outspoken housekeeper. They have two paying guests: a vulgar male drunk and a female virgin who sleepwalks in the nude. Carp derives further income from the rent of two houses he owns in the same street. One of them is occupied by a blowsy woman who entertains members of the armed forces. Clearly – to all except Carp – she is a prostitute, and he is innocently living off immoral earnings.
Meanwhile, he has been engaged for nine years to Maude Phelps, a widow with a 14-year-old son called Harrison, an overweight horror with weak kidneys, an early moustache and a violent girlfriend called Ursula. In his spare time Carp is an amateur poet – ‘Ode to an Empty Bird’s Nest’ – and President of the Society of Health through Sanitation, a post he inherited from his father who died while gathering data in a branch sewer beneath the Town Hall. There were other causes, too: ‘I am willing to admit that my Mother has a dominant personality, but the true cause of my Father’s downfall was intemperance. How dreadful is this disease and how tragic its victims. They resist all attempts at rehabilitation and Reason is a useless weapon with which to combat the demon th
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