“The Big Bridegroom Revolt: All Honor to Hershey, The Emancipator” (E43)

  • Originally printed: DAC News, June 1925
  • First reprinted in: Pluck and Luck
  • Original Byline: Robert C. Benchley (Drawings by Rea Irvin)

🦉🦉

Comments:
Benchley’s writing falls flattest when it slides too stridently into sync with the sloganeering subjectivity of the scared suburban sovereigns he specialized in situating down to size (see also E32). Here, RCB presents himself as a future cultural historian exploring the origins of the “Male Liberation” movement, ignited by that Bartleby of the Bridegrooms, Arthur Hershey, whose preference not to put himself out whilst tying the knot became the “not” heard ‘round the world (or, at the very least, ‘round the men’s club).

The piece’s ghastliest missteps involve the repeated analogy drawn between slavery and male acquiescence to women’s wedding plans. Every reference to betrothed men held in bondage boosts bile production in the modern reader, and ought to have elicited even more extreme effects in 1925, with the eradication of actual chattel slavery having taken place within living memory. Yes, by likening Hershey’s refusal to address envelopes or make himself ridiculous in a place of worship to an act of world historical rebellion, Benchley is drawing attention to a histrionic streak in his husbands-to-be, but that aspect of the critique is sadly diluted by the delight the author himself appears to be taking in these fantasies of flouting bourgeois nuptial norms. So much delight, in fact, that he has forgotten the reader’s own right to enjoy (or, at the very least, chuckle slightly at) these passages.

For me, this essay is saved from the ignominy of a 1 Owl rating by its pointed traipsing into the fragile ego-scapes of his affianced freedom fighters. Sensing every other-directed step toward the altar as another faux-pas down the slippery slope to a genuine reckoning for patriarchy, these men do exhibit a hair-trigger (and potentially homicidal) sensitivity to any challenge to their utterly unearned social privilege. In these moments lie the lineaments of a far, far more interesting essay than the one we find in the pages of Detroit Athletic Club News. How much more tragic, then, that the excisions made for Pluck and Luck take the piece in the opposite direction – reducing it to (hopefully, anyway) the smuggest rehearsal of battle of the sexes banalities in the Benchley canon.

Favourite Moment:
Then there was the ordeal of the ring, the cracking of the voice in the responses, the itch in the middle of the back during the ceremony and, finally, the ghastly march down the aisle on the bride’s arm (technically the bridge was on his arm, but that fooled no one) under the searching stare of hundred of curious women, all pitying the bride and wondering what on earth she saw in him.

Reprint Notes:

  • Original drawings replaced by a Gluyas Williams illustration.
  • Severely shortened in Pluck and Luck, with several entire paragraphs excised – see comment above.

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