“The Bridge of Don Gene’s Nose” (E57)

  • Originally printed:  The Bookman, October 1928
  • First reprinted in:  Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea; or, David Copperfield (1928)
  • Original Byline:  Robert Benchley



A slight piece occasioned by a trio of 1928 pop culture headlines: 1. Gene Tunney’s retirement from boxing as heavyweight champion of the world; 2. Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize for The Bridge of San Luis Rey; and 3. The European walking tour undertaken by this supposedly unlikely pair. Already celebrated by the media as “The Thinking Man’s Pugilist,” especially after ensorcelling slugger Jack Dempsey with sweet science in back-to-back bouts, Tunney’s eagerness to express his thoughts on Shakespeare and other aspects of literary history made irresistible copy. News of the boxer’s friendship with novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder was music to editorial ears everywhere, and their plans to ramble across rural France and Germany got nearly as much coverage as a Trans-Atlantic Flight or a Polar Expedition. What would these extraordinary men talk about? What magnificent epiphanies awaited them? Wouldn’t it be amazing if Gene Tunney guided Thornton Wilder to a new understanding of The Iliad? And if Thornton Wilder enlightened Gene Tunney on a fine point of feint and jab? Wouldn’t that be wonderfully counterintuitive?! Well, possibly it would it have been. But in Benchley’s account, we get the bro version of “dog bites man”.

Favourite Moment:

To all of these, and many more problems, Don Gene turned an ingenuous attention. And, in the meantime he lived immaculately, read much, and punched a large, harassed leather bag.

Reprint Notes:

  • Reprinted under the title: “The Bridge of Sans Gene”

“Biography By Inches” (E46)

  • Originally printed: The Bookman, June 1925
  • First reprinted in: Pluck and Luck
  • Original Byline: Robert Benchley (with sketches by Herb Roth)


Drawing fractured inspiration from Amy Lowell’s posthumously published 1,200 page long literary biography John Keats, Benchley admits that he has neither the time nor the particular genius that powered his late contemporary through her subject’s short life at the rate of 48 pages per annum. He pays homage to Lowell’s extrapolatorily encyclopedic method by executing a series of narrow deep dives into the stream of Victorian poet William Bodney’s consciousness. In 1925, Lowell’s book was making waves among critics, who disagreed sharply upon the merits and advisability of her approach, and Benchley would almost certainly have elicited similar responses from his own readers, if William Bodney had been a real person.

Given the special circumstances, RB tackles the fragmentary relics of Bodney’s imagined existence with even more confidence and gusto than Lowell had shown in teasing out her thick descriptions of a thinly documented life. Having made up his primary research materials in the first place, Benchley presses this advantage to provide maximum insight into the workings of the artist’s putative mind, whilst judiciously leaving some room for interpretation when confronting multivalent passages such as the reference to “open fires” in Bodney’s I wonder when, if I should go, there’d be.

Here, your humble annotater begs your leave to return to this entry in the future – once he has read Lowell’s John Keats (which, as I’m sure you can imagine, may take a while – but his curiosity is piqued).

Favourite Moment:
Of the boyhood of William Bodney we know but little. He was brought up as most of the boys in Suffix were brought up, except for the fact that he did not go out of doors until he was eleven, and then only to strike at the postman. He was kept in the house so much because of an old prejudice of Edna Bodney’s against fireflies.

Reprint Notes:

  • Herb Roth sketches not reprinted.
  • No Gluyas Williams illustrations for this one.
  • The opening preamble, which makes specific reference to Amy Lowell’s John Keats, has been excised – and once again this does damage the piece a little.
  • Parenthetical subtitle has been added: (Such as has recently been done for John Keats)

“Aubergine’s Way: After Reading Too Much Proust (Naturally in Translation)” (E29)

  • Originally printed: The Bookman, December 1931
  • First reprinted in: No Poems; Or Around the World Backwards and Sideways
  • Original Byline: Robert Benchley


Intentionally tedious parody of Marcel Proust’s vertiginously digressive style, punctuated by some real comedic highlights (such as the ‘favourite moment’ transcribed below). The speaker here leads us on a merry chase through his mental meanderings at a dinner party that he attends in hopes of gaining some intelligence of the movements and behaviour of his absent friend, Aubergine. He hears no news at all about Aubergine, but this leaves him free to dally just long enough among the already established details of their relationship to realize that Aubergine wants nothing to do with him and is probably actively avoiding him. Her way, in effect, appears to be any way but this guy’s way.

Our narrator takes consolation in the feeling of solidarity that can develop between fellow hay fever sufferers. Meanwhile, our metatextual parodist takes pleasure in the knowledge that he can end this farce at any time…

Favourite Moment:
“Neurasthenia, complicated by an interest in fans, sometimes develops into an arthritis, just as an arthritis, which is only a toxic form of neurasthenia, develops sometimes into an interest in fans.”

Reprint Notes:

  • The main text appears verbatim in No Poems (without any accompanying artwork), but the final teaser from the end of The Bookman article has been omitted:

“In the next volume, ‘Aubergine Disparue’, we shall discover why Aubergine thought it hardly worth her while to stick. And can we blame her?”