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  • Writer's pictureHabranthus

The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel

Updated: Jun 8, 2023


Don Marquis

1916-1934

Doubleday Doran & Co. Inc.


477 easy pages of ha ha funny.


Overview

Very creative, very funny series of comic shorts, in the style of free verse poetry.





Summary

The book contains a collection of short compositions published in the daily column of the author, where Archy is a cockroach with the "transmigrated" soul of a vers libre poet. Archy jumps around on a typewriter to tell his story and the story of his friends, mainly Mehitabel, the stray cat, who lives an "unsheltered life". He's somewhat of a philosophical journalist, as he takes us through the ups and downs of the life of a cockroach and the other vermin in his world.


Review

Aside from an occasional outdated reference (Pre Raphaelites, for example), the comedy is as funny today as it was upon publication. For the most part, it's a play on human nature, and Archy and Mehitabel become well developed and very animated characters. The Author uses humor not only in situations and characters, but also simply the way the text is written - as would a cockroach barely able to use a typewriter. The writing is witty and clever, with plenty of satire and sarcasm.


To the Author's credit

The concept is very creative, particularly for 1916 - to use not only a cockroach as a main character, but also to infuse him with the human soul of a poet, and to not only tell his story, but to use a typewriter to do it. Of course, it works because it is so well-written.


To the Author's discredit

At times, especially toward the end of the book, the writing becomes infused with a touch of cynicism, where the author expresses his discontent regarding corrupt politics, social injustice and hypocrisy. It may put a damper on the humor for some. To be fair, the comic first appeared towards the end of WWI and continued through prohibition and the great depression, so there was plenty of reason for discontent.


Best line

Archy goes to the museum to interview a mummified Egyptian pharaoh, where he respectfully addresses the mummy at various times as:

regal leatherface, kingly has been, royal crackling, old tan and tarry, majestic mackerel, imperial pretzel, your royal dryness, princely raisin, divine drouth, imperial fritter, old salt codfish, poor prune face, my reverend juicelessness, royal desiccation, unfortunate residuum.


Honorable Mentions

we parted each feeling superior to the other and is not that feeling after all one of the great desiderata of social intercourse


contentedly i sit and wait for the world to go to hell


the wind rushed by me like a church scandal going through a little village


pythagorean theory of the transmigration of the soul


warty bliggens, the toad

sisters of uncharity


(Mehitabel's words) well madam i said it is unfortunate for you that you have on silk stockings and I wrote my protest on her shin


(Mehitabel) i caught the boob in the shrubbery pretty thing i said it hurts me worse than you to remove that left eye of yours but i did it with one sweep of my claws


(Mehitabel reminiscing on her royal past) the palaces i have been kicked out of in my time exclamation point


The book is nicely illustrated by George Herimann.












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