Cornershop Book Review #5: The Shopkeeper Turned Gentleman

In which we look at the Corner Shop in ‘literature’…
In the interests of academic research and a more interesting blogsite, we have recently taken to reading the odd book whilst propping up the counter. Not any old pulp fiction, we’ll have you know: there are strict criteria. The book must be about shop life. We wanted to know how the corner shopkeeper is being portrayed out there, and set the record straight if necessary. This exercise is also, of course, a very good way of lending gravitas to the shopkeeper’s image….
Synopsis: Well now. This is of course a play by Moliere, no less. ‘Cos, you know, we can do erudite too. And what a wonderful play it is, with all the elements of slapstick, social parody and double entendre that one would expect. It’s a kind of very early version of The Only Way is Essex (not that we’ve ever seen TOWIE, although Mrs. S. IS from Essex), poking as it does at the social aspirations of a nouvelle riche shopkeeper (bourgeoisie, in French) who manages to send himself up every time he opens his mouth.
The plot focusses on former shopkeeper M. Journier’s efforts to improve himself and ingratiate himself with the nobility. Although married, he aspires to a dangerous liaison with a countess who is secretly being courted by the impoverished nobleman that M. Journier is effectively paying to abet his efforts. It transpires that he is in fact paying all sorts of scheming dolts to advise him on all manner of social graces, including dancing – it should be noted that this is one short of a full blown 17th Century musical. Our non-hero’s daughter Lucile is similarly being courted by Cleonte, whom she loves and of whom her mother approves. Add in a further courtship between the household servants, and you can see what a jolly rom com this has potential to be. Suffice it to say that M. le Reluctanct Boutiquier gets hoist with his own petard.
Real Shop Cred: Nous sommmes desoles, but we have to give 0/10 on the shop credometer for this one. At no time does the stage action go anywhere near a shop, and even references to the profession are veiled and scant. The plot is entirely concerned with the former tradesman’s efforts to conceal his shopkeeping background and forget his past, which is of course quite shocking to us. Take this exchange between M. Journier and his (disguised, scheming) manservant:

M. Journier: There are some stupid people who try to persuade me that (my father) was a shopkeeper.
Servant: He a shopkeeper? It is sheer calumny! All he did was this: he was extremely kind and obliging, and understood different kinds of stuff very well: therefore he used to go everywhere and choose some. Then he had them brought to his house, and was in the habit of letting his friends have some for money if they chose….

As the work is a satire, we do of course forgive Moliere for his portrayal, and we are sure that not all French shopkeepers were/are as shallow.
Buy, borrow or avoid: Well you can buy it easily enough, and at £6.99 it is not dear. But unless you are an actor, or and obscure blogger, or studying French Literature at ‘A’ Level, frankly we don’t see any reason why you should READ it at all. But you should see it enacted: it is very funny. Like many historical comedies, there is a lot that is lost in the mere reading thereof, and we would love to see a real stage version of it. Perhaps we should stage one. Cornershop theatre: now there’s a thought…

Any more recommendations for shop books to read? Please leave your suggestions in the comments…

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