Insult of the week: avaunt, Mephistopheles!

  This week’s insult is dedicated not to a person, but to the demon drink: specifically, a bowl of rum punch. Captain Devereaux, in The House by the Church-Yard, is enjoying a convivial evening in his Chapelizod lodgings with renowned local gossip Dr. Tom Toole: And the china bowl, with its silver ladle, and fine…

Insult of the Week: “An extraordinary specimen of human fungus”

In chapter 26 of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (1853), Mr. George Rouncewell and his assistant Phil Squod are busy preparing for a day of work in the shooting gallery when they are interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Grandfather Smallweed and his granddaughter Judy. Mr. Smallweed describes their engagement of a hackney cab for the journey and…

Insult of the Week: “You double-distilled ould sthrap”

This week’s insult is provided by William Carleton’s The Black Prophet: A Tale of Irish Famine (1847). Following Condy Dalton’s admission of love for another woman, a furious Sarah M’Gowan returns home where her stepmother Nelly pushes her to boiling point… “You’re all out of it,” replied Nelly; “her blood’s up, now, an’ I’m not prepared…

Insult of the Week: Deftly chosen expressions of contempt, the maid edition

From our corpus it seems that even maids were subject to snarky comments about their appearance, often made by their employers. In chapter 1 of H. G Wells’ The Invisible Man, the narrator describes Mrs. Halls’ servant Millie as “her lymphatic maid”: “Mrs. Hall lit the fire and left him there while she went to prepare…

Coxcombs and Foppish Haircuts

In chapter 25 of Jane Austen’s Emma, the titular character is somewhat perplexed by Frank Churchill’s “foppish” decision to travel sixteen miles for some nineteenth-century “manscaping”. “Emma’s very good opinion of Frank Churchill was a little shaken the following day, by hearing that he was gone off to London, merely to have his hair cut. A sudden freak seemed…

Insult of the Week: you confounded fools

Middlemarch‘s Fred Vincy momentarily loses the run of himself while intervening in a local territorial skirmish: “What do you confounded fools mean?” shouted Fred, pursuing the divided group in a zigzag, and cutting right and left with his whip. “I’ll swear to every one of you before the magistrate. You’ve knocked the lad down and…

Quotation of the Week: A selfish, cold-hearted Sybarite

Miss Alicia Audley is distinctly unimpressed with her cousin Robert’s sudden interest in her enigmatic new step-mother and isn’t afraid to say so: “…pray amuse yourself in your own way; loll in an easy-chair all day, with those two absurd dogs asleep on your knees; spoil my lady’s window-curtains with your cigars and annoy everybody in the house…

Insult of the Week: Not one agreeable quality

After her beloved sister Jane’s romantic disappointment, Lizzy has had enough of pleasant, wealthy bachelors: I have a very poor opinion of young men who live in Derbyshire; and their intimate friends who live in Hertfordshire are not much better. I am sick of them all. Thank Heaven! I am going to-morrow where I shall…

Insult of the Week: Walk off, ye canting hag

This week’s insult comes courtesy of Maria Edgeworth’s The Absentee. The Widow O’Neill attempts to renew the lease on her property, but local rogue agent Nicholas Garraghty (known to the tenants as Old Nick)  won’t humour her request. ‘Take those leases off the table; I never will sign them. Walk off; ye canting hag; it’s an…

All the toads and serpents

Sir James Brooke, of The Absentee, does not relish the prospect of the return of Lady Dashfort and her daughter to these shores: ‘…one worthless woman, especially one worthless Englishwoman of rank, does incalculable mischief in a country like this, which looks up to the sister country for fashion. For my own part, as a…

Insult of the Week: Intolerably Stupid

We may be a little biased, but we feel there’s some truth in this pointed comment from Henry Tilney: The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. From chapter 14 of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, published 1817. Read the novel for free at Project Gutenberg!