Saturday, October 3, 2015

"She laughed at my jokes."

Alan Milne married Dorothy de Selincourt in 1913. This, of course, was before my time, and since they didn't talk to me about those early days (why should they?), I have to rely now on my father's autobiography for information. Not that he gives much. However, two sentences are all I need for the present. The first is: "She laughed at my jokes."

Surely this is the one absolutely vital qualification for a professional humorist's wife: that she should laugh at his jokes. Jokes are delicate things and my father's were especially delicate. Was it funny? Only someone's laughter would tell you. Only someone's laughter would encourage you to go on trying to be funny. It is true that a writer writes first to please himself and that his own satisfaction with what he has done is perhaps his greatest satisfaction. But writing is a means of communication. It is not enough to speak; you must also be heard. The message must be received and understood. Also a writer needs praise. At least my father did. He needed someone to say: "I love it, darling. It was awfully good." Of course, anyone who is well trained can say that without really meaning it, and I know that on one or two rare occasions my mother did. You can pretend to admire, but, unless you are a superb actress, you can't pretend to laugh. Laughter is genuine or else it is just a noise.
Christopher Milne, The Enchanted Places (1975), p. 105 (published in UK in 1974).

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