Stephen Leacock’s ‘Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich’

slaairBy Ron Dart

A great countryman of ours: a man to thank God for. – Robertson Davies

Stephen Leacock was known as one of the finest writers in the first half of the 20th century—a spellbinding and unique Canadian version of Dickens, Twain and Swift.  Leacock has been called a Tory humanist and that he was—an Anglican grounded and rooted in the best of the classical Anglican way. Most know Leacock through his kindly satire, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912), but the companion and must read novel to Sunshine Sketches is Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (1914). It is the 100th anniversary in 2014 of the publication of this brilliant novel that covers religion, politics, education, economics and much else. Arcadian Adventures has more bite, more demanding social satire and deeper probes than the sweeter and gentler Sunshine Sketches, but it is imperative that the two books be seen as one—the final chapter of Sunshine Sketches, “L’Envoi: The Train to Mariposa”, points the way and is the portal into Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich.

Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich is divided into 8 readable and compelling chapters: 1) A Little Dinner with Mr. Lucullus Fyshe, 2) The Wizard of Finance, 3) The Arrested Philanthropy of Mr. Tomlinson, 4) The Yahi-Bahi Oriental Society of Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown, 5) The Love Story of Mr. Peter Spillikins, 6) The Rival Churches of St. Asaph and St. Osoph, 7) The Ministrations of the Rev. Uttermust Dumfarthing and 8) The Great Fight for Clean Government. Each chapter, again and again, punctures the façade of image and public persona, clarifies the nature of crude and subtle hypocrisy and suggests an ideal worth living towards. 

The chapters, “The Rival Churches of St. Asaph and St. Osoph (6)” and “The Ministrations of the Rev. Uttermust Dumfarthing (7)” illuminate, in a brilliant and poignant manner, the rot and flabbiness in a more aesthetic notion of Anglicanism that has lost its deeper theological and public way. It is impossible to miss in Arcadian Adventures Leacock’s High Tory concern for those who are poor and marginalized and how the idle and irresponsible rich ignore the needy with a multiplicity of silly diversions and distractions (including many religious ones). Leacock makes it abundantly clear in “The Yahi-Bahi Oriental Society of Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown (4)” what happens in the human quest when spirituality cuts itself loose from the moorings of religion—when religion goes bad, though (and Leacock does spoof this within Christianity), oriental spirituality is often idealized as the answer–Leacock is just as quick to puncture this romanticized oriental spirituality as he is debased Christian religion—there is a sort of prophetic vigor in Leacock’s insights and higher Anglican vision—such is the satirical way of such satirists such as Jonathan Swift—Leacock was, in many ways, a Canadian Tory Anglican Swift. …

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Published in Clarion: Journal of Spirituality and Justice, 14 November 2014.