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The Clumsiest People in Europe Hardcover – May 12, 2005

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"...Wonderfully odious, travel-based misanthropy...by turns unsetteling and hilarious...Here, at last, is irritable-bowel-syndrome-as-travelogue." -- Henry Alford -- New York Times Book Review, June 5, 2005

"An absorbing resurrection of English worldviews widely held during the mid-1800s: strangely entertaining and surprisingly educational." -- Kirkus Reveiws, April 1, 2005

"My favourite summer read this year...endlessly entertaining." -- Martin Levin -- The Globe and Mail, June 11, 2005

"Sick yet fun little volume...with a sour-faced alacrity that wouldn't seem out of place in the Bush administration." -- Radar Magazine, Summer 2005

THE MUST LIST: "A hoot, even if you do feel guilty for laughing." -- Entertainment Weekly, June 7 2005

The Eight Most Remarkable Things in Culture This Month: Most Xenophobic Travelogue, THE CLUMSIEST PEOPLE IN EUROPE. -- Esquire Magazine, June 2005

From the Publisher

No matter who your ancestors were, and where they had the misfortune of living, Victorian children's book writer Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer had something nasty to say about them. Their faults, according to Mrs. Mortimer, might have amounted to just about anything. The Irish "are very kind and good-natured when pleased, but if affronted, are filled with rage." In Italy, "the people are ignorant and wicked." In Sweden, "Nothing useful is well done ... The carpenters and the blacksmiths are very clumsy in their work." Remarkably, all of these assertions come from a woman who only twice set foot outside of her native England. But lack of personal experience never kept Mrs. Mortimer from dispensing her horrifying wisdom about the evils of just about every nation on earth. Whether describing Europe ("It is dreadful to think what a number of murders are committed in Italy"), Asia ("The religion of Taou teaches men to act like madmen"), Africa ("The worst quality in any character is hypocrisy, and this is to be found in the Egyptian"), or America ("New Orleans is a dangerous place to live in, both for the body and the soul"), Mrs. Mortimer's views are consistently appalling. One hundred fifty years later, three of her very forgotten classics have been compiled into one volume, The Clumsiest People in Europe, reviving the comically misinformed and startling prejudices of this unique Victorian eccentric.
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition U.S. edition (June 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158234504X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582345048
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,894,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jon Hunt on August 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
It's hard to know how to begin a review about a book that at once seems so outrageously comical but at its core is so earnestly serious. In that we have, "The Clumsiest People in Europe", a compilation of writings by the erstwhile Englishwoman, Favell Lee Mortimer. This book is a dandy!

Introduced and edited by Todd Pruzan, (who seems to have many of the same reactions that I did in reading Mrs. Mortimer) "The Clumsiest People in Europe" is a title that represents the tip of the iceberg to Mrs. Mortimer's harsh assessments of the peoples of the civilized, and in proper Victorian vogue, the UNcivilized peoples of the world. As Pruzan remarks, Mrs. Mortimer ventured out of England only twice in her life, so her reviews of the world are made even the more, well, let's say, curious. Nary a country escapes her scrutinies and admonishments. In that regard, Mrs. Mortimer is an equal opportunity employer. Spaniards are "cruel, sullen and revengeful". The country is full of robbers and wolves. After being barely benignly cruel, Mrs. Mortimer says of the Swedes, "you are ready to think the Swedes are a wise and good people. Not so. There is no country in Europe where so many people are put in prison." And so it goes. As she goes farther east and south, Mrs. Mortimer opens up with more vengeance. Suffice it to say she despises drink, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, blacks, Asians, the poor, idleness, tobacco and gambling. Mrs. Mortimer was born just the wrong side of prozac.

Beyond the humor applied to today, one has to take a different look at Mrs. Mortimer's offerings. What was her motive in putting together these accounts? I have a sense that there was a serious purpose of educating those she felt needed to be educated.
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Format: Hardcover
Mrs. Mortimer is hilarious. Until you realize (as I did, when reading the passage on my ancestors "the hindoostanees") that there's a teeny tiny grain of truth behind many of her caricatured profiles. Excellent introduction that sets up proper historical context and gives Mrs. Mortimer the "Behind the Music" treatment.
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Format: Hardcover
Since Mrs. Mortimer did not take the time to travel outside of England much in her life she must have gotten 99% of her information from other sources. She takes facts gleaned from these other sources and then gives value judgments based on her experiences as an English woman at a time when Great Britain was the epicenter of the civilized, industrialized world. I can't help wondering what she would have said about places like Brazil, Japan, or Hindostan had she actually visited them herself. Mrs. Mortimer does not approve of Catholicism (or any other non-Protestant religion), idleness, strong drink, slavery, gambling, or uncleanliness. She is eager to point out where wickedness (at least her idea of it) exists and is fond of describing the tragedies that befall children and babies in other countries. She has an interesting narrative style in which she asks a question and then answers it, or guesses what is in the reader's mind and then responds accordingly. Mrs. Mortimer describes Easter in Russia:

"And how does the day end? In feasting and drunkeness. Sometimes all the people in a village are drunk at Easter. The streets of St. Petersburgh are filled with staggering, reeling drunkards." Mrs. Mortimer compares Turks and Persians: "The Turks are grave and the Persians lively. The Turks are silent and the Persians talkative. The Turks are rude, the Persians polite. Now I am sure you like the Persians better than the Turks. But wait a little - the Turks are very proud; the Persians very deceitful."

Mrs. Mortimer does not spare her native land from criticism. In fact as I was reading I noticed that in many instances England does not compare favorably to some aspect of the "other" country being described. You have to give her some credit for trying to be fair.

This book is a fun, quick read and it has something to offend absolutely everyone!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In equal parts horrifying, and hysterically funny. But never boring.

We all know that there are ignorant, insensitive, arrogant people among us. Back in the Victorian era, one of them got to inflict her views on a public that seems to have agreed with pretty much everything she wrote.

I wanted another perspective on the people of the Victorian era - I am writing a book set in that period and I wanted to flesh out the viewpoint of my "bad guys". This book was an eye-opener, a window into a way of looking at the world that is completely alien to me. I am glad I read it. I am even more glad that I will never have to meet the author.

Not brilliant by any means, but worth reading for the curiosity value alone. Or should that be "the shock value"?
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Format: Hardcover
I quite enjoyed this little Victorian traveloge. I picked it up expecting it to be more humorous, and although I found the writer's style quite dour and pedantic, I became more interested in understanding her perspective than laughing at her views. I imagine that there were many folks in her day who felt exactly the same as she did about any country that was not England. The editor makes a pretty terrific comment in the preface to this edition, however, in that the stereotypes that this book espoused back in the days of Queen Victoria or not all that different from the unfortunate and xenophobic views that so many people in today's world ...there is definitely a lesson to be learned here.
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