Friday, February 4, 2011

That Is A Certain Kind of Aplomb

We might need cheering up on this gray/rainy/disappointing Friday, so I offer this story:

A few years back, in the summer, I attended an academic conference that lasts a whole week.  Unlike other conferences, it's made up of professional scholars and also interested laypeople.  Usually the thing centers on just one novel.  It's like summer camp for grown-up nerds, really awesome.  I went to this for several years in a row, because the opportunities for hobnobbing, gossiping, and talking books are unparalleled.  Nobody's bed got shortsheeted, that I know of, but there are the usual camp hookups and feuds. There's even a dance, I'm not even kidding. Yet this is serious business. 

That year--I think the book was Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens--the actress Miriam Margolyes was there. You might know her as Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter movies.


My favorite role of hers is as old Madam Mingott in Age of Innocence, remember? A very funny lady, but somehow also august.  She'd come because she'd been in the BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit and is interested in literary matters.  She participated in everything and was just one of the gang.

One of the activities planned was a group reading of a mashup of some comic scenes from Dickens. Parts were assigned and people sat in a circle rehearsing together. Everyone was really excited to be reading with such a celebrated actress, and we were giving it our absolute best. There was lots of laughter and merriment.

And then there was a lull, and in that lull, an unmistakable bodily noise. More silence.

Then, Miriam Margolyes spoke up.  In her full, rich, voice, a voice used to commanding an audience, she said:

"It is I who has farted so dreadfully."

And, scene.

Everyone loved her even more after that.  And I still think of it from time to time, about that "dreadfully" and the nearly perfect anapestic rhythm of that line. The woman is a pro.

17 comments:

M said...

Hilarious! Speaking of academic conferences where no one will likely speak trochaicly, 4Cs is in Atlanta in April. Are you attending? I'll be there and on the lookout for streets without the word "peach" in their name. Didn't see any 12 years ago. Is it some kind of Reconstruction thing?

Veronica said...

What a great story!

Elizabeth said...

That's fantastic, and I'm totally interested in how you "remembered" that on your gray, rainy day.

Also, what and when is this conference? I'd love to go --

Hootie said...

I hope Professor Sprout Googles herself and finds this blog post.

Amy said...

Wow that is a great story! And summer camp for grownup literary nerds sounds pretty perfect.

Maggie said...

That is the best laugh I have had all day! Wow, thanks a lot, honey

KathyS said...

Ah! That was the year I attended Nerd Camp (patent pending)! Good memories! Alas, however, that was the one year in which there was no dance, and I feel the need to boogie, 19th-century style.

Or, in other words, it is I who has pined for dancing most dreadfully!

mamacita said...

Mrs. Manson Mingott -- I do remember her. "The burden of her flesh..." oh, I think about that line at least once a day; a more precise way of saying "fat ass" has not been invented.

Amy said...

Camp Anapestic... I am totally berating myself right now for ditching the pursuit of an English degree.

emlh said...

I've loved your blog since the Ohdeedoh intro but never post, and today's the day! I shared this story with my family tonight, and my husband sprayed milk out of his nose. Rhythm jokes kill in Nerdville! ;) Now you have to tell us more about this camp!

Becky said...

Nerd Camp: http://dickens.ucsc.edu/universe/universe2011.html

I didn't name names 'cause I didn't want to awaken their google alerts, but here 'tis. This year it's Great Expectations. It's probably the premiere group of people doing C19 cultural studies, and there is nothing quite like this conf. If you're a HS teacher you should def go.

emlh said...

Thanks! I actually was pre-kids, but never again!

Fantastic Forrest said...

So incredibly jealous of you!!
Those are the kinds of moments that make a life...the ones that take your breath away. From laughing so hard.

I've been slowwwwwwly watching Little Dorrit - my friend Bee at From The Desk of Bee Drunken kindly lent it to me. If you haven't ever visited her blog, you totally need to. I am lucky enough to be planning a visit to see her in England! Where she is a docent at the Jane Austen House! Now are you jealous of me too? :-D

Ginny Marie said...

What a great story! I can just imagine her voice in my head.

puncturedbicycle said...

How marvellous! Apparently she is known as a pottymouth extraordinaire. And I say good for her.

Casey said...

That camp sounds hilarious and smelly all at the same time.

Bee said...

Just the other day, I was watching a tribute to Pete Postlethwaite and the marvelous MM was paying her respects. I remember thinking that she looked the same (if not actually younger) than her Madam Mingott moment -- which was the first role I knew her in. She is truly one of those old-school British theatre greats. I love that blend of Britishness: plummy and formal, but then with a streak of unexpected earthiness.

What a FAB story! I'm so glad that
Fantastic Forrest point me in your direction.