Mr. Improbable and I had a mildly bad day yesterday (no point going into details) and were definitely in the mood for some escapist entertainment last night. We found it on Hulu, in this gloriously overwrought Gothic melodrama based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel:


My favorite bit of dialogue was:

“You’ve been drinking!”
“Only at the springs of love!”

It makes me really sad that I’ve quit drinking now, because I probably won’t be accused of having been drinking, and I want to, so I can say that.

Which actually, now that I think about it, does get at something. We’ve often talked about the “witty comeback” and its shortcomings.* Well-meaning people don’t deserve to be the recipient of a nasty crack; ill-meaning people ought to be confronted more directly; the generally clueless (non-neurotypical folks, or people from cultures with different privacy/conversational norms) won’t be helped to understand boundaries by a sarcastic comment that may well confuse them more.

But the surreal, as opposed to snarky comeback, can work, if it lets the other person in on the joke. Look at all the beautifully surreal responses my friends’ wonderful relative came up with for the question of how she lost her arm. The surreal response can let the other person know, “Whatever question you just asked me isn’t the story of my life. But I’m comfortable that you asked, and I’m not mad at you. However, I’m not going to talk about it, so let’s change the subject.”

Isn’t the writing process magical? When I started this post I never thought I’d get from “My Cousin Rachel” to the witty-retort topic! How about that.

*If you go back to that post, you’ll notice I never responded to Chris’s criticism. That’s because every time I tried to, I started laughing too hard. I am fairly sure the shades of Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde would be on my side on this one.

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4 Responses to Escapism

  1. Eeeeka says:

    This is one of my all time favorite surreal comics. :)

  2. Robin says:

    Beautiful, Eeeeka!

  3. Shulamuth says:

    I live in hopes that some day I’ll be able to respond to SOMETHING with Errol/Robin’s response to “you speak treason, sir”
    but no one ever hands me the straight line!

  4. EA Week says:

    If you get the chance, read the book “My Cousin Rachel.” It’s excellent, not “up there with Rebecca” excellent, but still well-worth the time to read. Also, any of du Maurier’s short stories will make your skin crawl, in a good way.

    Most of my witty one-liners I steal shamelessly: from Buffy (“raise your hand if eew,” is a favorite), the West Wing (“I don’t understand; did you trip over something?”), or Doctor Who (“Thanks for clearing that up; I wasn’t so sure when I woke up this morning,” good for using when someone says something really obvious to me, like “Wow, you’re tall!”). Some of these one-liners can be applied in an amazing variety of contexts.

    Bizarre non-sequiturs also have their use. Once, when my niece was trying to boss my mother around, Mom asked mock-sternly, “Since when do grandchildren give orders to their grandparents?” To which my niece promptly replied, “Since Madonna!” I’m not exactly sure what connection my niece had made in her mind, but Mom and I were in stitches.

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