There’s no getting away from it, this months theme is #moread in honour of Movember. The brainchild of 3 blokes drinking in a Melbourne bar in 2003, the campaign has raised over 175 million dollars for research, treatment and education programs for men’s health. During this month over 500,000 men will put their shavers aside in a sometimes vain and embarrassing attempt to grow a moustache. It’s an ugly time in any household, including my own.
Apart from a fortunately brief and minor resurgence in the late 1970’s the Victorian and Edwardian years of the 19th and early 20th Century was the golden age of the moustache for English language authors. Perhaps it’s appropriate that this month we remember some of the authors from that time who are now seldom read.
Mark Twain was a giant of American literature and he had a moustache to match. His travel books were popular throughout his life including A Tramp Abroad and Life on the Mississippi but he made his name with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, much loved by generations of readers. An early science fiction novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court and an historical fiction, Recollections of Joan of Arc stand out as departures from his normal style. Twain was a master at writing in a relaxed and humorous style with memorable characters. He also had a keen ear for natural and realistic language.
Across the Atlantic, HG Wells moustache wasn’t a patch on Twain’s but he was an enormously popular and prolific author in England before the Second World War. He’s remembered mostly for his early science-fiction novels including The Time Machine, War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man. Much is made of the number of modern technologies that he anticipated in his writings including the atomic bomb, space travel, genetic engineering and the mobile phone … but we’re still waiting for time travel, invisibility and alien invasion. Wells also wrote some fine social and comic novels of Edwardian middle-class England such as Kipps, Tono-Bungay and The History of Mr Polly. His later works pale in comparison but he is worth visiting again for his richly drawn characters and vibrant imagination.
Closer to home, Henry Lawson’s tash is in the same league as Mark Twain. Like Twain Lawson was a great chronicler of rural life, egalitarian in his outlook and a master of natural language. He never wrote a novel and even derided the short story in favour of “sketch stories”, short descriptive pieces with little plot. While the Billy Boils was his most popular prose collection.
Other significant writers with moustaches from the era include Jerome K Jerome, James Joyce, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and Joseph Furphy. The moustache is still popular in many non-English language cultures where we can find examples of modern authors with moustaches such as Gunter Grass, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Derek Walcott and Carlos Fuentes. I believe David Malouf is the only significant current Australian novelist to regularly sport a moustache.
We hope you will join us in our #moread, and share your own reading during Movember. There will be a twitter discussion from 8pm (AEST) on Tuesday 26 November to discuss #moread. See you online then. Use the tags #moread and #rwpchat so others can join the discussion with you.