The 6 most awkward moments in literature – The Week Magazine

 As selected by Washington Post humor columnist Alexandra Petri:

Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory (Wordsworth, $9). People forget that this book contains a passage where Sir Lancelot takes an arrow to the buttock. It’s from a lady huntress who misses a deer roaming the forest of Windsor. A close second among Lancelot’s most awkward moments is the incident when, overcome by love for Guinevere, he bursts open the iron bars of her window to climb in — cutting his hand to the bone in the process — then spends the whole night bleeding profusely all over her bed. Smooth.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (Signet, $10). For my money there are few literary moments so awkward as the carriage ride the policeman Javert and sewage-covered ex-convict Jean Valjean share while transporting the wounded young revolutionary Marius to his grandfather’s house. It contains the three S’s of any truly awkward moment: silence, sentiment, and sewage.

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (Modern Library, $100). At one point toward the end of this series, Proust’s narrator abducts a small child and her parents threaten legal action. I am not making this up. More people need to read this so we can get to the bottom of what is going on here.

My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber (Harper Perennial, $12). Five words: “The Night the Bed Fell.” But that’s just one story in Thurber’s 1933 comic autobiography. The whole book is a masterpiece.

Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (Norton, $14). When newt fancier Gussie Fink-Nottle shows up drunk to present prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammar School, the result is one of the funniest train wrecks you will ever read. “What was what’s-his-name,” Gussie asks one bewildered student, “the chap who begat Thingummy?”

Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley (Dover, $9). Special mention goes to Huxley’s first novel because it contains literature’s most awkward poetic misuse of a vocabulary word. The young poet Denis writes a poem about “passion as carminative as wine,” then realizes he has never actually looked up the word “carminative.” It means “fart-inducing.”

—In A Field Guide to Awkward Silences, Alexandra Petri uses personal experience to argue for the value of risking looking ridiculous.


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