The Tatler (1932) reflects on social masks and the "perfectly natural" Jan and Cora Gordon

The Tatler of Wednesday 03 August 1932 has an affectionate article about Jan and Cora Gordon, emphasising their refreshing naturalness and lack of pretentiousness. This is a quality noted by a number of their contemporaries, such as Myron Nutting.

Here below is the article, in the flavour of a stream of consciousness, not originally broken into separate paragraphs, though I have done so here in order to make the text a little more accessible:

"So Few People are Human. HOW seldom you meet people who are unashamedly content to be human. And how friendly and delightful they are when you do meet them! Most men and women create such fantasies around themselves. They are so very different from other people in their own estimation. Schoolmasters, parents, clergymen especially, all like to assume towards others whom fate has given into their charge, an innate superiority which they expect will be regarded as example. Even elderly people require deference on account of their age if for no other apparent quality. Then there is the woman who is so refayned that she shudders at the first sight of a knife approaching a pea. The man, too, who believes that the Empire was built up by such as he. Then there is the dreary, unintellectual public school outlook, the outlook of the best residential district, the secret of my success complex and, oh, a dozen-and-one airs and graces and pretences which you have to accept before most people will own, if ever they do own, that they are one of a colossal human family, each member possessing his own failings and weaknesses, his own pitifulness, his own absurd reactions to love, lust, temptation, superstition, snobbery, his own dread of death and death's disturbing indifference to the good and the bad, the great and the obscure, the foolish and the wise. And this, perhaps, is why the jolly vulgarity of a common holiday crowd is so much more spiritually satisfying than the crafty animation of the moneyed in circumstances registering enjoyment. Until it sometimes seems as if the bigger the balance in the bank the more its owner lives on under the impression that he or she is something slightly super-human and must at all times act as sich. When all the difference between classes is that some are more frequently washed than others. Character, after all, is the final test of true aristocracy and true vulgarity. The rest is mere suggestion. And one of the reasons why social entertainments are usually so mentally and spiritually deadening is that everybody at them has assumed their own pet mask and one has to accept that mask as well as play up to it if you wish to please. Well, this may explain why the sight of somebody being perfectly natural is as refreshing at all times as a real garden after a long sojourn among painted scenery. The older I grow the less I can be bothered by the excessive showing-off to which too many of us are self-addicted. 

Which brings me to Jan and Cora Gordon, the artist-authors, and their latest delightful travel book, Three Lands on Three Wheels" (Jarrolds. 12s. 6d.). And why are their travel books always so delightful? Simply because the Gordons invariably give the impression of being perfectly natural. They are not out to inform at least, not unless information comes within the scope of their adventure. They are not out to impress. They bask neither in the sunshine of great wonders inspected, nor in the acquaintanceship of great personages encountered. As authors they have, thank goodness, never heard of posterity. Their books give a better impression, all the same, of the various countries they visit than a whole library of earnest travel books, each one a recognized authority, simply because they treat their journeys as so many holidays, and thus their readers laugh while they learn. 

In their new book they begin in Paris, go southwards to the wine lands of France, turn in their tracks to touch England, and linger for a longer while in Ireland. The three wheels are a motor-bicycle and side-car, and if you remember what a friend they made of the old Ford car with which they once toured America, you will know what a human part the Wandering Wardrobe plays in their new book. Most authors beginning the account of their travels in Paris would have started out very earnestly to take you once more around that city. We should, indeed, have probably been back in French history long before, having opened the book, we had found the easiest angle to sit in our easiest chair. 

Not so the Gordons. They are, in this instance, so busy rescuing a strayed and recalcitrant mongrel dog amid the darkness of the Boulevard Saint Michel, that by the time all their immediate neighbours have hurled invectives from their windows at the animal's subsequent protest at being rescued at all, it is, so to speak, time for the Gordons to start on their real tour if they are going to get started at all. Which, I do believe, wouldn't very much matter, because I am sure they could entertain us for three hundred pages by merely describing a tour of the arterial roads of England than which I can imagine nothing less probable of likely entertain ment. 

So, perhaps, it is not necessary for me to tell you that Three Lands on Three Wheels is written and illustrated by Jan and Cora Gordon in their happiest holiday mood. Being, so to speak, delightfully human themselves, they easily find out the humanity in others and until you discover this, life is not nearly so much fun, and travel books infinitely duller. 

Thoughts from "Three Lands on Three Wheels 

"Aur bad luck is often our good luck but disguised." 

"No wayside tragedy can be half so tragic as that of a deserted petrol pump when your tank is empty." 

"To travel continually is certainly to take your boredom out for a walk, while to stop still is to let your humanity loose on a round of discovery." 

"We English first work hard to destroy ourselves and then have to work harder to avoid the destruction we have brought on our own heads." 

"When sentiment steps in at the door judgment flies out of the window."

Other reviews of this book ranged from quite negative, to very positive, with others focusing on the observations on Ireland made by the Gordons during their journey. They dedicated the book to their artist friends, the Spurriers.

"The wifekiller," Three Lands on Three Wheels


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