Readers, I find my love and excitement about Pompey overflows every time I open my mouth. Her “foot-off-the-ground novel that came by the left hand” was fun and energetic at every turn (38). And I never knew what was coming. It was a great read-o.
Because Novel on Yellow Paper was the first selection this semester that I really enjoyed, I was excited to share my excitement with other readers. To my shock and dismay, I found that each person I encountered was not as drawn in and enraptured by Stevie Smith’s first novel. I spent some time thinking about what it was in this novel that attracted me so much and I determined that it boils down to the format and the style.
While it might seem silly or distracting to readers, I particularly enjoyed the yellow paper. The reason for this choice was directly mentioned in the beginning pages of the novel when Pompey explains, “I am typing this book on yellow paper. It is very yellow paper, and it is this very yellow paper because often sometimes I am typing it in my room at my office, and the paper I use for Sir Phoebus’s letters is blue paper with his name across the corner ‘Sir Phoebus Ullwater, Bt.’ and those letters of Sir Phoebus’s go out to all over the world. And that is why I type yellow, typing for my own pleasure, and not sending it by clerical error to the stockbrokers for a couple of thou” (15). This seemingly minor detail presents a lot of information to the reader. We know that Pompey is writing at work, what she does for work and some of why she is writing. Some of you (unfortunately) got copies of this book on regular, boring book print. That is a terrible shame. The format of yellow paper is fun and I enjoyed the experimental nature of it. One of my favorite novels, House of Leaves, also employs experimental format, so perhaps that is why I was so taken by the page color.
But it was the style of the narration that really made me fall in love; I found it to be reminiscent of Catcher in the Rye. Pompey is amazing. Her jumping from story to story was fun because I got to see inside of her head. The narration, while completely stream of conscious, gave me deep insight to this character. Pompey talks about her relationships with friends and lovers and family. Sometimes this is done with humor and sometimes if is quite sad. I found myself laughing (and relating) when she is walking with the Eckhardt boy, fantasizing about having a drink when, “suddenly providence whispered in my ear: You got a flask, so I kept smiling smiling all the way after that till we got there” (97) (not that I carry a flask with me wherever I go … because I don’t). Or where she is giving a sex education lesson and ask the reader to “count up the number of your married friends who have has accidents, little Jacks and Jills that have had to be fed and educated” (139) (mine is named Avalon). If Pompey were a real, live person, I would want her to be my best friend. I would want to share her flask and laugh at her jokes and ruminate on lost loves with her.
At the end, or the beginning, of it all, I think that Stevie Smith knew that her style and format would not be for everyone, and her narrator acknowledges that early in the novel when she writes, “And if you are a foot-on-the-ground person, this book will be for you a desert of weariness and exasperation. So put it down. Leave it alone. It was a mistake you made to get this book. You could not know” (39). Well, I for one am happy that I did pick up this book and that I am a “foot-off-the-ground” type.
Smith, Stevie. Novel on Yellow Paper. 1936. New Directions Books, 1994.
Van Gogh, Vincent. The Sower with Setting Sun. 1888, oil on canvas, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands.