Dating Hubert J. Watergipridget’s Most Famous Work

Of the short stories, poems, novels, articles, and essays written by Hubert J. Watergipridget, it is perhaps The Room With The Light On Even Though It Was The Middle Of The Day that is most open to interpretation. Adding to the confusion is the prevailing assumption that it is not known precisely when Watergipridget sat down to write this tale, nor if he wrote it in one piece or in several sittings.

Tamuel Shreadingham and Marl Karz point to the repetition of the phrase “no matter day or night, rain or shine, dark or bright” as a sign that Watergipridget wrote the piece in one long form, that he used this wording to tell us that he was getting inspiration from staring out of the window, watching the sun rise before giving way to the moon. Aliya Albarracin, Heidi Vignau, and Charles Copperfield conversely argue that Watergipridget wrote the work over a prolonged period of time, so long in fact that he had forgotten that he had used that phrase before so kept writing it down. In this debate, I am in the former camp.

As too is Hubert himself, if he follows his own mantras of writing. In his famous essay Stop Touching My Pencil, he, while on a tangent about which shade of white makes for the best paper for writing, tells us “if you cannot finish writing a story before you make your second cup of coffee you should throw it away. The story that is, not the coffee. Don’t waste coffee.” Assuming that Watergipridget does practice what he preaches, it is almost a certainty that he would not have spent any longer than twenty minutes on the piece — thirty if it was a particularly big mug.

While the year in which Watergipridget wrote the story is not immediately evident, I believe we can with some reason of certainty narrow it down to a particular period by examining Watergipridget’s other works. The town of Oddington is—or, it should be said, was—a real place; Watergipridget was a frequent visitor to the area in the late 1920s up until town’s eventual destruction in 1935. What’s more, each visit to Oddington was followed by a form of prose that mentions Oddington in some capacity, either as the place in which the story is set or the place from where Watergipridget recalls a memory. It is this knowledge that will allow us to date the writing. 

Of Watergipridget’s extant works, Oddington is either directly referred to or indirectly alluded to on a number of occasions. We know for certain that the semi-autobiographical The Man Who Fell Down The Stairs, written in 1926, was written in the town. While the text might appear to the casual reader to provide a very nondescript location, ardent followers of Hubert J. Watergipridget know that the Oddington house in which he resided for a time was the only time Watergipridget ever used stairs. To fall down a set of stairs needs stairs to fall down. Similarly, those who know the geography of Oddington can easily identify the road down which Jenna and Yussef walk in The Man Who Has Baguettes For Dinner, written in 1934, as the same road Emilia travels in The Room. Furthermore, the inspiration for the titular character of Baguettes was an Oddington local who accosted Watergipridget asking him which flavour jam he preferred to put on his baguettes. Knowing this, we can say with near certainty that The Room was written somewhere between 1926 and 1935.

A nine-year gap is still a sizeable one. Fortunately, Watergipridget’s collection of essays hold the key to minimising this time frame. 

Burnell Manor, the “odd looking manor” did exist in a roundabout sort of way. It was not, as the story, or even the name, suggests, a manor—it was a maisonette, situated next to a lightbulb repair shop. This building is referred to in two other Watergipridget works. The first is a 1932 essay titled Banal Bungalows and Mangy Maisonettes, wherein he rates out of ten several houses past which he has walked on his travels. Burnell Manor is described in this essay as an abode he has walked by “very recently on [his] way to buy some cockleberry jam, to which I had developed a fondness, especially when slathered on a crusty bloomer.” How one interprets the time ‘very recently’ is of course subjective, but it does suggest that he was in the area during that year. The second mention is the rather intimate Superstitions which, as one may have already figured out, details the superstitions by which he lived his daily life. Watergipridget’s chief observations was that he would not dare visit a location which had odd in its name on an odd day, week, or year; nor would he visit an area with even on an even day, week, or year. Based on what we know, this would put the years 1930 or 1932 (it can be no earlier as cockleberry jam was invented in 1929) as the chief suspects for the writing of the story. This knowledge of the production of jam, combined with the observation in Banal Bungalows, may make people quick to assume that this makes 1932 the year in which the story was written. However, there is one other piece of information that will shine light on this long unanswered question. This information is not found in an essay or an article, nor is it a poem or a short story or a novel. It is found in a diary — Hubert J. Watergipridget’s own diary.

Until very recently it was not known that Watergipridget had kept a personal diary. Indeed, given his famous speech, commonly referred to as the Castigations of a Skeptic, Watergipridget was outrightly hostile to writing down his own memories. “Autobiographies,” he famously slurred between pints of port and servings of sherry, “are the domain of the narcissist and the simple-minded.” The diary itself was only discovered by chance. As I was rummaging through a collection of books that had belonged to Watergipridget and were now housed in the Hubert J. Watergipridget collection at the University of Cambridge, the diary was found at the bottom of the box. This diary covers the calendar year of 1932. It is a small and ill-kept thing, no bigger than an A5 notebook; its cover is leather but horribly worn, as if moths or ants or some insect had been using the cover for a sumptuous meal; and the diary itself is largely left blank, with entries from January 1 to February 4 followed by a large gap until July 7, followed by a further absence of entries until December 6.

Most entries are of no importance. Most days serve as an indication of what food he had eaten (cockleberry jam on salt-and-pepper baguettes served with a tipple of sherry being his main diet). July 7 details his unsuccessful attempt to kill a very noisy fly. His December 6 entry describes his attempt at creating a Guy Fawkes effigy in his bathroom, only to discard the half-made creation when he has gotten his dates wrong. The most important entry (for the sake of this discussion) is the January 1 entry. It reads:

Today marks the beginning of the leap year. Nothing good in life has ever come from a leap. A leap is to lunge; to lunge is to lose balance; to lose balance is to fall. A man who loses balance may rise again, or he may not; but a planet that leaps, lunges, loses balance, falls, risks the end of all life itself. Sooner or later, the planet will fall when making its leap; and when the planet falls, the men, women, and children walking outside will stumble and fall off the planet. To save myself from falling I have seen fit to blockade the doors and windows of Pridget Hall; for if I cannot fall out of my house, I cannot fall off the planet when it loses balance. Only once this leap year has ended, and if the planet has not fallen while leaping, shall I venture back outside.

Hubert J. Watergipridget.

It is safe to say, as I am writing this and you are reading it, that the planet did not fall over during its leap year and the men, women, and children, Watergipridget included, did not stumble and fall off the planet. While this diary entry highlights one of the oddities of the manner in which Watergipridget thought about the workings of the world, it does, when combined with all the other pieces of information, help to answer the question of the year he wrote The Room With The Light On Even Though It Was The Middle Of The Day. The reference to cockleberry jam, the aversion to odd numbers, the town’s destruction and now this final piece detailing Watergipridget’s location for the entire year of 1932 — all of these facts combine point to the work being written in 1930.

Now knowing the year, historians, biographers, academics, and just those with a general interest of the history of the written work can now move on from the issue of the manuscript’s date. With the timeframe of the work settled, we can begin working out what the story alludes to. But that analysis is best left to another day… 

Published by Lovatt

I write, when I remember. I paint, when I bother.

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