‘The Young Immigrunts’ by Ring Lardner

Mis-spelling has a distinguished literary history. It can have an emotional kick (nowhere more so than in Hardy’s Jude The Obscure: Little Father Time’s note “Done because we are too menny” was rewritten in Michael Winterbottom’s 1996 adaptation Jude as ‘becos we are to many’, presumably with pathos in mind) but more often the effect is comic: Geoffrey Willans’ Molesworth is of course the exemplar here (“Gaze in mirror at yore strange unatural beauty”). Sometimes, though, the comedy is unintentional, as in The Young Visiters, written by nine-year-old Daisy Ashford and a surprise bestseller in 1919; it begins “Mr Salteena was an elderly man of 42 and was fond of asking peaple to stay with him”, and continues in a similar vein for some time. Ring Lardner’s ‘The Young Immigrunts’, written contemporaneously with the success of Ashford’s book, is a knowing take on the theme. Lardner was a pioneer in the use of the US vernacular, championed by (among others) Virginia Woolf. Less flashily brilliant than, say, Damon Runyon, he wrote comic stories that were dense and characterful, and by 1919 had already created the baseball player Jack Keefe, one of literature’s great mis-spellers. The narrator of ‘The Young Immigrunts’ – supposedly Lardner’s four-year-old son – is a wonderful mix of Keefe and Ashford (“Wilst participateing in the lordly viands my father halled out his map and give it the up and down”). There’s magic in every line, and perhaps the most famous exchange in all Lardner’s work: “Are you lost daddy I arsked tenderly. Shut up he explained.”

Collected in Selected Stories, Penguin, 1997