past
Music Hall logo, see bottom of page for text links.

Vesta Victoria

Apart from that lodger whom she found to be such a nice young man (but of whom we cannot but feel a trifle suspicious), Vesta Victoria in her best- known songs,. when not comically bewailing her misfortune in marriage, seemed to be lamenting some other misadventure that had blighted her life. Her father wouldn't buy her a dog, and her husband insisted on her posing for his "Eve and Adamy" paintings in summer and winter. The comic element is always very strong in these songs, and there is not usually the delicate balance between pathos and comedy that is to be found in the best of Gus Elen's and Albert Chevalier's songs.

Vesta Victoria was often unfortunate in her marital affairs in her songs. On another occasion her "mother" caught her young man's eye, and he, instead of marrying the daughter, married the mother-"And now we have to call him father." When she did succeed in getting a man to the altar, she was soon widowed and was left hoping her chilly husband had found "a nice warm fire" in the after world ("He was a good, kind husband").

"Waiting at the Church" skillfully combines comedy and pathos. There is some- thing particularly pathetic about a bride deserted at the church, and however much the comic aspects are stressed, these do not quite completely counteract the wretchedness that underlies the situation. Comic effect is achieved in a variety of ways-by innuendo (in the first two lines of the first and third verses), by incongruity (Obadiah Binks as a much-to-be-desired bridegroom), by reversal (as in the final line of the second verse and especially in the last line of the chorus), and by the character's persistent self-deflation.

Yet it is in the deflation of the bride-that-was-to-be (central to the situation of the song) that the non-comic element is particularly strong. Finally, the pathetic picture of the deserted bride is deliberately overdrawn so that the comic exaggeration parodies the pathos inherent in the subject. It would be very easy to present the picture of the deserted bride sentimentally, but here, as in Harry Clifton's "Weepin' Willer" referred to earlier, comedy undercuts the sentimentality.

Although the comic presentation of the pathetic makes it possible for us still to be able to enjoy this song, longevity is not the only result of this juxtaposition. What is even more important and, in the long run, likely to give the song sustained life, is that this comic-pathetic relationship accurately expresses a complex natural attitude: the duality inherent in such a relationship. (Compare the comic and tragic duality of jealousy.) Furthermore, it is not a third party that invites us to be amused at this pathetic sight, but the principal sufferer. The character reveals her own folly in trusting such a man, exposes herself to ridicule for being so taken in, but simultaneously reveals the pathetic desperation with which she longs for marriage.

The strength of "Waiting at the Church" lies in the tension set up between a comic representation of a kind of loss which in real life is keenly-felt. Only if the implications of the loss which is the source of the comedy are fully grasped can the density of the emotional texture of the song be adequately realized. And this implication stems largely from our experience of the real world outside the song (but assumed in the song).

It may be essential therefore to bring into the criticism of a music-hall song some aspect of external experience, particularly if this can be seen as an understood premise which the song assumes for its full apprehension. Criticism of legitimate drama that confines itself to what is written on the page must inevitably be partial (hence the difficulty that some "literary" critics have in adequately evaluating drama). The implications of performance must also be considered; and it is possible that this is an aspect that must be given even greater consideration in popular art than in the legitimate theatre, especially as mime, innuendo, and filling in, though obviously not restricted to popular drama, are more commonly found there than in the legitimate theatre.