I, Narcissist

In 1958, the self-confessed English dandy and eccentric Sorrell Humphreys published a memoir entitled Dandy in No Man’s Land. In it he recounts his childhood with a mother who recited Rasputin, a father who made his servants crash the troika, and a hamster that attempted suicide. Unhappy at home when his mother refused to have the cook bake any more Spotted Dick, Humphreys was shipped off to boarding school. There he was celibate, formed a Polka band, and discovered the writings of Rabelais.

When war broke out in 1914 — although Humphrey swears it was 1913 because that was the year he formed his first Wildean epigram — Humphreys joined up and got given command of the Household Hellequin, named after a legendary troop of demon horsemen. His description of soldiers’ uniforms is blunt but the daily trauma and hardship of trench warfare is witty and droll.

After the war he published his first book, I Narcissist, he cycled around the British Isles on a stolen butcher’s bike, and more or less led a carefree life of indulgence and indigestion.

With the success of his next book, As Lewd as Any Trip to a Fish & Chip Shop, his popularity spiked in Britain and abroad. At the height of his success, his London publishers organized a US book tour. Unfortunately for Humphreys, things did not go as planned. His first mistake was going dressed as George III. His second was not having his wig powdered. His third was that the US government had a well-read immigration officer working that day at Newark International Airport.

The official was very familiar with Humphreys’ work and had read his confessions about spending thousands of pounds on risqué postcards on the Left Bank of Paris after the war, imbuing port on country walks, and being addicted to white bread. When Humphreys was asked to declare what was under his wig, the dandy replied, “A copy of Mein Kampf.” His girlfriend at the time, a small time crook and big time movie star, remembers being asked why Humphreys didn’t put the wig in his trunk, she replied he’d only brought carry-on luggage. Mr., Humphreys was then asked to remove his smock where it was discovered he was hiding a 16-year-old girl that he had promised to marry. The immigration office was not interested in the girl and ordered Humphreys to button her back up. After a further round of questions that included if he knew the whereabouts of the president’s dwarf, Humphreys was flown back to Britain but his wig was kept as a keepsake.

After the incident, the immigration official was asked why he had picked up Humphreys book to read and replied “Because it promised a lot of sordid details about the man’s peculiar life. And because he admitted to having a white bread problem, which sort of struck home with me, as I imagine it did to so many others, what with so many in this country addicted to white bread. Just look at Elvis. Can’t get enough of it. And he comes and goes as he pleases.”

Back in London, Humphreys went through a rough patch of a fortnight of rain and his pantry empty of white bread.

His publicist at the time wrote that Humphreys was suffering from severe depression after being refused entry into the US and hadn’t changed his waistcoat in days and his carnation had gone limp.

Fans who had turned up at the bakery in Manhattan, which specialized in Spotted Dick, to hear the author read from his memoir were devastated. One couple had flown all the way from their cocaine plantation in South America. Another woman bemoaned about her own worries of flying abroad now with white bread since he husband wouldn’t eat anything else. Another man in his late twenties freely admitted to purchasing questionable postcards, licking the stamps with relish, and then mailing the postcards off to prudish relatives.

Humphreys’ publishing house, which was now working out of an office on the train between Waterloo and Faversham, Kent, reported at the time that the whole scandal would no doubt spark even more interest in the book and probably get Humphreys banned from even more countries once other immigration officials began reading it in private.

After that incident the memoir begins to meander with a lot of time taken up with Humphreys’ battle with white bread, his subsequent arrest for soliciting it, and his shaky road to recovery in a convent.

The book does, however, end on a good note. For all his racketeering and rakish behavior, Humphreys admits it was purely for entertainment and that he had painfully divulged the details of his squalid and immoral existence purely to get more people to read.

Sorrell Humphrey passed away quietly in 1979 just as brown bread was reaching the height of popularity. He is survived by six sons and six daughters who now live in Nevada and openly practice polygamy and who occasionally still receive fan mail about their father from immigration workers.


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