Posted by: boromax | December 4, 2020

On “The Return of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N”

What follows is an excerpt from Leo Rosten’s “The Return of H*Y*M*A*N*  K*A*P*L*A*N,” pp. 55-57, published in 1959.

This volume is a sequel to “The Education of H*Y*M*A*N*  K*A*P*L*A*N,” which was published in 1938. The author explains in the Preface why it took twenty years for the second book about Kaplan to appear.

Hyman Kaplan is an immigrant to America and a repeat student in the beginners’ grade at the American Night Preparatory School for Adults, learning English.

His instructor is Mr. Parkhill. In the following paragraphs we are witnesses to Mr. Parkhill’s ruminations about how best to deal with Mr. Kaplan’s continuing presence in his classroom.

“That was yet another of the baffling characteristics that made Mr. Kaplan so difficult to contend with: his cavalier attitude to reality, which he seemed to think he could alter to suit himself. How else could one describe a man who identified the immortal Strauss waltz as “the Blue Daniel”? Or who, in recounting the tale of the cloak spread in the mud before Queen Elizabeth, insisted on crediting the gallantry to “Sir Walter Reilly”? Or who identified our first First Lady as “Mother Washington”? True, George Washington was the father of our country, but that did not make Martha the mother. It was all terribly frustrating.

“Every way Mr. Parkhill turned, he seemed to sink deeper and deeper into the Kaplan morass. If Mr. Kaplan could not be promoted, much less graduated, what could be done about him? Sometimes it looked to Mr. Parkhill as if Mr. Kaplan was deliberately trying to stay in the beginners’ grade for the rest of his (i.e., Mr. Parkhill’s) life. This thought had begun to bother Mr. Parkhill so much that he brought it up at the last faculty meeting.

“Right after Miss Schnepfe had reminded the staff to deposit their attendance reports in her office at the end of each week, Mr. Robinson asked if there were any other problems which ought to be brought to his attention. Mr. Parkhill had cleared his throat. “What is the school’s policy,” he inquired, “toward a student who may never pass the final examination in – er – one of the lower grades?” He would not soon forget the cold, granitelike mask into which Mr. Robinson’s features had composed themselves. (Few knew that under Mr. Robinson’s stern exterior seethed emotions that led men to end up as what Mr. Kaplan had once called “a nervous rag.”)

“That left Mr. Parkhill exactly where he had been before. What could be done about Hyman Kaplan? The man simply refused to learn. No, Mr. Parkhill promptly corrected himself: It was not that Mr. Kaplan refused to learn; what Mr. Kaplan refused to do was conform. That was an entirely different matter. Mr. Parkhill could get Mr. Kaplan to understand a rule – about spelling or diction or punctuation; what he did not seem able to do was get Mr. Kaplan to agree with it. (Modern cities, Mr. Kaplan averred, consist of streets, boulevards, and revenues.)

“Nor was that all. The laws of English, after all, have developed century after century, like the common law; and like the common law, they augment their authority precisely from the fact that men go on observing them, century after century. But Mr. Kaplan was not in the slightest impressed by precedent. He seemed to take the position that each rule of grammar, each canon of syntax, each convention of usage, no matter how ancient or how formidable, had to prove its case anew – to him. He seemed to make the whole English language start from scratch. (The plural of “sandwich,” he had once declaimed, is “delicatessen.”) Somewhere, somehow, Mr. Kaplan had gotten it into his head that to bend the knee to custom was but a hairsbreadth from bending the neck to slavery.

“And there was another perplexity. Whereas all the other students came to school in order to be instructed, Mr. Kaplan seemed to come in order to be consulted. It had taken a good deal of persuasion on Mr. Parkhill’s part, for instance, to convince Mr. Kaplan that there simply is no feminine form of “ghost.” If the feminine of “host” is “hostess,” Mr. Kaplan had observed, then surely the feminine of “ghost” should be “ghostess.”

“It was most trying. Not that Mr. Kaplan was an obstreperous student. On the contrary. Not one of Mr. Parkhill’s three hundred abecedarians had ever been more eager, more enthusiastic, more athirst and aflame for knowledge. The trouble was that Mr. Kaplan was so eager, so enthusiastic, so athirst and aflame that he managed to convert the classroom into a courtroom – a courtroom, moreover, in which the entire English language found itself put on the stand as defendant.”

This delightful book, which I happened upon in a thrift store, is a continuous fountain of surprises. The author uses separate dialectical forms of English for each of Mr. Parkhill’s students depending on their country of origin. It is simultaneously heartwarming, nostalgic, and amusing; no, it is downright funny.

I will undertake a search to find Leo Rosten’s first book about Mr. Kaplan so that I may have both books in my permanent collection!


Responses

  1. I love this so much: it was such a hoot to read; Mr. Kaplan and I would have got on well 🙂

    • I have no doubt of that, my friend. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it! This excerpt, as I’m sure you gather, is but a mere taste of the continuous and glorious garden of delights throughout the book.

  2. Hi Boromax,

    Out-of-the-box thinkers are not each to categorize. Fun and frustrating at the same time. But we love our creatives.

    Merry Christmas,

    Gary

    On Thu, Dec 3, 2020 at 4:08 PM ~ Trivial Music Silliness ~ wrote:

    > boromax posted: ” What follows is an excerpt from Leo Rosten’s “The Return > of H*Y*M*A*N* K*A*P*L*A*N,” pp. 55-57, published in 1959. This volume is a > sequel to “The Education of H*Y*M*A*N* K*A*P*L*A*N,” which was published > in 1938. The author explains in the Pre” >

    • Yes! Creativity and fun are team-mates. What’s not to love?

  3. Nice blog

  4. This was awesome! What a great book!! People do t write like this now, and I miss it!! Great find!!

    Thank you!!

    • You are welcome! And thank YOU!

  5. Thank you – I hadn’t realised there was a second book. I remember the first quite well, for all it must be forty years since I read it.

    • You are welcome, Frederick. I find the mid-century style and setting, and the aspect of immigrants learning English, and the comfortable humor very enjoyable.


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