Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, February 1, 2022


"The Dancing Imps of the Wine" by "Angelo"  (Shang Andrews), from his collection The Dancing Imps of the Wine, 1880

I have been interested in checking out The Dancing Imps of the Wine for a number of years but it is a fairly rare book and, until recently, had not been available online.  I really knew nothing about the book except for its title and the fact that it contained eight short stories and fourteen "fables."  Now that I've read the book I can give it an overwhelming "meh."  The book is geared to younger readers. with a heavy interest in kindly fairies and kindly personifications of nature.  The most promising part of the book is the title story.

"The Dancing Imps of the Wine" is an anti-alcoholic screed where little of import happens.  We open with the narrator drinking wine out of a bottle and then feeling drowsy.  Then there was the sound of little feet pattering on the table.  Opening his eyes, he sees a number of little imps dancing all around them.  They are -- go figure --  the dancing imps of the wine, released from the bottle once the narrator had uncorked it.

These are not polite imps.  They pester and plague the narrator, getting in his hair, his clothes, his ears, and his nose.  They point to pictures on the wall and the pictures come alive stepping down from their frames into the room.  The chairs and tables grew legs and feet and heads, dancing around the room.   The room was filled with feathers.  The flowers on the carpet sprouted and grew.  The stripes on the wallpaper came down and wrapped themselves around his legs.  Chickens, ducks, geese, snakes, bees, horses, and other animals crowded to room and tormented the narrator.  A young girl pulled on his nose, a dog bit him, a horse kicked his shin, a bee stung him in the eye, a snake bit his lip, a tree fell on him and broke his leg, and the imps kept on kicking him.  Things were not looking good for our poor narrator.

Then, as expected, he was woken by a neighbor who had been aroused by the noises made while the narrator dreamed.  So...meh.

The last two paragraphs read:

"I tell you I can hardly believe my deliverance was real; and the dream so impressed me, that, from that hour, I foreswore wine and all its dancing imps.

"From that day I have never tasted it; and, my children, it would be well for you to follow my example; or else the imps may get into your head, and torture you as they did me; -- perhaps lead you into crime, even into murder, and so doom you forever."  [Emphasis mine.]

This is the type of story, and the type of book, that seems not to be written for children, but for an idealized depiction of what is felt children should be.  Even with a hundred forty-plus year gap between publication and today, I find it hard to imagine a kid over the age of four swallowing this sugar-coated guff.  Or, perhaps, I'm just a crank long out of touch with children.

"Angelo" was evidently a pseudonym for Shang Andrews, whom I gather was a writer and reporter in Chicago during the 1880s.  In addition to The Dancing Imps of the Wine, "Angelo" published at least one other fantasy, The Adventures of an Atom:  Its Autobiography by Itself.  Under his own name he published several books of more mature nature:  Cranky Ann, a Streetwalker:  A Story of Chicago in Chunks, The Queen of the Demi Monde:  Gay Life in Chicago, Wicked Nell:  A Gay Girl of the Town, Irish Molly, or, A Gambler's Fate:  The True Story of  Famous Chicago Tragedy, Sin in Silk and Chicago Underground, and Chicago After Dark.  It is also possible that he was a source for one of the songs in folklorist Vance Randolph's collection of erotic folk songs from the Nineteenth century, Blow the Man Down.  There is very little verifiable information on "Angelo"/Shang Andrews on the internet, so take this entire paragraph with a grain of salt.

1 comment:

  1. "The Dancing Imps of the Wine" is a great title! I love these off-beat stories you find!