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The Bab Ballads

Sir W. S. Gilbert

Book Overview: 

The Bab Ballads are a collection of light verse by W. S. Gilbert, illustrated with his own comic drawings. Gilbert wrote the Ballads before he became famous for his comic opera librettos with Arthur Sullivan. In writing the Bab Ballads, Gilbert developed his unique “topsy-turvy” style, where the humor was derived by setting up a ridiculous premise and working out its logical consequences, however absurd. The Ballads also reveal Gilbert’s cynical and satirical approach to humor. They became famous on their own, as well as being a source for plot elements, characters and songs that Gilbert would recycle in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. The Bab Ballads take their name from Gilbert’s childhood nickname, and he later began to sign his illustrations “Bab”.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Yet she heeded not their offers, but dismissed them with a blessing,
Then she let down all her back hair, which had taken long in dressing.

Then she had convulsive sobbings in her agitated throttle,
Then she wiped her pretty eyes and smelt her pretty smelling-bottle.

So I whispered,  “Dear ELVIRA, say,—what can the matter be with you?
Does anything you’ve eaten, darling POPSY, disagree with you?”

But spite of all I said, her sobs grew more and more distressing,
And she tore her pretty back hair, which had taken long in dressing.

Then she gazed upon the carpet, at the ceiling, then above me,
And she whispered, “FERDINANDO, do you really, really love me?”

“Love you?” said I, then I sighed, and then I gazed upon her sweetly—
For I think I do this sort of thing particularly neatly.

“Send me to the Arctic regions, or illimitable azure,
. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Goodreads says there are 25 editions, but I only have 5! To the bookstore!

It's lightweight and silly but it's good to speak nonsense in season.

Gilbert was the master of rhythm and excruciating rhyme, but without the context of the Savoy Opera plots and without the sublime music of Sir Arthur Sullivan, these verses are dated and somewhat pointless.

Research, for a person with wildly erratic OCD detective skills, leads interesting places. Not useful places, but entertaining places. Tracking down sheet music for a book project, I searched for difficult flute passages. Pineapple Poll by W. S. Gilbert was a piece that made me sweat. It's memorable

This is a very uneven work. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan) had a talent for rhyming. Not all rhymes are worthwhile. Most within this book are strange tales that leave one unfulfilled, having started with such promise. There are a few that are bear re-reading, but for the most part, seem nonsensic

Very variable in quality--the best of the "ballads" are very funny, while the worst are unbearably tedious or predictable. A couple might be viewed as racist in the current era, but they are generally more absurdist than anything else (e.g. the poem that involves a Jewish man's nose falling off and