I happened to be discussing the area with Mrs Malaprop yesterday and, of course, the conversation leapt, flea-like, to the Origin of the Name.
I asserted that it was to do with Napa Valley in California, where the wine comes from. I said that the name was obviously down to affluent, priapic couples changing nappies whilst sipping white wine.
Mrs Malaprop said that she had always assumed that it was to do with Happy Valley in Kenya, where the murders happen.
So today I set about investigating. It turns out that Mrs Malaprop was right and I was wrong, which I feel remains a moral victory for me.
The phrase, you see, is not English in origin. The first reference that I can find to London's Nappy Valley is from The Independent in 1997. But I discovered this in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1984:
Horror films soar in popularity during the school holidays. Children's films are most popular in Tuggeranong (known as Nappy Valley) and other far-flung suburbs which are the newest and have the youngest families.
Tuggeranong is a suburb of Canberra, so it would seem that Australia can claim the original Nappy Valley. However, in her riveting account of the 1984 general election campaign in New Zealand (not written till 1985) Josephine Grierson records her press officer warning her of victory:
"You'd better watch it you know or you may end up with three years of "Nappy Valley"! I've already heard you referred to as the "Pakuranga housewife".
Pakuranga is a suburb of Auckland. So parallel births of the name? Some strange antipodean synchronicity?
No. Just outside Auckland, a mere, 23 miles from the aforementioned Nappy Valley is a little place called Happy Valley. They make honey there. So it must be a pun on the name: the appy, not the nap.
In Australia it's a little farther, but the connection is still easy to make. You go from Canberra to Adelaide (both in the South East) and you have a well known suburb again called Happy Valley. So, though there may not be a Kenyan connection, I am satisfied that in both cases it's a pun on Happy Valley.
So where does Happy Valley come from? Perhaps it's just the twee imaginings of an optimistic settler. But I can get the phrase straight back to Dr Johnson, which makes me much happier.
Dr Johnson wrote Rasselas. It's about a prince (coincidentally called Rasselas) whose father decides to keep him away from the sins of society. So he is brought up in an impregnable valley where he is given all that he could possibly want other than knowledge of the world.
However... well here's the opening of the second chapter:
CHAPTER II--THE DISCONTENT OF RASSELAS IN THE HAPPY VALLEY.
Here the sons and daughters of Abyssinia lived only to know the soft vicissitudes of pleasure and repose...
I like to think that those distant settlers were thinking of Rasselas when they did their naming, if only because Rasselas has suffered an terrible, terrible fate. You see, it's a Very Good Book, but it's identical in concept and was published in the same year as Candide by Voltaire, which is an Absolutely Bloody Wonderful Book.
Candide is a book about a completely innocent young man who sets off on a world tour that allows for lots of satirical vignettes. Rasellas is a book about a completely innocent young man who sets off on a world tour that allows for lots of satirical vignettes. The result is that almost nobody bothers to read Rasselas. Even I have lost my copy and don't particularly care. I can't even recommend that you read it because Candide is better. A merely good book, like Rasellas, cannot compete.
Evelyn Waugh probably considered this. He once wrote a story called A House of Gentlefolks. It begins, like Rasselas and Candide, with a boy who has been kept completely away from the world until his eighteenth birthday being allowed out (with a guide) and setting off on a series of satirical vignettes. Except that he doesn't. They're about to set off on a world tour when, after only ten pages the narrator says:
It seems to me sometimes that Nature, like a lazy author, will round off abruptly into a short story what she obviously intended to be the opening of a novel.
And a lawyer arrives to take the boy back. For an ardent lover of early Waugh like me, that sentence is unutterably sad. I think that Waugh was thinking of the fate of Rasellas.
There was, though, a man called Isaac Brown Jr, who liked Johnson's book and called his son Rasselas Wilcox Brown, and Rasselas went to Pennsylvania and founded Rasselas PA.
Now you tell me.