Tag Archives: P G Wodehouse

PGW and the Romantic Novelist

Just over a week ago I asked an expert why     P G Wodehouse seemed so out of sympathy with the romantic novelist. Did he know one?

romantic novelist Barbara Cartland

This is where I should probably admit that I have a sneaky image of a young Barbara Cartland pursuing him. Well, PGW was a big name when he visited London in the 20s and she was a newbie author and playwright.

If they did meet,  I would put good money on him evaporating sharpish. He had perfected the technique. His family called it the Wodehouse Glide. But nobody I’ve come across has offered any evidence of Wodehouse encountering a romantic novelist in real life.

The expert said, quite rightly, that PGW was pretty brisk on the subject of all sorts of pretentiousness. And, anyway, PGW handed out as many knocks to male poets as he did to female novelists.

PGW, The Expert and The British Library

PGW, romantic novelistThe expert was Tony Ring, enthusiast, indefatigable researcher, co-founder of the Wodehouse Society and authority on all things Wodehouse.

Indeed, my opportunity to question him arose at a very jolly talk he gave to accompany the British Library’s current exhibition, to which he acted as adviser.

P G Wodehouse, the Man and his Work ends on 24 February, by the way. So if you fancy going, you’d better get a shimmy on.

As I must, myself, as a matter of fact. It has pages of ms with his own edits. Written or typed by PGW in person.

More Than One Romantic Novelist

There was a blooming of English romantic novelists in  Wodehouse short stories in the 20s. Indeed, one became a serial offender. But more of her later.

PGR Romantic Novelist Honeysuckle CottageFirst of the stand-alone authoresses was the seriously schmalzy Leila J Pinckney. She made herself felt from the grave in Honeysuckle Cottage. The Saturday Evening Post published it in the US in January, the Strand magazine in February 1925. It appears in Meet Mr Mulliner.

A blameless young writer of gumshoe crime inherits his romantic novelist aunt’s cosy nook and find that his plots, and even his prose, lurch into the saccharine under her incorporeal influence. Worse, real life follows suit.

“The damned funniest idea I’ve ever had,” PGW wrote. Many people, including the philosopher Wittgenstein, seem to agree.

PGW romantic novelist Lady WickhamThe second is Lady Wickham, the forceful mother of noted hell raiser, Bobbie Wickham. Lady W endeavours to woo an American publisher with a restful stay at her idyllic country seat. Mr Potter Takes a Rest Cure is one of PGW’s rare ironic titles.

Bobbie plots. The gods of farce preside. Poor Mr Potter leaves, a broken man. And Lady Wickham doesn’t get her publishing deal. Strand magazine took this one, too (February 1926), preceded by the US magazine Liberty in January. It is in the Blandings Castle and Elsewhere collection.

I remember weeping with laughter over it, as disaster piles upon disaster. The reader can even see the next one coming, as none pf the characters can, not even the impressively evil Bobbie. My ribs ached for hours afterwards.

ROMANTIC NOVELIST AT WORK

PGW romantic novelist, Short story Best SellerBut it was in another story from the Milliner stable that PGW plumbed the dark depths he imagined with dreadful precision — those of writing and of publishing and even of inspiring romantic fiction.

First published in Cosmopolitan in 1930, Best Seller is a terrible warning  on many fronts: the hollowness of fame, the crippling price of success, cultural delusions, writer’s block, deadlines… It’s all there.

Evangeline Pembury’s first novel, Parted Ways, against all expectations, knocks the in-house opposition at her publisher’s into a cocked hat. Therefore, neither publisher, nor her agent, nor the public can get enough of her. She has contracts and cash coming at her from all sides. And she sobs “like a lost soul.”

romantic novelist busy editing“But I can’t. I’ve been trying for weeks, and I can’t write anything.  And I shall never be able to write anything. I don’t want to write anything. I don’t know what to write about. I wish I were dead.”

Phew! From the heart, or what? I tell you, it sends chills up my spine just typing that.

romantic novelist reading aloudAnd PGW doesn’t just focus on the writer’s horrors. He has no pity for their husbands or partners either.

For the romantic novelist in question is the newly affianced wife of our hero, Egbert Mulliner. Inspired by his love — she quotes his proposal verbatim in her story — she has penned her first novel. And reads the whole thing aloud to him.  AAARGH!

He marvelled, as many a man has done before and will again, how women can do these things. Listening to “Parted Ways” made him, personally, feel as if he had suddenly lost his trousers while strolling along Piccadilly.

A HERO’S JOURNEY

Dirty draft mystery journeyEgbert Mulliner is a classical hero, no question. For he treads a dark path. And he starts off with an ingrained character flaw that clearly signals whence his Trials will come.

Everyone has his pet aversion. Some dislike slugs, others cockroaches. Egbert Mulliner disliked female novelists. 

Not serious, you may think. Not fatal.

Nor is it really blameworthy, either. Before our story opens he has avoided a nervous breakdown by a whisker. His employer sent him off to a specialist after Egbert was found at his desk with little flecks of foam about his mouth and muttering over and over again in a dull, toneless voice the words, ‘Aurelia McGoggin, she draws her inspiration from the scent of white lilies !'”

We certainly know the flaw which will trip him up, right from the start. And the story does not disappoint. Egbert falls for a cheerful girl who plays golf. He sees her squashing a wasp with a spoon. Egbert even asks her if she writes — novels/ short stories/ poems. No, none of them. All will be well. He proposes

Woman chained to her working deskBut, like every hero of myth Egbert Mulliner forgets the catch. He didn’t tell her about his flaw. And he didn’t ask  about the  future.

For that reason, as you have already seen, the worst comes to pass. Egbert faces his horrors. But just when he thinks that things can’t get worse, they do. Twice. He descends into the abyss and emerges a changed man, not for the better. Bitter and twisted with his ruined soul in chains about covers it.

But then… 

No, I won’t go on. One of the few virtues of the romantic novelist is not giving away other people’s surprise endings.

ROMANTIC NOVELIST SUPREME – ROSIE M. BANKS

The Inimitable Jeeves Rosie M first appears in a 1922 short story, Bingo and the Little Woman. PGW then integrates that prolonged anecdote into the episodic novel The Inimitable Jeeves. Thereafter, she drifts through 20 stories and more. Often she is somebody’s favourite author.

Many of her titles get a name check. Madeleine Bassett describes the plot of Mervyn Keene, Clubman to Bertie in, to him, excruciating detail. “I had always known in a sort of vague, general way that Mrs Bingo wrote the world’s worst tripe — Bingo generally changes the subject nervously if anyone mentions the little woman’s output — but I had never supposed her capable of bilge like this,” he tells us.

Rosie M Banks, Bingo readingInterestingly, her work makes an appearance before Ms Banks in person. Jeeves explains that her romantic novels make “light, attractive reading”. So he recommends the eponymous Bingo Little to read them to his tough egg of an uncle, to soften the latter’s heart. Bingo and the Little Woman is a joy.

The wondrous Fry and Laurie’s Jeeves and Wooster pretty much does it justice.

ROSIE M. BANKS AND REAL BOOKS

As is the wont of those minor characters who get too big for their boots, Rosie M Banks has got her foot over the threshold of the real world on at least two occasions so far.

Rosie M. Banks Navy NurseThe first was when a series of nurse romances, by Rosie M. Banks, including Navy Nurse, came out in 1959-1962. PGW had not written it. Nor had he imagined either the title or the story.

Dedicated PGW researchers (*scroll to page 13 on the linked article) discovered the author was one Alan Jackson. He, or his publisher, had written to for his PGW permission. PGW, much amused, agreed.

The second occurred when Random House invited readers to propose the best 100 novels ever. As one of the perpetrators has since confessed, inspired PGW fans succeeded in placing Rosie M. Banks’s Only A Factory Girl on that list. (Incidentally, a lovely article about remembering how to read for fun.) Eventually some joyless bureaucrat sussed out the conspiracy and disqualified her entry. But for a while…

ROSIE M. BANKS SPEAKS … to be continued next week

Sophie Weston Author

Sophie

More Blondes

More Blondes feet in fountainIn my post on Fictional Blondes I promised that there would be another piece on More Blondes with further consideration of the phenomenon in the works of Raymond Chandler and other 20th Century masters.

So here it is.

MORE BLONDES FROM CHANDLER

More Blondes The Long GoodbyeIn 1953, Chandler wrote what was possibly his masterpiece – The Long Goodbye. The narrator is again his honourable loner private eye, Phillip Marlowe. He still battles the forces of corruption, injustice and conflicted loyalties. He is as clever, wary and tough as usual. But he is not invincible  – and this time the police arrest him for murder.

But this is a darker book than its predecessors. It is full of damaged people. Two in particular must have been very close to what Chandler felt himself to be: the self-doubting alcoholic writer, Roger Wade, and a psychologically wounded war veteran.

And it is this book, heartfelt and dangerously close to home, in which Chandler/Marlowe has a substantial digression on blondes – and it’s not for fun. Continue reading

My First Library And What it Taught Me

writer's cat with booksThe fantastic experience of visiting the 250-year-old Leeds Library started me thinking about how my life has been marked out in libraries and, specifically, my first library. It was a small, very definitely a suburban sub-branch. But its great virtue was that it was at the end of the road. Ten minutes walk from home, tops!

And it had a visiting cat.

(No, not this one. This is my own TK. My own books too, come to think of it.)

Joining My First Library

Continue reading

Georgette Heyer Study Day

Georgette HeyerThis week I spent a day with Georgette Heyer. Billed as The Nonesuch Conference, this was at a hybrid gathering at London University, offering a selection of papers from accredited academics together with reader/writer participation from people labelled in the programme as independent scholars.

Clearly, and heartwarmingly, most of the speakers I heard were also fans.

Georgette Heyer regency invitationIt was preceded by a writing workshop the day before. And there was a Regency Soirée in the evening after the conference, which sounds like a lot of fun.

Sadly, I couldn’t make either of these events. For one thing I’m still convalescent. (My energy gives out unexpectedly, so I didn’t want to push it.) For another, the programme was really full. Academics seemed to be supercharged, cheerily steaming from session to session, enthusiasm still at white heat.

When I read my notes I was astonished at the sheer volume of ideas I had noted down for further consideration. Continue reading

First Person Narrative and Reader Resistance

The first thing my agent ever said to me was, “Readers hate first person narrative.” I had sent her a thrilling escape-from-the-bad-guys romantic suspense set in Greece under the Colonels. And, yes, it was told in the first person.

Still she’d read the thing. And then taken me to lunch.

So I nodded politely and murmured that it seemed to have worked all right for Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, P G Wodehouse and Mary Stewart.

“Yes, but they’re great,” she said impatiently.

I couldn’t deny it.

“What you need to do is forget all this ‘I think, I feel’ stuff. Readers won’t buy it. Concentrate on what people DO.” Continue reading

Day 10 of 12 Days of Christmas : 10 Lords a-Leaping & Wimsey

Day 10 lordsBy Day 10, the deranged True Love is sending along an almost football team of male aristocrats engaged in unlikely gymnastics. Were I the recipient I would go away pretty sharpish, not leaving a forwarding address.

The British 1970s Christmas stamp depicting these Lords (and yesterday’s Ladies) is chilling. At least, I think so. Continue reading

Sloppy Genre Novels, a Reader’s Perspective

sloppy genre novels NY Times Book reviewIn a recent piece in the New York Times Book Review a well known British novelist is scathing about what she calls “sloppy genre novels”.

I’m currently in Reader Mode. (I’m editing. That always sends me to reading for consolation.) Writerly reaction will have to wait.

But Facebook has shown me that several genre novelists have raised an eyebrow at this apparent attack.

The phrase is racy and moderately memorable. Memorable enough to make it into the puff paragraph, anyway. It is, alas, imprecise. Continue reading

Repel the Night Tigers, Despatch from London

Hayley Mills repels night tigerThis blog is about ways I’ve found to repel the night tigers we’re facing in the UK right now.

Do you remember Pollyanna? She was the irritating kid who played the Glad Game, no matter how dire things were. When she wanted a doll but got crutches from a Christmas present Lucky Dip, her father told her to be glad she didn’t need them. What would he say about night tigers?

It’s been a bad time. Angry young men killing people, claiming the justification of their faith. Politicians politicking pointlessly but with some nasty campaign tactics. Horrible racist backlash in places. Furious partisan insults on social media. Vile.

Yet there are good people and great things in the world and some seriously funny ones, too. I’m hugging them close. Here’s how. Continue reading

dedicated to the one I love

Dedicating to the One You Love – or Are You?

 

Trumpets dedicating

Dedicating a book to someone is powerful. It’s an announcement with trumpets.

We’ve all read the thanks that go on for several pages. They embrace everyone from the author’s family, agent and editor, to anyone who gave them help with research or did the typing.

Justified? Probably. Sincere? Mostly. But a dedication? No. Continue reading

Serendipitous Discovery — Just By Chance?

Horace Walpole coined serendipity and serendipitousLike serendipitous, serendipity is one of my favourite words, both for its sound and its meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

And, like Brexiteer, post-truth and quidditch, it was a coinage. On this occasion the person responsible was gossipy Horace Walpole — another of my favourites. He was extrapolating from the now largely forgotten Persian fairy tale of the Three Princes of Serendip.

A present from the Universe, in fact!

Serendipity and Discovery

You could say that Columbus’s discovery of America was serendipitous. He was looking for a western route to Japan, after all. Continue reading