Honeysuckle Cottage by Wodehouse: an antidote to Valentine slush and nonsense

He held rigid views on the art of the novel, and always maintained that an artist with a true reverence for his craft should not descend to goo-ey love stories, but should stick austerely to revolvers, cries in the night, missing papers, mysterious Chinamen, and dead bodies — with or without gash in throat.

From ‘Honeysuckle Cottage’

1927 Meet Mr. Mulliner mycopyThis firm opinion belongs to mystery writer James Rodman, a cousin of Mr Mulliner. But then he inherits Honeysuckle Cottage from his Aunt, the romance novelist Leila J. Pinckney , and her house begins to exert a sinister romantic influence over him.

First, he inserts an unwelcome female into the novel he is writing:  ‘…the most beautiful girl he had ever beheld. A veritable child of Faerie.’

James stared at the paper dumbly. He was utterly perplexed. He had not had the slightest intention of writing anything like this. To begin with, it was a rule with him, and one which he never broke, to allow no girls to appear in his stories. Sinister landladies, yes, and naturally any amount of adventuresses with foreign accents, but never under any pretext what may be broadly described as girls. A detective story, he maintained, should have no heroine. Heroines only held up the action and tried to flirt with the hero when he should have been busy looking for clues, and then went and let the villain kidnap them by some childishly simple trick.

It’s important (as always) not to attribute the views of the character to his creator — P. G. Wodehouse allowed plenty of girls in his stories, often as the central character.

The situation at Honeysuckle Cottage deteriorates further when a girl arrives:

She was an extraordinarily pretty girl. Very sweet and fragile she looked as she stood there under the honeysuckle with the breeze ruffling a tendril of golden hair that strayed from beneath her coquettish little hat. Her eyes were very big and very blue, her rose-tinted face becmingly flushed. All wasted on James though. He disliked all girls, and particularly the sweet, droopy type.

This sickly-sweet specimen of femininity is struck by a passing car and must be nursed back to health at Honeysuckle Cottage.

In some of his stories (Bachelors Anonymous being a notable example) Wodehouse often shows avowed bachelors the error of their ways — converting them to the kind of fellows who slap other fellows’ backs and urge them to marry. James Rodman is made of stern stuff, but he is sorely tested.

Now that the girl was well enough to leave her bed, she spent her time sitting in a chair on the sun-sprinkled porch, and James had to read to her — and poetry, at that; and not the jolly, wholesome sort of poetry the boys are turning out nowadays, either — good, honest stuff about sin and decaying corpses — but the old-fashioned kind with rhymes in it, dealing almost exclusively with love.

Tempted though I am to tell you what happens, this story’s too good to spoil for those of you who might not have read it. All I will say is that it makes excellent Valentine’s reading for anyone who shares James Rodman’s distaste for romantic slush.

One of the curses of being female is the assumption, made by almost everyone, that we are inherently wired to enjoy romance novels (and what passes for romantic comedy at the movies). Weak female characters, in need of a decent meal and a shot of gumption abound. Heroines are painfully self conscious or smugly self-reliant, always beautiful, with a tendency to take themselves far too seriously.

Happily, Wodehouse offers us a third way — where the romance can coexist with intelligence and humour.


20 thoughts on “Honeysuckle Cottage by Wodehouse: an antidote to Valentine slush and nonsense

  1. When we get weary of the V Day stuff which engulfs us at this time of the year, it is useful to remember that there are effective anti-dotes available. Thank you for coming up with this one!


    1. It’s a great story. I owe my rediscovery of it to George Simmers, who mentioned it a few weeks ago. I recalled the outline, but had forgotten, as my teeny brain is apt to do, how fine it is!


  2. ‘One of the curses of being female is the assumption, made by almost everyone, that we are inherently wired to enjoy romance novels…’

    Have you read the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer? She was writing in the same period as Wodehouse and is often witty in a similar vein. Her heroines are definitely not weak or gumption-less – I would recommend ‘Faro’s Daughter’ as a good starting point.

    Another interesting post. I really am spending far too much time on this site …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oohh , I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I read my first Heyer last year actually. I liked it, although I am not a huge fan of the genre, and definitely need to read another one.


      1. I dislike the genre as a whole, myself, but make an exception for Heyer because she writes so well and is historically accurate. I believe ‘An Infamous Army’ was actually required reading at Sandhurst, for quite some time, because the descriptions of the Battle of Waterloo, on which the (not very good) romantic plot is pasted, were so excellent.

        They had a rather nice paperback edition, a few years ago, with details from period paintings on the cover and a good, clear font.

        Which one did you read? – if you don’t mind my asking.


  3. Reblogged this on ashokbhatia and commented:
    Wodehouse has created a wide array of feminine characters. Some may be plain dumb. Some may be highly intelligent, aiming to elevate the intellectual leanings of their prospective mates. Others specialize in financial dealings. Some others are good at stealing. Quite a few have strong entrepreneurial instincts. Then we have sports enthusiasts and fitness freaks.

    Here is a delectable post which concludes, and rightly so, that in his characters, romance can coexist with intelligence and humour.


  4. As stated in this article, the character’s views are the characters, and in this case, the views are subject to ridicule. Wodehouse has many women in his stories and novels of varying stripe. Many are imposing, no-frills anti-sentimentalists. Before he committed himself as an all-out writer of thorough-going farces, Wodehouse’s novels, like Jill the Reckless and Uneasy Money, had no-nonsense but very appealing protagonists. Many of the female leads in the later farces retain this seriousness (Summer Moonshine, Quick Service).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have always felt that the one certain bit of Honeysuckle Cottage wherein Plum inserted himself was with the line: “No author who pulls down a steady twenty thousand pounds a year writes tripe.”


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