Today’s post continues the Great Wodehouse Romances series, exploring The Adventures of Sally , courtesy of guest author Jon Brierley. If you missed the first instalment, you can catch up here.
The Adventures of Sally
A Romance (continued…)
All caught up? Spiffing. Let us consider our principals. Here comes Sally now – if we take up an unobtrusive position behind a newspaper we shall be able to observe her closely. Sally Nicholas is a young, cheerful, intelligent, attractive and sparky all-American girl of twenty-one, and feeling especially cheerful just now as she has just had a substantial inheritance. She will be able to wave farewell to the rather down at heel environs of Mrs. Meecher’s boarding house and get her own apartment, and with even more relief wave farewell to her dispiriting job as a taxi dancer at the Flower Garden dance hall.
Ah, I see a hand up. You doubtless wish to know what a taxi dancer is. No, it is not someone who dances in or on cabs, but a person employed by a dance hall to act as a partner to patrons of the hall who have neglected to bring a partner of their own. Mr. Wodehouse is at pains to tell us how nice an establishment the Flower Garden is, but I am sorry to have to relate that in real life such dance halls were usually covers for speakeasies – this being the reason why the patrons often didn’t take a partner, as they were principally there to neck the booze rather than dance. Furthermore, young ladies who acted as taxi dancers were often, um, well, let’s just say they didn’t make all their money from dancing.
But no such taint attaches itself to Sally; she is entirely clean and wholesome, and if she has a fault it is that she is too gallant. Sally is a naturally kind person, disposed to be friendly and helpful to everyone, and now that she has the wherewithal she is keen to spread a little happiness as she goes by. She is by no means an ingénue, however; she is capable and level-headed, and adept at managing the lives of those around her, when she gets the chance.
Alas, the ones best placed to benefit from her largesse and her management are the two men currently in her life, and neither of them really deserve it. Firstly, there is her older brother Fillmore; that’s him, lurking about over there, the portly chap with a rather self-satisfied expression. Fillmore is not an idiot, but he will get carried away. He can take a perfectly sound idea and build so many castles in the air on it that the thing collapses under its own weight. As, indeed, does Fillmore himself; when in funds, his food consumption increases prodigiously, and he is apt to wax not only fat but pompous. Sally encourages him to take up with the simple, but good-hearted, bit-part actress Gladys Winch, in the hopes she will provide a steadying influence on him. As she points out;
“And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”
The other man in Sally’s life is her fiancé, Gerald Foster, a playwright. Observe him carefully; he’s very good-looking, isn’t he? And I trust we all know that a handsome chap in a Wodehouse novel will, almost certainly, turn out to be a frightful rotter. Perspicacious Plumtopians will have also universally acknowledged the truth that whoever a Wodehouse protagonist is initially engaged to is hardly ever the spouse they end up with.
Which brings us to the two other men who will complicate Sally’s life during the course of this book. They are both English (as, indeed, is Gerald Foster) … our Sally seems to be irresistibly attractive to Englishmen. One wonders if Wodehouse was thinking of the fashion, prevalent in his youth, of hard-up members of the aristocracy making a bee-line for the nearest American heiress. The first son of Albion to consider goes by the name of Bruce Carmyle.
Mr. Carmyle (one could never call him Bruce) is stiff, and forever standing upon his dignity. Almost the first time we see him he is being haughty, not to say rude, with the waiter on a train. This is always a sign of somebody far too self-important for their own good, a fact Sally at once recognises. In consequence, despite being disposed to be friendly to one and all, she does not much like Mr. Carmyle. Alas, much to Sally’s chagrin, he likes her, and is prepared to go to some lengths to show it. It’s never quite clear why he feels like this, apart from Sally being exceedingly pretty; one feels that a stuffed shirt like Mr. Carmyle would want somebody altogether more meek and submissive as a love-interest.
Our third and final runner in the Sally Stakes is a cousin of the above, a red-head, and (of course) a chump. Lancelot Kemp doesn’t really follow the usual Wodehouse naming conventions; he really ought to be called Bill, or Jim, but he makes up for his dubious forename by being rather unimaginatively known as Ginger. He is of a type well-known to Wodehouse readers; athletic, kind-hearted, tongue-tied and not overly blessed with grey matter. His conversation is punctuated by interjections such as ‘I say,’ and ‘You know,’ and I’m not at all certain he doesn’t let fly a ‘What Ho!’ or two.
In life so far, Ginger has not been a success, and the Family (including Mr. Carmyle) despair of him. He had to forgo going up to Oxford due to a shortfall in the family finances, and every position the Family have found for him he has made a muff of, usually by speaking his mind to entirely the wrong person.
Ginger does have some talents, though – we first see him breaking up a dog-fight, very efficiently. This counts as a sort of Chekhov’s Pug, as it is as a dog breeder and trainer that he finally manages to shine. And, yes, it is Ginger who eventually wins Sally’s hand. But whilst he realises at once that Sally is his True Soul-mate, it takes Sally the whole book to come to the same conclusion. There wouldn’t be much of a story if she had been quicker off the mark, of course, but besides the exigencies of Plot and Narrative Convention it is interesting to examine the reasons why she eventually sees Ginger as her true life’s partner.
When Sally and Ginger first meet in Roville-sur-Mer, Ginger gets ‘friend-zoned’ (to use the modern parlance). Sally sees him not as a possible romantic interest but as a project, although her attempts to find him a steady job are no more successful than those of his Family. What eventually gets him out of the friend-zone and into Sally’s arms is the contrast between his behaviour toward Sally, and that of Messrs. Foster and Carmyle. Ginger is loyal, and faithful, willingly humps furniture around her new flat, and lends a sympathetic ear to her woes, but above all he is not pushy. He does not force his attentions on Sally (although he does pinch a photograph of her to moon over in private).
Carmyle, by contrast, is pushy, assertive, and inclined to treat Sally as his by divine right. He does not help Sally, or listen kindly to her troubles, and he certainly doesn’t lower himself to humping furniture about. Gerald Foster, meanwhile, is disloyal. He deserts Sally and marries actress Elsa Doland, and what is even more caddish, doesn’t even tell Sally – she finds out at second hand, after the fact. It is Ginger who conveys the news, and his tactful behaviour after discovering he has dropped a bombshell (he had no idea Sally was engaged to Gerald) earns him several Brownie points.
Ginger’s gentlemanly mien is further highlighted by the antics of brother Fillmore, who (despite the steadying hand of Gladys Winch) manages to lose all Sally’s money pursuing wild theatrical dreams. What little she has left she uses to fund Ginger (who does not know she has lost her fortune) in his dog breeding scheme. Dashed twice against the rocks of fate by unreliable men, Sally returns despondently to her old job in the dance hall, where she is sought out by the importunate and over-assertive Carmyle. Sally is at such a low ebb by this point that she dully accepts his proposal of marriage, believing it to be the only option left open to her.
But no sooner has she done so than Ginger suddenly hoves into view again. His kennels have proved to be a success, and, on finding out that Sally has used the last of her money to set him up, and now having the means to support her himself (always an important point for any male romantic lead in Wodehouse) he declares his love. The scales finally fall from Sally’s eyes (this is the habitual fate of scales in the last reel of a Wodehouse novel … he must have used up several snakes’ worth). But she believes it to be too late – she has already promised herself to Carmyle.
All seems lost, but then Gerald Foster, having been off-stage for most of the story, re-appears. The bounder had, it seems, only married Elsa Doland to further his play-writing career, and she had only married him to enhance her acting career. When neither career prospers, the shaky marriage breaks up. Foster now surfaces back at his flat, across the hall from Sally’s, full of self-pity and bootleg whisky.
I digress here to wax a little about one of the lesser perils of being a writer, even an amateur writer like your humble scribe. It does spoil your reading rather. One can’t just lie back and enjoy a good yarn; your inner editor is forever twitching aside the curtain that conceals the author, and poking at the machinery behind the scenes. This matter of Foster’s flat is just such a bit of business that makes the editor-writer long to reach into the book and correct things. The in-story (or Watsonian) reason given for Foster having a flat so conveniently close to Sally’s is that Elsa Doland, being a great friend of Sally, wanted to be as close to her as possible. This is a weak attempt to paper over an otherwise astonishing co-incidence, and isn’t convincing at all. Elsa Doland spends hardly any on-screen time with Sally, and is never actually seen at said flat. The real (or Doylist) reason, of course, is so that Wodehouse could get Foster on the spot for the penultimate scene in the book. It would be interesting to know if the weaksauce Watsonian excuse was actually present in the original serial episode in Collier’s, or whether it was a retcon when the story was worked up into a novel.
But as I said, I digress. We now return to our scheduled deconstruction.
Foster, drunk and maudlin, takes to smashing up his flat. Sally, despite feeling nothing but contempt for him, is habitually helpful to those in need and decides to clear up the mess. While she does this, she packs him off to her own flat, as she cannot stand the sight of him. Befuddled by drink, Foster goes to sleep there, and this sets up the final denouement. The following morning, Carmyle turns up at his fiancée’s flat, encounters a newly awoken Foster there, and jumps to the wrong conclusion. He had only discovered that Sally was working as a dancer (after proposing to her) the night before, and the idea that Sally might not be respectable enough for the Family has been eating away at him. The pompous ass. The compromising presence of Gerald Foster confirms these suspicions, and relieved to have an out, he promptly takes it.
Sally, suddenly freed, at once gets on the phone to Ginger. Ginger doesn’t care what his Family thinks, or whether Sally is ‘respectable’ or not. Ginger may be a chump, but in Wodehouse, chumps often come out on top.
Cut to final scene, a year later, somewhere out in the boondocks of Long Island. Sally and Ginger are ensconced in (presumably) wedded bliss, running an increasingly successful dog breeding and training business. Ginger is still a chump, but it doesn’t matter, because:
Sally got up and ruffled his red hair.
A Wodehouse hero can get no greater compliment from a girl than to have his hair ruffled.
Up next: Jon Brierley’s third and final instalment on The Adventures of Sally.