Tag Archives: The Pickwick Papers

Tales from the Junior Lipstick: the F. of the S. — Part II

Back by popular demand, if a broad definition of the word popular is applied, Part II of my homage to P.G. Wodehouse, a Junior Lipstick Club story

The F. of the S.

Here’s Part I if you missed it.  

* * *

Eustacia Bellows and Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow (said Hilda Gudgeon) had been pals since childhood. When Stacey was nine she saved Cyril from drowning in the village pond, and when an impressionable young girl saves a chap from drowning, she naturally takes a proprietorial interest in his progress. When Cyril was lying-in with mumps, she read him Pickwick. In the holidays she took him for bracing walks and corrected his square cut.

They met again by chance in London last spring. Cyril had just stepped in front of an omnibus, and Stacey, who happened to be on hand, dashed into the road and pushed him aside.

When Cyril had finished gulping like a stranded goldfish, she deposited him in a neighbouring tea and bun shop and got to work on rekindling the friendship. For love had hit her, as surely as the number 37 omnibus hadn’t hit Cyril. Stacey could see the poor lamb was lost without her. It had been almost two years since they’d last met — how Cyril had managed to survive all that time in London without her was a mystery.

“Fancy running into you again, Pompy old pet,” said Stacey, opening proceedings with her trademark cheerfulness.

Cyril blinked like a bewildered rabbit. I don’t know what kind of shove she gave him, but Stacey was our school’s half-prop — Rosie Benger’s shoulder still gives her trouble after being on the receiving end of one of Stacey’s tackles. Given the choice between colliding with an omnibus or Stacey Bellows, I’m not sure I wouldn’t take my chances with the bus. I dare say Cyril, who was always on the delicate side, was feeling it.

“How’s the metrop treating you?”

“Fine, fine,” Cyril gurgled.

“You’re looking well,” said Stacey, proving the adage that love is blind, for Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow was not one of nature’s greatest hits. His closest friends might, after a good meal and some financial inducement, be persuaded to call him Byronic, but a consumptive Byron at best, with some sort of wasting sickness thrown in.

Cyril sniffed his tea.

“So, no secret troubles then?”

“Eh?”

“One merely wonders. Chaps don’t usually go about flinging themselves at omnibuses, you know. I suppose the odds are lower for poets. Some worm criticises your latest effort, and just as you’re pondering whether life is worth living, along comes the number 37. I expect it’s an occupational hazard.”

Cyril bristled –- or tried to. Weakened by his ordeal, Cyril’s bristling was on par with that of an existential hedgehog who has given up on life.

“The critics were very complimentary about my last volume.”

“Were they? That’s terrific! I’m dashed sorry I haven’t read it. The only thing of yours I’ve read is that collection you sent at Christmas. Something about butterflies, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s it. Where Doth the Moth?: Prose studies of the anthropomorphic condition.”

“And they liked it, you say?”

“One critic,” said Cyril proudly, “called it the most astonishing new work since The Tay Bridge Disaster.”

Well, love may be blind, but even love could not overlook the fact that Where Doth the Moth? contained some of the worst bilge ever flung at the poetry-loving public. To give you just one example:

Love, love, and thirst.

Fools endure like true honey.

Wishes flap!

Rotting hide.

Digestion is a torpid bride.

Hero holds the highest grape.

Bounder laps the rotting pool.

The flounder is a fool.

 

It goes on like that for another thirty-seven stanzas.

“I’m just putting the finishing touches on my next volume,” said Cyril. “I’ll send you a copy.”

“Please do.”

“And you’ll be invited to the wedding.”

“Is someone getting married?”

“I am,” said Cyril, brightening a little. “Angelica Blake has just agreed to marry me. I was on my way to speak to her father when you… err… ran into me. My mind was dwelling on Angelica’s tender face.”

“Your mind, such as it is, was very nearly dwelling all over Piccadilly Circus. I don’t like the sound of it. Are you sure this female is a good influence?”

“Angelica is my ideal,” said Cyril, filling himself with air. “She walks in beauty like the night…”

“So she’s a pippin,” said Stacey. “But is she fit to handle the business of being Mrs Pomfrey-Waddelow? The woman who marries you will need nerves of steel and the biceps of an all-in wrestler. Can she do the Australian crawl with one arm, and lug a kicking boy in the other — that’s what I want to know.”

Cyril shuddered. “I haven’t fallen in a pond in years.”

“No, you’ve moved on to omnibuses. What would this Blake female have done if she’d been the woman on the spot today?”

“Oh, Angelica,” said Cyril with feeling. “To see her beloved, as I hope I may now call myself, stricken before her eyes would haunt her delicate soul forever.”

“Sensitive girl, is she?”

“Naturally. She’s a poet too, you know. This afternoon, she’s reading her Sonnets of Sincerity to the Wimbledon Ladies Literary Society.”

Stacy was renown at school for her quick thinking, and her wits did not desert her at the crucial moment.

“I’d like to see that. A pal of mine is on the committee. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I buzzed down to Wimbledon and joined the festivities.”

“I wish I could join you,” said Cyril. “I have to catch Angelica’s father before he leaves for the country.” Cyril’s brow, by the despairing light of the tea-shop, wore an unearthly aspect. “She says she can’t marry me unless he gives his consent.”

“What? In these enlightened times?” asked Stacey, brightening.

“Her father is Sir Igneous Blake, the gravel magnate. He’s about eight feet tall and looks like Grendel on one of his bad days. He bullies poor Angelica terribly.”

“Well, don’t let him bully you, old thing. Make a good impression, and if he gives you any trouble, be firm.”

“I’m wearing my best suit,” said Cyril.

Stacey inspected Cyril’s costume. His morning coat was covered in dust and there was a hole in one trouser leg. His hat was intact, but it was a filthier, more misshapen hat than strictly fashionable. Cyril looked less like something the cat had dragged in, than something a discerning cat would give a wide berth to. It occurred to Stacey that a prospective father-in-law might feel the same way.

“On second thoughts,” said Cyril, “perhaps it can wait until I go down there on Friday.”

“Why put it off?” Said Stacey. “I’d do it now if I were you.”

“Do you really think so?”

“I do. Show old Pop Blake that an omnibus can’t keep a good Pomfrey-Waddelow down. Besides, you don’t want to keep a dear girl like Angelica waiting for an answer.”

“No. I suppose you’re right.”

“That’s settled then,” said Stacey. “Sit tight and finish your tea while I pop out and get you a taxicab.”

* * *

Continue to Part III

HP

Five more favourite writers of Wodehouse readers

In my last piece, I revealed the top top five authors Wodehouse lovers in the ‘Fans of P G Wodehouse’ Facebook community named as their favourites (when not reading Wodehouse). No doubt you’re itching to know who else our Plum chums love to read, so I’m here to share the next five most popular authors named. As these five were almost equally popular, I’ve listed them chronologically.

Charles Dickens (b. 1812)

‘She dotes on poetry, sir. She adores it; I may say that her whole soul and mind are wound up, and entwined with it. She has produced some delightful pieces, herself, sir. You may have met with her ‘Ode to an Expiring Frog,’ sir.” ‘

Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

pickwickclub_serial1Dickens has both fans and detractors among our Wodehouse loving fraternity. As someone who reads for escapist pleasure, I sympathise with those who avoid Dickens. It seems Wodehouse was not a fan either. In a 1954 letter to Denis Mackail, he asked: ‘Do you hate Dickens’s stuff? I can’t read it.’ (Sophie Ratcliffe, A Life in Letters)  And yet he must have done, because Dickens references have be spotted in the Wodehouse canon.

Take this example, from an early school story Tales of St. Austin’s (see ‘The Annotated Wodehouse’ for others):

‘Bradshaw,’ I said, as I reached page 103 without having read a line, ‘do you know any likely bits?’

Bradshaw looked up from his book. He was attempting to get a general idea of Thucydides’ style by reading Pickwick.

‘What?’ he said.

I obliged with a repetition of my remark.

‘Likely bits? Oh, you mean for the Thucydides. I don’t know. Mellish never sets the bits any decent ordinary individual would set. I should take my chance if I were you.’

‘What are you going to do?’

‘I’m going to read Pickwick. Thicksides doesn’t come within a mile of it.’

I thought so too.

Tales of St. Austin’s (1903)

The choice of ‘Pickwick’ is significant here; one can hardly imagine the boys reading  Bleak House or Barnaby Rudge with the same enthusiasm. Author Julie Berry suggests ‘Pickwick’ might have influenced Wodehouse more deeply. It’s a view I’m ill-qualified to judge without reading ‘Pickwick’ for myself, so I’ve acquired a copy and have added it to my reading list.

Saki (b. 1870)

“I’m living so far beyond my means that we may almost be said to be living apart.”

Saki (The Unbearable Bassington)

The stories of Hector Munro, written under the pen name Saki, are often cited as a favourite of Wodehouse readers, and if that’s not recommendation enough – Wodehouse himself was a fan. So too was the ever-reliable Christopher Hitchens:

‘At the age of 15, Noel Coward was staying in an English country house and found a copy of Beasts and Super-Beasts on a table: “I took it up to my bedroom, opened it casually and was unable to go to sleep until I had finished it.” I had a similar experience at about the same age, and I agree with Coward that H. H. Munro—or “Saki,” the author of the book in question—is among those few writers, inspirational when read at an early age, who definitely retain their magic when revisited decades later. I have the impression that Saki is not very much appreciated in the United States. Good. That means I can put into my debt many of you who are reading these words. Go and get an edition of this Edwardian master of the short story. Begin with, say, “Sredni Vashtar” or “The Lumber-Room” or “The Open Window.” Then see whether you can put the book down.’

Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic (2008)

I’ve not read any Saki, but I like what I’ve seen and plan to correct this at the earliest opportunity.

Richmal Crompton (b. 1890)

“ Readin’ all those books makes me wonder whether anyone ever dies natural.”

Richmal Crompton

An author I’m sorry to say I’d never heard of until last week (and must also add to my reading list), Richmal Crompton was a contemporary of Wodehouse, a prolific author of over eighty titles, best remembered for her Just William books. They are school stories, a genre Wodehouse started in, but moved away from. I’d love to know what he made of them. Crompton also wrote novels and short stories for adults. I look forward learning more about her and her writing.

R.K. Narayan (b.1906)

“The faint aroma of gum and calico that hangs about a library is as the fragrance of incense to me. I think the most beautiful sight is the gilt-edged backs of a row of books on a shelf. The alley between two well-stocked shelves in a hall fills me with the same delight as passing through a silent avenue of trees. The colour of a binding-cloth and its smooth texture gives me the same pleasure as touching a flower on its stalk. A good library hall has an atmosphere which elates. I have seen one or two University Libraries that have the same atmosphere as a chapel, with large windows, great trees outside, and glass doors sliding on noiseless hinges.”

R.K. Narayan

The choice of this Indian writer in an otherwise British ‘top ten’ line-up reflects, to some extent, Wodehouse’s large following in contemporary India. Although to be fair, R.K. Narayan is also highly regarded and deservedly popular outside his homeland. Narayan was also a Wodehouse fan, and a quick google search reveals scores of readers who are devoted readers of both – making Narayan another recommendation I’ll be adding to my list.

‘R. K. Narayan tells ordinary stories extraordinarily well… His Malgudi is like Hardy’s Wessex and P.G. Wodehouse’s Blanding (sic), far from the clamour and turmoil of urban settings, a place where life carries on at a leisurely pace and change is minimal.’

Rajdeep Bains in The Tribune, India (2004)

John Mortimer (b.1923)

“The main aim of education should be to send children out into the world with a reasonably sized anthology in their heads so that, while seated on the lavatory, waiting in doctor’s surgeries, on stationary trains or watching interviews with politicians, they have something interesting to think about.”

 John Mortimer

rumpoleThrough the medium of 1970s television,  I was acquainted with Leo McKern as Rumpole of the Bailey, long before I was old enough to read Mortimer’s original. Every Sunday night, the family would sit around my Grandmother’s colour television watching Rumpole and other British comedies of the era: The Two Ronnies, Dad’s Army, The Good Life, Are You Being Served. Whatever faint chance I had of understanding these shows at such a young age was wholly shattered by my inability (or anybody else’s) to hear anything above the hysterical noise emanating from my grandmother. It hardly mattered. Her frothing and squealing delighted and fascinated me far more than any television show could have done. As an adult, I’ve read most of John Mortimer’s books several times over. His wit, easy style, and nostalgic associations always make for a pleasurable read.

Until I started researching this piece however, I’d never associated Mortimer with Wodehouse, whom I discovered much later (that’s quite a story, by the way). So I was delighted to find John Mortimer was a great Wodehouse fan. Indeed, after Mortimer’s death in 2009, Edward Cazalet (Wodehouse’s grandson) said of him:

‘He never missed an opportunity of referring to “The Master”, as he called Plum when speaking to me, in terms of the highest admiration. He wrote a thorough and scholarly assessment of Wodehouse in The Best of Wodehouse (an Everyman Anthology), starting with the theme that “It is a serious fault in our approach to literature, that we do not take comedy seriously”. Then, taking comedy seriously, he went on to rank Wodehouse as one of the best writers of the first half of the 20th century.’

Edward Cazalet (in a piece for the P G Wodehouse Society)

I can certainly recommend Mortimer to fans of Wodehouse. UK-based fans can also listen to the new BBC radio adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Rumpole. He is not Leo McKern of course, but one can hardly blame a chap for that. He is also far too young for the part, but despite my misgivings I thought he was very good.

This completes our top ten. What do you think of it? Have you discovered anything new? I look forward to sharing a third and final instalment on ‘authors Wodehouse readers also read’  very soon.  Until then, happy reading!

HP

Next in this series: 50 authors Wodehouse readers love