by P G Wodehouse
I needed to read a book published in 1916 for my Books on the Nightstand Book Bingo and it was surprisingly tough to find anything that appealed. But then this jumped out at me. It’s not a Jeeves and Wooster title but the style of writing is much the same. This leans more towards romantic comedy than skewering of the upper class, but there’s plenty of that too.
It’s the story of Lord Dawlish, or Bill, a lovable chap whose title came without a fortune but is happy working as secretary to a London club in exchange for free lodging and £400 a year, which is plenty enough to play all the golf he likes and give away a few shillings to every fellow with a sob story. Happy enough, that is, except for the fact that his fiancée, the beautiful but only moderately successful actress Claire, is determined that Bill must have more money before she will marry him.
“[Claire] scoffed at four hundred pounds a year. To hear her talk, you would have supposed that she had been brought up from the cradle to look on four hundred pounds a year as small change to be disposed of in tips and cab fares. That in itself would have been enough to sow doubts in Bill’s mind as to whether he had really got all the money that a reasonable man needed; and Claire saw to it that these doubts sprouted, by confining her conversation on the occasions of their meeting almost entirely to the great theme of money, with its minor sub-divisions of How to Get It, Why Don’t You Get It? and I’m Sick and Tired of Not Having It.”
Enter then, the convenient death of a stranger who left a fortune to Bill, only in unusual enough circumstances that the good-hearted Bill can’t just accept it, but must travel to America to see if he can’t find a way to make the whole situation a bit fairer. Which leads to all sorts of silliness and deceptions and misunderstandings, not to mention true love and…bee-keeping.
This was an easy read, but also an intelligent, sharply observed comedy. At times it was so screwball I could picture it as a 1930s film starring Cary Grant, but apparently the only film version is a silent one made in 1918. That’s a shame, it would make for a great script.
“He felt devilish fit. He would have liked to run a mile or two and jump a few gates. He wished five or six starving beggars would come along; it would be pleasant to give the poor blighters money. It was too much to expect at that time of night, of course, but it would be rather jolly if Jess Willard would roll up and try to pick a quarrel. He would show him something. He felt grand and strong and full of beans. What a ripping thing life was when you came to think of it.”
First published in the US in 1916 by D Appleton & Company.
This counts towards the Classics Club.
Source: Project Gutenberg.