Monthly Archives: May 2007

A novel approach: Something Fresh by PG Wodehouse (1915)

This is the first of the Blandings novels that Wodehouse published, and many of the characters in this book reappear in later ones. I listened to it on audio in the car, which was probably not the best place as its numerous absurdities and hilarious scenes were apt to disturb my concentration from the road. Those familiar with Jeeves and Wooster will be relieved to learn that Wodehouse is not a one note writer, but is able to conjure up a whole range of the most perfectly idiotic characters you could hope to meet. I doubt they were exaggerated.

The novel is at once is mystery and a romance, with intertwining plots mixing the two. Ashe Marston and Joan Valentine, the two protagonists and romantic interest are two young people both searching for a change of direction. Ashe is a hack writer of ghastly detective stories and Joan an actress. They are both attracted by an advertisement of a £1000 reward for the recovery of a stolen scarab, placed by that eminent collector of scarabs, the American tycoon J Preston Peters. The recovery of the scarab is a ticklish business. It has apparently been stolen by Mr Peters’ prospective father-in-law, the Earl of Emsworth. Disguised as servants, and in competition with each other, Ashe and Joan head down to Blandings Castle to effect the recovery.

A detailed analysis of the novel can be read here.

The wikipedia article is also good.

See also, Psmith in the City

For all that: A Man’s Man by Ian Hay (1910)

I came across this novel in a second hand book shop a couple of months ago, and decided to give it a go, as I’d previously enjoyed a couple of Hay’s novels.

The edition I have was published in 1916, and you can tell it was during the war from the quality of the paper, but the book was first published in1910. It is still in print in the US on a POD basis.

Like many of Hay’s novels, this is romance from the chap’s point of view. We meet our hero, Hughie Marrable while he is still at university before fast forwarding nearly ten years for the main part of the novel. It’s one of those tiresome stories where the hero and heroine meet as children or young people before getting together later on. In the university interlude, the heroine appears as a child of twelve, the ward of Hughie’s uncle. This uncle advises Hughie to bum around the world for ten years or so rather than settle into a career, and certainly not to get married until he comes home – women having a dreadful habit of pulling a chap down after all. For a romance there’s a disturbing amount this type of misogyny, mainly from the uncle who is similar to the male authority figure in Knight on Wheels. After numerous adventures, some of which are described, Hughie returns, with a taciturnly Presbyterian valet in tow whom I can’t help but feel is there for comic relief. He is older and perhaps wiser which is just as well as his uncle is now dead leaving him to manage the heroine, Joey’s fortune until she comes of age. Of course everyone suspects Hughie of being after her money. There is a rather entertaining interlude where we meet Joey’s sister-in law, a plebeian female who was, before her marriage, shock horror, a music hall actress. Hughie, of course behaves as the complete gentleman throughout, and is in danger of being nauseatingly too good to be true. There is a neat twist at the end, but I’m not giving anything away when I say all turns out well.

The novel is interesting as an example of social attitudes among the middle classes at this time; Hay was a popular author, and I think we can assume the milieu of his work reflects that of his readers. Hughie is described as being a good judge of character when it comes to men, but not of women; Joey is entirely uninterested in money until prompted by the rapacious female she shares a flat with. This character while professing an interest in things financial is of course, being female, utterly incompetent. Again, Joey has no interest in suffrage, a topical point Hay throws in.

Overall, it’s a good example of its type, but I won’t rush back to it.

See also:
A Frivolous Narrative
Struck Dumb
Ian Hay