The Purloined Paperweight/Company for Henry

mar-11The Den(ver) of the Secret Nine next meets at 12:30 pm Sunday, March 11, at Pints Pub in downtown Denver to discuss a Wodehouse novel that had many of us scratching our heads trying to place it. Newest member Jennie offers us discussion notes that will set a new bar for these monographs:

Notes on a late yet delightful entry into the Wodehouse canon.

Company for Henry was first published in the UK on 26 October 1967 by Herbert Jenkins, London, printed by Northumberland Press Ltd., with dustwrapper by illustrator Osbert Lancaster, CBE.

It was retitled The Purloined Paperweight for the U.S. publication on 12 May 1967 by Simon & Schuster, New York. Two later American editions were published by The Paperweight Press of Santa Cruz, CA, in 1986 and 1989.

paperweight01Although judging a book by its cover is generally frowned upon, can the same be said of judging a book by its title? One afternoon at our friendly fine used bookstore, The Hermitage Bookshop, I was looking for books by P. G. Wodehouse that don’t yet occupy my own bookshelves (admittedly, there are many) when I happened upon a 1986 edition of The Purloined Paperweight. I snapped it up. To be honest, I did not find the cover particularly attractive; it was a photographic image of a gloved hand slipping a glass paperweight into a coat pocket, and it had an air of 1986 aesthetic à la the Angela Lansbury television series Murder, She Wrote.

The title, however, did appeal to me. Who could pass up a “purloined” anything in the Wodehouse canon? Surely I was in for a good–if tea-cozy–mystery. I was also in a mood for metatextual books and deemed Wodehouse on paperweights most relevant. Even better, the publisher was clearly interested in some form of self-referential indulgence I found charming. And the fact that the plot had something to do with eighteenth-century French paperweights clinched things; for too long I’d neglected my university degree in eighteenth-century literature and material culture. The Purloined Paperweight was just the ticket.

paperweight02I might have picked up a copy of Company for Henry but not with the same eagerness with which I paid for The Purloined Paperweight. Titles matter. Covers also matter. The degree to which one might supersede the other depends on many factors. Certainly the original Company for Henry cover by Lancaster is much more artful than that of The Purloined Paperweight; however, need I repeat? “Purloined”! An underused word in titles if there ever was one. A quick Google search turns up just two remotely relevant titles: Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Purloined Letter” (1844) and Mark Twain’s unfinished children’s book The Purloining of Prince Oleomargerine (2017, completed from his notes).

How important can titles be? In my case The Purloined Paperweight led me to a reading quite different from what I expect I would have found if I had read Company for Henry. A book called Company for Henry would have inclined me to focus on the acquaintances and travails of Henry Paradene, the unfortunate owner of Ashby Hall. It would have been a tale illuminating the truth of our erstwhile narrator’s declaration, “Some men are born to country houses, some achieve country houses, others have country houses thrust upon them. It was to this last section that Henry belonged” (33).

Instead, I read The Purloined Paperweight for the delights of criminality and the intrigue of an item I had never paid much attention to: the paperweight. The lovely characters move around this object of desire in their prescribed dance of squabbles, amours, and mistaken identity. The purloining of the paperweight preoccupied me throughout. But this is less inappropriate to a Wodehouse tale than one might think. “In fact,” as Isaac Asimov points out in his Foreword to Wodehouse on Crime (1981), “when one stops to think of it, there is rarely a story in the entire Wodehouse opera which doesn’t feature crime” (xiii). The Purloined Paperweight is peppered with mysterious and criminal elements: references to Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie; Jane’s fondness for “novels of suspense” (52), particularly the recently published Deadly Ernest; and Bill’s owning up to being Deadly Ernest‘s author.

Following up on Asimov’s Foreword, in his Preface to Wodehouse on Crime, D. R. Benson addresses “the question of why this amiable and blameless man [Wodehouse] chose to steep his works in crime.” “[The] two main influences were, one directly and one indirectly, literary” and can be traced to Wodehouse’s youth: his devoted reading of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories in The Strand and his attendance at Dulwich College. Benson’s characterization of this “indirect” literary influence is best imbibed in his own words:

“The second–the indirect–influence is that of Dr. Thomas Arnold who was, if not the actual inventor, the chief propagandist, of the English public-school system. . . . [One] of the many offshoots of his ideas was Dulwich College, which Wodehouse attended. These institutions, ostensibly intended to provide military, political academic, commercial and clerical leaders for the late-Victorian Empre, were in fact remarkably similar to well-run minimum-security prisons of the present day and afforded their inmates a sound education in guerrilla warfare on authority and in circumvention of any and all rules.” (xvi)

“No one exposed from his tenderest years to these malign forces could expect to escape them entirely,” Benson observes. “It is to Wodehouse’s credit that, though proceeding directly from Dulwich to employment in a London bank, he did not use his honed criminal skills to become an embezzler or a loan officer, let alone to seek wider employment for them by standing for Parliament or embarking upon a military or mercantile career” (xvii).

We thus have The Purloined Paperweight (or Company for Henry) before us. It is a brief book, but happily at the time he was drafting Company for Henry, biographer Robert McCrum notes, Wodehouse “still had his standards,” writing to a friend that the new book “will definitely be a novelette . . . . I don’t want to spoil it by padding it” (qtd. in McCrum 409). Happily, too, the purloining of the paperweight is a crime orchestrated by well-intentioned and good-hearted characters, and in the end no one is the worse for it. In fact, as Algy contentedly admits at the end, “The world . . . was not such a bad place after all. True, it contained pipsqueaks who treated their brothers with sickening disrespect, but it also contained splendid men, quick on the draw with their checkbooks, like Wendell Stickney. It all sort of evened up . . . “ (188).

Wendell Stickney is Henry Paradene’s distant American cousin. His collector’s enthusiasm for eighteenth-century French paperweights prompts the happy ending, though achieving a successful purloining is more complicated than one might expect. Stickney’s obsession is supported by a healthy bank account, as is his saving of Ashby Hall and Henry’s peace of mind.

Wodehouse has established a singular understanding of collectors and the collecting spirit as we saw during the auction scene in The Indiscretions of Archie (1921). For Stickney,

[It] was the old, old story. A man tells himself that he can take French eighteenth-century paperweights or leave them alone, but comes a moment when he finds that he is hooked. Such a moment had long since come to Wendell. Nowadays he did not even try to resist the craving. French eighteenth-century paperweights were in his blood. He could not see one or even read about one without coveting it. (41)

Stickney regularly peruses auction catalogs. We first meet him engaged with a Sotheby’s pamphlet, lingering over an announcement “offering for sale a French eighteenth-century paperweight”:

  1. clichy double overlay weight, turquoise, enclosing a well-formed mushroom, purple and white striped exterior, three concentric rows of pink, blue and green hollow canes, centered by a pink rose within a ring of white stardust canes, the sides cut with five circular windows and the top flattened by a large window, star-cut base. (40)

Stickney attains this fascinating object prior to leaving New York to visit Henry. Having outlined the esoterica of such objects so carefully, Wodehouse simply says of the one residing at Ashby Hall that Henry’s ancestor, “The Beau,” “brought it back from the grand tour in eighteen hundred and something. . . . It’s up in the picture gallery with the other heirlooms” (53). The lack of a more detailed description might suggest that all eighteenth-century French paperweights are the same. And from a distance one might be forgiven thinking so, but the same might be said of Wodehousian novels. Up close, however, each is exquisite in its own right.

In his Introduction to The Paperweight Press Edition paperweight authority extraordinaire Lawrence H. Selman writes,

Wodehouse mistakenly describes paperweights as eighteenth-century art objects. Actually these glass pieces were first made in the nineteenth century. The highly desirable weights Wodehouse refers to in his book were produced in France during a short twenty-year period from about 1840 to 1860. During this time three glass factories in France–Saint Louis, Baccarat and Clichy–produced most of the paperweights considered collectors’ items today.

paperweight03Selman, according to David McDonough, “seems to be to the paperweight world what Gussie Fink-Nottle is to newts” (qtd. in Ratcliffe 13). Selman certainly knows his subject; L. H. Selman Ltd., Fine Glass Paperweights, Est. 1969, continues today as the purveyor of antique glass paperweights to the world. A recent listing found on Selman’s Pinterest page (a board titled “Antique Millefiori Glass Paperweights”) reads very like that of Stickney’s announcement 109: “Outstanding antique Clichy faceted royal blue double overlay concentric mushroom with central rose paperweight.” The accompanying image offers a good idea of the paperweight Stickney simply had to have.

One-time Oldest Member a.k.a Editor-in-Chief of The Wodehouse Society’s Plum Lines, Ed Ratcliffe in 1998 added to the tale of The Purloined Paperweight “what we ace reporters refer to as a personal angle” (13). After acquiring a copy of the book he sought out Selman’s shop of “trifling wares” in Santa Cruz, California, but the proprietor was not in. “Sometime later, looking for a mailing service for Plum Lines, [Ratcliffe] approached the office of Complete Mailing Service in Santa Cruz.” This he discovered was also owned by Lawrence H. Selman, who, owing to the shipping demands of his business, “had set up a separate mailing operation and later opened it to all comers. Well, dear hearts, we are one (or many) of those comers,” Ratcliffe concluded, addressing the loyal readers of The Wodehouse Society newsletter, “and Lawrence H. Selman, at some remove, has been mailing Plum Lines for four years” (13).

In the end, however, was Wodehouse playing a joke on the reader in his elevation of eighteenth-century French paperweights? I suspect so. Or, at any rate, I think he was aware of the facts. The great frenzy of antique paperweight collection rekindled in the 1950s surely was well underway in the 1960s when L. H. Selman Ltd. was being established and Wodehouse was composing The Purloined Paperweight. To ascribe a classic French paperweight from one of the great manufacturing centers to a century prior almost seems an act of imposing greater antiquity and desirability upon it. An excellent example of, say, a Clichy paperweight presents a simply exquisite and breathtaking moment of beauty and art that defies time. It is anachronistic in a way that the world of The Purloined Paperweight is anachronistic.

Published in 1967, The Purloined Paperweight reflects not the events of its time, the Vietnam War, the space race, and in the U.S. the Supreme Court’s ruling against state bans on interracial marriage. Instead, in his gentle and inimical way, Wodehouse gives us once more a portrait of a world frozen in time, perfect, amusing, even sweet. And we are the better for it.

Jennie MacDonald


Page references to The Purloined Paperweight are to The Paperweight Press edition of 1986.

The Russian Wodehouse Society offers a helpful synopsis and list of characters as well as images of the bookcovers for Company for Henry and The Purloined Paperweight on its website at

You can take a look at L. H. Selman Ltd.’s blog post featuring commentary on The Purloined Paperweight. It includes an image that suggests the paperweight featured on the 1986 bookcover was part of the company collection/inventory. It is very different from the one listed in Stickney’s Sotheby’s pamphlet, but this one represents the paperweight at Ashby Hall, which is never described:

For fascinating information on the history of paperweights and how they are made take a look at this video from the Corning Museum of Glass (about 45 minutes):

Works Cited

Asimov, Isaac. Foreword. Wodehouse on Crime: A Dozen Tales of Fiendish Cunning. New York: Dorset Press, 1992. vix-xiii.

Bensen, D. R., ed. Preface. Wodehouse on Crime: A Dozen Tales of Fiendish Cunning. New York: Dorset Press, 1992. xv-xvii.

McCrum, Robert. Wodehouse: A Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004.

Ratcliffe, Ed. “Paperweights.” Plum Lines. Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring 1998): 13.

Selman, Lawrence H. Introduction to the Paperweight Press Edition. Wodehouse, P. (Pelham) G. (Grenville). The Purloined Paperweight. Santa Cruz: Paperweight Press, 1986.

Wodehouse, P. (Pelham) G. (Grenville). The Purloined Paperweight. Santa Cruz: Paperweight Press, 1986.


The Indiscretions of Archie

indiscretions-of-archieOur next meeting is at 12:30 pm Sunday, Jan. 14 at Pints Pub in Denver and we’ll be discussing Wodehouse’s The Indiscretions of Archie. (It’s practically a one-off with no connection to the rest of Plum’s work, except that the Hotel Cosmopolis is mentioned in at least one of the early New York novels.)

When I first “read” Indiscretions of Archie as an audio book from Librivox, I simply enjoyed it without giving it any greater thought.
At first glance it’s a simple story about Archie Moffam (prounouned “Moom”), a clueless Englishman of no special distinction who, by a turn of events that happened before the start of the story, has married the daughter of a New York hotel magnate.

jan-14Mr. Daniel Brewster, the owner of the Hotel Cosmopolis, can’t stand the sight of Archie, but he does allow Archie to live rent free at the hotel. Because of his wife’s many social demands, he’s often on his own and to propel the plot he tries to impress his father by finding some sort of employment.

Archie is a demobbed (demobilized) soldier, a lieutenant who served during World War I for close to five years, meaning he must have been one of the earliest volunteers. I’m not sure of what actions he was involved, but he does mention St. Mihiel, which was an American offensive in September 1918, and Armentières, and the Battle of Armentières was fought in October 1914. Archie also makes several mentions of “going over the top” and “the recent unpleasantness in France” and fighting in the trenches, so we know he saw action.

Except for survival skills, Archie has no practical skills and his various schemes to find a job, help out a friend, buy his wife a present or do good for his father-in-law either succeed or fail in more or less equal measure (he usually fails at doing his father-in-law some good). Each of these adventures was previously a magazine article and then collected as The Indiscretions of Archie, making this an uneven tale if you view this as a novel.

Like Bertie Wooster, many of Archie’s predicaments are launched by his desire to help out a friend and I think I can see a lot of Bertie’s good nature in Archie. Although like Bertie, Archie is mentally negligible, I’m happy that Archie’s wife Lucille considers him clever, due to the fact that he eats a lot of fish. I was certainly impressed with Archie calling one of his schemes “what Maeterlinck would call a lallapaloosa.” I had to look up look the Belgian playwright.

While re-reading this story for the Den, I was really impressed by what I perceive as Wodehouse’s attempt to show respect for those who served in the Great War. I disagree with one blogger who thought Wodehouse was “heartless” in his portrayal of Archie and especially the “sausage chappie,” an American soldier who suffered from shell-shock amnesia. I think the blogger forgot that Wodehouse and his characters would never get lachrymose about the horrors of war. Everything has to be filtered through an attempt to make light about even the worst of humanity.

In all, I enjoyed re-reading Indiscretions and I am forever enriched for having encountered the name Spectatia Huskisson a second time. It hit me with as much of a wallop as it did the first time. These early New York stories are just so different from the mature Wodehouse and relatively free of the tropes, although I did find Plum’s favorite Browning quote, a Sir Philip Sidney reference, a linnet and a future sort of reference to Milady’s Boudoir.

The Man with Two Left Feet

themanwithtwoleftfeetMember Janette has contributed the notes for our next meeting, Sunday Sept. 10 at 12:30 pm at Pints Pub. We’ll be discussing the early Wodehouse collection The Man with Two Left Feet.

Some notes on The Man with Two Left Feet

  • First appearance of Jeeves and Wooster
  • All stories previously published in magazines: The Strand, Red Book and Saturday Evening Post, The Century, Argosy and Pearson’s, McClures and Ainslee’s.
  • Wilton’s Holiday, Crowned Heads and The Mixer I and II were omitted from the US edition and replaced with Absent Treatment, Rallying Around Old George and Doing Clarence a Bit of Good, all featuring Reggie Pepper (early Bertie­ esque) and also in My Man Jeeves.
  • Check out for a comprehensive list of all publication of short stories, themes, dates etc. Amazing.
  • There is a first British edition published by Methuen Books for sale on for $70,000. It is the only copy 1st/1st available on the site. The true first was issued with orange boards (not blue, as later issues) and was accidentally priced at 5/ instead of 6/ (I am guessing that means shillings, which would have made the book cost a little under half a pound, 1917 prices). The seller of the $70K copy thinks that there are only two copies still in existence priced at the 5 shilling amount, and his is one of them.
  • The opening paragraph slightly misquotes an 1890 song by M.F. Carey. The original lyric of the song that inspired the title story is:

Clarence McFadden he wanted to waltz,

But his feet wasn’t gaited that way.

So he saw a professor and stated his case

And said he was willing to pay.

The professor looked down in alarm at his feet

As he viewed their enormous expanse,

And he tacked on a five to his regular price

For learning McFadden to dance.


pat-haugaardOur first parting

Sadly our group has lost its first member and the Secret Nine has been diminished. Pat Haugaard died Aug. 5 in hospice after a mercifully brief decline. Right now her estate is still being figured out and it might be some time before a service is set, but I’ll keep everyone informed. I miss her very much. She’s no doubt asking for coffee, black, no sugar, at the Angler’s Rest.

Next up: The Man with Two Left Feet

sep-10themanwithtwoleftfeetAt the next meeting of The Den(ver) of the Secret Nine, we’ll be discussing P.G. Wodehouse’s 1917 short story collection The Man with Two Left Feet, which includes the short story Extricating Young Gussie, the first introduction of characters Bertie, Jeeves and Aunt Agatha … sort of. The collection is available at both Project Gutenberg and Librivox.

The next meeting will be at 12:30 pm Sunday, Sept. 10 at Pints Pub in Denver.

Third, not quite annual cricket match


Please join The Den(ver) of the Secret Nine, Doctor Watson’s Neglected Patients and the Jane Austen Society of North America at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27* on the cricket pitch at Cornerstone Park in Littleton to watch the Fort Collins Cricket Club vs the Littleton CC.

For more information, email or call 303-377-6445

Water, tea (hot and cold) and lemonade will be provided as well as some shade. Please bring cookies, scones, veggies, cheese and finger sandwiches, either to greedily consume yourself or to share with others. You might also want to bring something to sit on.
There is a nearby restroom. Please, no alcohol. Plenty of parking.

*The match begins at 2 p.m. Games last about three hours with a break in the middle.

The Adventures of Sally discussion questions

Member Joice contributes these questions for our discussion:

  • Where was The Adventures of Sally first published, and in how many installments?
  • Where was it published and in how many installments the following year?
  • The book has been described as jerky and choppy, and it’s said (Plum Sauce) that several short story themes are untidily connected, leading to a scrambling of loose ends that then must be tied together at the end. Is this/how is this different from Wodehouse’s other books?
  • How much did Sally actually inherit? how much did her friends think she inherited?
  • Who was the older gentleman at the boarding house of whom Sally was very fond? Where did he end up after he left there?
  • What appeal does Jerry Foster have for Sally?
  • Who does Jerry marry? How does Sally find out?
  • What are Gladys Winch’s redeeming qualities?
  • What happens to Fillmore after he gets married?
  • On the beach at Roville, the terrier is said to have tried to “fletcherize” the poodle—to what does “fletcherize” refer?
  • Who had fired Ginger just before he went to Roville?
  • Who is the head of “the Family”?
  • What is Ginger’s real name?
  • What business was Ginger’s father in before he “failed”?
  • What sport did Ginger play at Cambridge and what was his position?
  • Bloomingdale is not a department store—what is it?
  • What sport does Ginger later take up to make some money?
  • What kind of animal do Sally and Ginger bond over at the beginning and return to at the end?
  • What business does Fillmore go into when he gets out of show business and what is his specialty?

Some of my favorite quotes:

“Lower your voice!” “He can’t. He’s a tenor.”

“I made you what you are today—I’m hope I’m satisfied.”

“Lion in a den of Daniels”

The Adventures of Sally; similarities with Jane Austen

At the next meeting of The Den(ver) of the Secret Nine—at 12:30 pm Sunday, July 9 at Pints Pub in Denver—we’ll discuss P.G. Wodehouse’s 1922 novel The Adventures of Sally. As an aid to discussion, here’s a synopsis of the story and some observations about the story.


TheAdventuresOfSallySally and Fillmore Nicholas were orphaned at an early age and raised by an uncle who was also trustee of their fortune. A falling out after Fillmore was expelled from Harvard meant they both left their uncle’s home and had to survive on their own until they came into their inheritances. They lived in a New York boarding house where Sally’s good nature was evident to all. Fillmore survived as an assistant stage manager and Sally as a taxi dancer at a dance palace.

Now comparatively wealthy after receiving his inheritance at age 25, Fillmore invests his money in a play written by Sally’s fiancée, Gerald Foster. Sally is more cautious with her money when she inherits at age 21, but does decide to spend some of it on a vacation in France, including that favorite fictional Wodehouse beach resort Roville-sur-Mer. There she meets Lancelot “Ginger” Kemp and his cousin Bruce Carmyle.

Ginger is the black sheep of “the family,” having recently been let go as secretary to one Scrymgeour, an up-and-coming member of parliament. This Scrymgeour made the mistake of “disciplining” his dog with a walking stick, which Ginger promptly broke into pieces, accompanied with the tongue lashing. The family, which would like to see Ginger become someone in politics or business, wants Ginger to apologize to Scrymgeour.

Ginger explains all this in a meet cute when he and Sally are trapped in an elevator. Sally is incensed that Ginger kowtows to the family and several times tells him “Death to the family!” This inspires Ginger so much that he falls in love with Sally, asks her to marry him and later defies the family (aided by winnings at the roulette table).

Sally equally impresses Bruce Carmyle, Ginger’s cousin. A hardheaded self-important man, he’s taken by Sally’s looks and demeanor, but put off by her defense of Ginger. After Sally returns to New York, Carmyle pursues her to America. Sally is both repelled and tolerant of Carmyle, and Carmyle is alternately enamored and disdainful of Sally, so he has little success in plighting his troth. Sally brother’s Fillmore, however, is impressed with Carmyle as a man of importance.

Speaking of Fillmore, he wants a bigger stake in Gerald Foster’s (Sally’s fiancée’s) play and asks Sally to help him buy out the current backer, whose insistence on casting a temperamental star is threatening to derail the show. Fillmore doesn’t have enough from his own inheritance for the takeover thanks to ill-considered stock market trades.

She agrees to lend Fillmore the money and also learns that Fillmore is engaged to Gladys Winch, a woman Sally approves of for she thinks Gladys is just the sort of level-headed wife Fillmore needs.

In the mean time Ginger has also come to New York and is staying at the same boarding house as Sally (he having obtained her address before they were parted in France). Unfortunately his roulette winnings had disappeared after another spin of the wheel and he is destitute. Sally convinces Fillmore, now an aspiring theater impresario, to hire Ginger as his right-hand man.

Unfortunately for Sally, Gerald’s play is successful—unfortunate because Gerald marries the actress who replaced the temperamental star, and unfortunate for Fillmore who lets the success of the play go to his head. He takes his profits, despite the protestation of his now wife Gladys, and sinks it into a revue that fails. He loses all his money and everything Sally invested.

Sally is unaware of Fillmore’s financial collapse, however, because she’s fled to England, ostensibly to help out a former boarding house resident who’s returned to England. In truth, she doesn’t want to deal with Gerald’s betrayal. While in England, she is invited to visit the home of Uncle Donald, the head of “the family” of Ginger and Carmyle. What she doesn’t know is that the visit is really Carmyle’s plan to endear Sally to “the family,” and then to propose to her.

I’ll stop the synopsis here so as not to spoil the ending of the story.

. I will point out that others have noted/criticized that in many ways Sally is a reprise of Wodehouse’s earlier Jill the Reckless, but it’s pointless to lift that veil.

Normally I think of P.G. Wodehouse and Jane Austen existing in differing worlds. They both wrote books that are comedies of manners, but Wodehouse is mostly known as a comic writer whose plots were driven by romance, status and money, while on the surface Austen is a romance writer whose plots are actually driven by pretty clear-eyed considerations of status and money.

Both authors are geniuses at dialog and observational humor, but their styles are distinctly different … or so I always thought. Before joining The Secret Nine, I was familiar with about 20 percent of Wodehouse’s novels and like most people, tended to stick with the Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings stories and read only a few of his very early stories. I was familiar with the mature author, confident of his style and métier and quite happy to fall back on tropes, especially since he’d invented many of the tropes of romantic comedies that are still in use today.

The Adventures of Sally, however, makes me appreciate Wodehouse as a romance writer who could create a heroine worthy of Austen. Wodehouse’s female characters have always been enjoyable and complex, but Sally Nicholas is something special. She shares a common trait of many Wodehouse heroines in being small and trim and pretty, but she’s also independent, caring, forceful, playful and more than a little self-assured. She has a strong tendency to cajole, lecture and interfere on behalf of others. Some might call her motherly but I think she’s more of a headmistress with a distinct hint of moral arbiter. Unlike Wodehouse’s other female characters who want to improve the male (think Florence Cray), however, I think the author has a fondness for Sally.

Like many of Austen’s heroines, Sally suffered from poverty, in her case because she stood up for her brother, but unlike an Austen heroine she lived in a time when a woman of her class and quality could work—even as a taxi dancer—and still remain an honorable woman. I hope Elizabeth Bennet—had her father died and herself, her mother and sisters been ejected from Longbourn by Mr. Collins—would have had the gumption to work as a taxi dancer at some assembly—if that profession had existed during the Regency.

When Fillmore loses Sally’s money, she has to return to the dance palace, causing the owner of that palace some distress:

“Everybody liked her,” said Mr. Abrahams. “The nicest girl I ever hired, and I don’t hire none but nice girls, because the Garden’s a nice place, and I like to run it nice. I wouldn’t give you a nickel for any of your tough joints where you get nothing but low-lifes and scare away all the real folks. Everybody liked Sally Nicholas. Always pleasant and always smiling, and never anything but the lady. It was a treat to have her around.”

Eventually, though, her misadventures—her fiancée marrying another, Fillmore’s poor financial decisions, Ginger’s inability to keep a job (through no fault of his own) and the pain of rejecting Carmyle’s proposal and the scorn of “the family”—weigh her down. Surprised  by Carmyle who has tracked her to the dance palace (to the displeasure of Uncle Donald), her resolve falters. He proves a masterful dancer, a pleasant relief from the clumsy men who step on her toes, and when he again proposes, she accepts.

It’s cleverly done because we never hear Carmyle proposal’s, all we read is Sally’s despair:

She felt his arm tighten about her, the muscles quivering. She caught sight of his face. His dark eyes suddenly blazed into hers and she stumbled with an odd feeling of helplessness; realizing with a shock that brought her with a jerk out of the half-dream into which she had been lulled that this dance had not postponed the moment of decision, as she had looked to it to do. In a hot whisper, the words swept away on the flood of the music which had suddenly become raucous and blaring once more, he was repeating what he had said under the trees at Monk’s Crofton on that far-off morning in the English springtime. Dizzily she knew that she was resenting the unfairness of the attack at such a moment, but her mind seemed numbed.

The music stopped abruptly. Insistent clapping started it again, but Sally moved away to her table, and he followed her like a shadow. Neither spoke. Bruce Carmyle had said his say, and Sally was sitting staring before her, trying to think. She was tired, tired. Her eyes were burning. She tried to force herself to face the situation squarely. Was it worth struggling? Was anything in the world worth a struggle? She only knew that she was tired, desperately tired, tired to the very depths of her soul.

The proposal is as much a blur to Sally as it is to us.

I cannot help but think of Jane Austen when Harris Bigg-Wither proposed to her. She was nearly 27—an old maid in 1802—and she accepted his proposal, no doubt worried about her future and the future of her mother and sister should her father die, which he did in 1805. A marriage with Bigg-Wither would have ensured she have a home. But she returned the proposal the next day. I can imagine Austen being similarly tired and wondering what was the use of struggling.

Of course Sally is far more affected by Gerald Foster’s betrayal than any Austen heroine. Elizabeth Bennet takes in stride the revelation that George Wickham is a cad and Emma Woodhouse has no grudge when she realizes she’s not in love with Frank Churchill, nor does he love her. There is a parallel with Emma and Sally, however. Both are unaware until it becomes blindingly obvious who they should marry. Emma is oblivious to the fact she must marry George Knightley until she thinks she has lost him. Sally is unaware that she must marry Ginger, even though Gladys gave her a clue when she advised:

“Chumps always make the best husbands. When you marry, Sally, grab a chump. Tap his forehead first, and if it rings solid, don’t hesitate. All the unhappy marriages come from the husband having brains. What good are brains to a man? They only unsettle him.”

Ginger is obviously the chump for Sally. He deserves Sally because he recognized her worth from the beginning, in the first minutes of their meeting in fact. Sally should have recognized the advice she gave her brother when he told her of his love for Glady: “… she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”

I also love this story in that it’s tone is completely different from most Wodehouse novels. He uses none of his tropes in this book—no stout Cortez staring at the Pacific, no larks on the wing, no statues of the Infant Samuel. There are no Pat and Mike routines where it takes three pages just to get past some silly misunderstanding. Instead this is a breezy novel with very modern sounding dialog. I especially love Sally’s teasing of her brother, especially when he’s considering buying a fur coat:

“I wish you wouldn’t keep on harping on that damned coat. And, anyway, why shouldn’t I have a fur coat?”

“Fill…! How can you be so brutal as to suggest that I ever said you shouldn’t? Why, I’m one of the strongest supporters of the fur coat. With big cuffs. And you must roll up Fifth Avenue in your car, and I’ll point and say ‘That’s my brother!’ ‘Your brother? No!’ ‘He is, really.’ ‘You’re joking. Why, that’s the great Fillmore Nicholas.’ ‘I know. But he really is my brother. And I was with him when he bought that coat.’”

“Do leave off about the coat!”

“‘And it isn’t only the coat,’ I shall say. ‘It’s what’s underneath. Tucked away inside that mass of fur, dodging about behind that dollar cigar, is one to whom we point with pride… ‘”

Another item of note: I’ve never read a book that treated the influenza epidemic of 1918–1919 with such humor. The flu, which came to America with soldiers returning from World War I, killed three to five percent of the world’s population, but in this story it serves principally to inconvenience Fillmore and Gerald Foster when the theaters are closed. Even the elderly Mr. Faucitt, a fellow inmate of Sally at the boarding house, seems to thrive after contracting the disease:

“Oh no, not that.” Mrs. Meecher [the landlady] sighed, for she had been a little disappointed in the old gentleman, who started out as such a promising invalid, only to fall away into the dullness of robust health once more. “He’s well enough. I never seen anybody better. You’d think,” said Mrs. Meecher, bearing up with difficulty under her grievance, “you’d think this here new Spanish influenza was a sort of a tonic or somep’n, the way he looks now. Of course,” she added, trying to find justification for a respected lodger, “he’s had good news. His brother’s dead.”

Then again the flu had a higher mortality rate among the young—like Fillmore and Sally.

There are some problems with Sally that others have observed. It too closely resembles the style of Plum’s earlier Jill the Reckless, but I’ve never objected to Wodehouse borrowing from himself. And perhaps the pacing is a little off towards the end, with a convenient conclusion to Sally’s unwanted engagement to Carmyle, but again I look kindly on that sort of thing. After all, I just saw Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe where the heroine is saved from death by someone suggesting that instead of saying “every fairy shall die who marries a mortal” to “every fairy shall die who doesn’t marry a mortal.” After all it’s just one extra word.

Again, why quibble when it comes to Wodehouse.