Our 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.
Mr. 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.