Mr Mulliner Speaking discussion notes

The Reverent Wooing of Archibald

Member Mike F

Found in Nothing but Wodehouse:

  • The first collection of Wodehouse writings, not just short stories, but similar to several since published books: Weekend Wodehouse-etc….  The interesting thing about the book is that contains sections of Mr. Mulliner Speaking, but they’ve not even renumbered the pages, with the page numbers matching the online copy found on Archive.org
  • In addition, our hero, Archibald is also featured in a story found in Young Men in Spats–“Archibald and the Masses.”  This story also alludes to Archibald’s well known imitation of a Hen Laying an Egg.
  • When quizzed by Aurelia if he can do the aforementioned imitation, he says, “It is a lie—a foul and contemptible lie.” Did Wodehouse choose FOUL as a pun on FOWL? Pg 15 Overlook Edition

Welsh Rabbit:
To simplify it, a recipe of Toast and Cheese Sauce.

The Modern Woman, we hear so much about:  
modern-womanThe modern woman of the 20s was the “new ideal” of the slimmer less curvy Victorian ideal of a Woman, (Google Flapper or the attached John Held Jr).  In addition, the new mores and access to modern conveniences, (cars, appliances, and store made clothing), changed the way the Modern Woman moved in  society.

Definitions

Sirocco: A hot wind blowing North from Africa to Europe, usually followed by a rain storm.  Pg 17 Overlook Edition
Weald: Old English meaning Forest, specifically West Saxon.  The Anglican word form is Wold, as in Stow-on-the-Wold.

Now for a few words about the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy (this section is liberally cut and pasted from Wiki):

The Baconian theory of Shakespeare authorship holds that Sir Francis Bacon, philosopher, essayist and scientist, wrote the plays which were publicly attributed to William Shakespeare. Various explanations are offered for this alleged subterfuge, most commonly that Bacon’s rise to high office might have been hindered were it to become known that he wrote plays for the public stage. Thus the plays were credited to Shakespeare, who was merely a front to shield the identity of Bacon.

Bacon was the first alternative candidate suggested as the author of Shakespeare’s plays. The theory was first put forth in the mid-nineteenth century, based on perceived correspondences between the philosophical ideas found in Bacon’s writings and the works of Shakespeare. Later, proponents claimed to have found legal and autobiographical allusions and cryptographic ciphers and codes in the plays and poems to buttress the theory. All academic Shakespeare scholars but a few reject the arguments for Baconian authorship, as well as those for all other alternative authors.

The Baconian theory gained great popularity and attention in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although since the mid-twentieth century the primacy of his candidacy as author of the Shakespeare canon has been supplanted by that of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Despite the academic consensus that Shakespeare wrote the works bearing his name and the decline of the theory, supporters of Bacon continue to argue for his candidacy through organizations, books, newsletters, and websites.

The Man Who Gave Up Smoking

Member Jennifer P

H’m what to say, what to say. I picked The Man Who Gave Up Smoking as the story for which I would write discussion notes for no particular reason and it seems I have little to offer. It’s an enjoyable and competently written story in the mistaken assumptions category common to many Wodehouse stories.

As we’ve remarked at our meetings, so many Wodehouse stories would be stillborn had the hero or heroine simply asked a question for clarification, and this story is a very good example of that. (Of course another big category involves the hero simply saying “No” when asked to do some task.) Had Ignatius Mulliner displayed basic human intelligence, he would have asked Hermione Rossiter why she rejected his proposals rather than depend on the advice of her gargoyle brothers.

The story is a bit of a twist on the standard Wodehouse trope of women trying to improve men by giving up smoking, alcohol and red meat. In this case Ignatius, thinking Hermione objects to him because like her brothers he is a heavy smoker, gives up smoking unasked. Then Ignatius went through various stages of grief starting with the virtuous superiority found in any person who gives up something bad for them. Insatiable hunger came next. Then he wished to spread his newfound joy by doing good deeds. In the last stages, he came down with the heebie-jeebies (overwrought sensitivity to stimuli) and then deep despair followed by profound bitterness toward his fellow man.

It is, of course, Ignatius’ initial desire to do good deeds that clashed with his later bitterness. Ignatius, an up-and-coming portrait painter, had volunteered to paint gratis a portrait of Hermione for her mother. When I first read this, I thought it odd that Ignatius would have previously refused to do this for it seems a natural way for him to demonstrate his love. But Wodehouse explains: “While love is love and all that, he had the artist’s dislike for not collecting all that was coming to him.”

I thought that a weak explanation until I considered the author. I can well imagine Wodehouse kicking up a fuss if he were ever pressured to write for no reward even were it to honor a loved one. Love’s love and all that, but a royalty check is a royalty check.

Another aspect of this story that bothered me was Mr Mulliner’s (the narrator of the story) defense of smoking. I believe by the time of the publication of this story (the Russian Wodehouse group gives it as 1929), people already strongly suspected a link between smoking and cancer and heart disease. But then I again considered the author. Wodehouse was an avid smoker who lived to 93, so perhaps he might be forgiven for not appreciating the perils of smoking.

I also very much enjoyed the characterizations of Hermione’s brothers. I loved Cyprian’s the art critic’s pompous speech patterns: “One senses, does one, a reluctance on the girl’s part to entertain one’s suggestion of marriage.” And I especially like the justice meted out to brother George, the drunkard and sponger. After Ignatius had earlier offered to give George twenty pounds, he boots the brother when George comes to collect, the milk of human kindness having run dry in the painter. And I loved Ignatius pursuing Cyprian with a richly inlaid Damascus dagger, after Cyprian comes to critique Ignatius’ submission to the art academy. (This always reminds me of the line: “Protruding from the earl’s back was a curved dagger of Oriental design, bedecked with jewels and glistening with the blue blood of England’s aristocracy.”)

I also liked that Hermione reveals a little depth as a heroine when she tells Ignatius at the end, after he’s insulted her appearance (the m. of h. kindness having run dry): “I said that, if you really think I look like that, you do not love me, as I had always supposed, for my beauty, but for my intellect. And if you knew how I have always longed to be loved for my intellect!”

Of course there’s not much development of the heroines in these Mulliner stories, which is disappointing because I know that Wodehouse has written fully developed female characters before. So it’s nice that Hermione shows even a little character.

Sadly, The Man Who Gave Up Smoking is one of the slightly worthy of less praise stories in this collection. It’s just a little too simple and straightforward … or maybe I am a little chagrined that I hadn’t guessed from the beginning that Ignatius’ ukulele habit was the Hermione’s real objection to Ignatius. Annoying, small, stringed musical instruments after all are another rich Wodehouse trope.

The Story of Cedric

Member Ed D

I thought The Story of Cedric was a gem, if for no other reason, because it contains the best names in the Wodehouse canon: Lord Knubble of Knopp,* Lady Chloe Downblotton (daughter of the seventh Earl of Choole), the Somerset Meophams, the Brashmarleys of Bucks, the Widringtons of Wilts, the Hilsbury-Hepworths of Hants, Lord Slythe and Sayle, the Sussex Booles, and the ffrench-ffarmiloes (“not the Kent ffrench-ffarmiloes, but the Dorsetshire lot”).  These rival anything Dickens ever came up with.

Cedric is described as a neat, prim, fussy and fat 45 year old snob – “one of the six recognized bores at his club.”  He doesn’t seem to have a job, but he has a secretary, Myrtle Watling.  He may be writing a book about the history of spats.

The reference to the hart panting after the water-brooks is from Psalm 42, notably set to music by the English composer Herbert Howells (1892-1983), a near-contemporary of Wodehouse. G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), the obese author of the Father Brown mystery stories, was also a near-contemporary of Wodehouse, and the sound of his portly frame “falling on a sheet of tin” would certainly startle any top-hat-clad housebreaker.  Wodehouse may have been acquainted with both Howells and Chesterton.

yellow-bootsThe “yellow boots” worn by Lady Chloe’s beau, Claude, and exchanged by him for Cedric’s black boots may have been more tan than yellow.  (Chloe and Claude – ideal names for a couple.)

The cabbie, Mr. Lanchester, is one of the great dimwits in Wodehouse.  Ditto the parlourmaid Jane.

All-in-all, a most enjoyable story.

* Percy, Lord Knubble of Knopp, Grosvernor Square, luncheon host of Cedric Mulliner, also appears as the guest of Sir Sutton Hartley-Wesping in The Smile That Wins, the godfather of Eustace Mulliner in Open House, and the tennis partner and suitor of Amanda Biffen in Big Business, where he is described as a horse-faced young man with large ears and no chin.

The Ordeal of Osbert Mulliner and Unpleasantness as Bludleigh Court

Member Jennie M.
Fred and I were fortunate to discover in residence on our shelf, Wodehouse’s complete Mulliner collection, The World of Mr. Mulliner (1974). The nine stories under consideration for the November meeting ran from Chapter 10 to Chapter 18, one per chapter, in the order in which they appeared in the original collection, Mr. Mulliner Speaking (1930).

Happily, too, Wodehouse penned a short preface in which he warned his public that in ‘The World Of Mr. Mulliner” he was “writing as funny as I can, and I can only hope that there will be no ill results.” Writing the Mulliner stories, he says, was “magical . . . like finding money in the street. … The stuff came pouring out as if somebody had turned a tap. I am, as a rule, a thousand-words-at-a-sitting man, but with Mulliner it was more like half a story before lunch.” He recommends a medium dose for an adult “not more than two or perhaps three stories a day, taken at breakfast or before retiring. … Nervous people and invalids will of course be guided by their doctor’s advice.” At Bludleigh Court two minutes of Aubrey’s Uncle Francis “is considered a good medium dose for an adult” (198).

On Wodehouse’s short stories: “The technique of the short story is different from that of the novel, the length dictating the necessity for a single plot with no subplots and a simple approach. The comedy is therefore often chiefly in the plot—what Plum called situation comedy—while at other times a rather weak plot is redeemed by the humor in the writing [as in ‘The Fiery Wooing of Mordred’]. — Sometimes he achieves both the humorous plot and humorous writing in one story, as, perhaps, with ‘Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo’” (Donaldson 109-110.)

“The Ordeal of Osbert Mulliner” Chapter 13 in The World of Mr. Mulliner

“The Ordeal of Osbert Mulliner” details Osbert’s obstacles in wooing the “most charming girl,” Mabel. Unfortunately, Mabel comes packaged with an ardorous cousin, Bashford Braddock, intent on dissuading Osbert, and Uncle Major-General Sir Masterman Petherick-Soames, who insists upon Osbert’s following through with the engagement. We witness Osbert’s struggle to come up with a good plan–either to escape the country or hide in a trackless London suburb for the rest of his life (sure to be short) until a pair of burglars supply a brilliant solution.

Some clarifications

A 19th-century smoking cap

A 19th-century smoking cap

smoking-cap: (from Wikipedia) Smoking caps, otherwise known as thinking caps and lounging caps, are caps worn by men while smoking to stop their hair from smelling of smoke. They are also worn to keep the head warm. They were popular in 19th-century England and usually used by gentlemen in the privacy of their home. They are often worn with a smoking jacket. They are probably of Chinese, Arabic, or Turkish origin. They are similar to the fez, and the kufi.

the old Rajputana: The SS Rajputana was a British passenger and cargo carrying ocean liner. She was built for the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company at the Harland and Wolff shipyard at Greenock on the lower River Clyde, Scotland in 1925. She was one of the P&O ‘R’ class liners from 1925 that had much of their interiors designed by Lord Inchcape’s daughter Elsie Mackay.[2] Named after the Rajputana region of western India, she sailed on a regular route between England and British India.

pair of puttees: (from Wikipedia) A puttee, also spelled puttie, is the name, adapted from the Hindi paṭṭī, bandage (Skt. paṭṭa, strip of cloth), for a covering for the lower part of the leg from the ankle to the knee, alternatively known as: legwraps, leg bindings, winingas, or wickelbander.

Osbert’s jade collection: maybe illustrative of 1920s fads and/or Chinese culture influence?

Would a baronet’s sister go in before the daughter of the younger son of a peer? According to avictorian.com/nobility “In the UK life peers are always barons or baronesses. . . . a baronet [below baron] is never a peer. . .”

Rem acu tetigisti: (Latin) You have touched the point with a needle.

fish-slice: (from Wikipedia) In British English, a fish slice is a kitchen tool with a wide flat blade with long holes in it, used for lifting and turning food while cooking. In American English, this is known as spatula. It was originally a serving implement for fish, usually made of silver, antique examples of which commonly appear at auction. Fish slices were made of silver or Sheffield plate rather than steel to avoid the possibility of tainting the taste of the fish due to a reaction between the fish and its lemon seasoning and the steel. After 1745 their outlines were usually fish shaped.

“Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court” Chapter 14 in The World of Mr. Mulliner

“Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court” plays with many conceits to do with writing and literature and stars a pair of romantic poets and the insidious house that cultivates murderous impulses in its inhabitants.

Charlotte’s Vignette in Verse, “Good Gnus” (When cares attack and life seems black, / How sweet it is to pot a yak”) recalls Wodehouse’s many verse contributions to Broadway musicals, written with Jerome David Kern and Guy Bolton. Penned at Bludleigh Manor, however, the poem, written for the Animal Lovers’ Gazette, is infected with the diabolical spell of the house, advocating for murdering gnus rather than celebrating them in the fulness of life. Charlotte, like the poem, has also been infected by Bludleigh Manor, and her outrage at “the imbecility of editors,” particularly “this Animal-Lovers bird” who turned down her poem, awakens her own murderous impluses, and off she goes to find an available victim.

Some clarifications

poulet roti au cresson: roast chicken with watercress

A plug hat worn by a rowdy Irishman in a 19th-century Thomas Nast stereotyped caricature similar to the ones worn by the Plug Uglies.

A plug hat worn by a rowdy Irishman in a 19th-century Thomas Nast stereotyped caricature similar to the ones worn by the Plug Uglies.

plug-uglies (how Aubrey refers to his family): (from Wikipedia) The Plug Uglies were an American Nativist criminal street gang, sometimes referred to loosely as a political club, that operated in the west side of Baltimore, Maryland, from 1854 to 1865. The Plug Uglies gang name came from the enormous oversized plug hats they stuffed with wool and leather, pulling them down over their ears for head protection as primitive helmets when going into gang battles. Also, the term plug ugly was used to identify an extremely tough ferocious fighter who could give a sound beating to an opponent. The name Plug Uglies was used to refer to a number of criminal gangs in New York City as well as Philadelphia.

gnu (Uncle Francis’ nemesis): better known as a wildebeest, an African antelope

wapiti: elk

zebus: cattle, oxen

moufflon (also mouflon): a small wild sheep with chestnut-brown wool

Bechuanaland (where Uncle Francis left a native witch-dance): (from Wikipedia) British Bechuanaland was a short-lived Crown colony of the United Kingdom that existed in southern Africa from its formation on 1 Sep 1885 until its annexation to the neighbouring Cape Colony on 16 Nov 1895.

zareba: (African) an improvised stockade of thorn bushes

Bludleigh Manor is located in Lesser Bludleigh, Goresby-on-the-Ouse, Bedfordshire: all but the (River Great) Ouse and Bedfordshire appear to be fictional.

plum (desirable, absolute) spang (to a complete degree)

Works Cited

Donaldson, Frances. P.G. Wodehouse: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982.

Wodehouse, P. (Pelham) G. (Grenville). The World of Mr. Mulliner. New York: Taplingere Publishing Co., Inc., 1974.

Those in Peril on the Tee

Member Mike N

In the first sentence an image of chessboard knickerbockers was a good start, unfortunately things quickly went downhill. I felt golf might offer a chance for some fun. I also thought the distasteful golfing antics of an ex father-in-law, a passionate adherent to Stephen Potter’s gamesmanship ploys, would help color an entertaining critique. I was mistaken!

To my mind this is a poor story. Two blah golfers are forced, by a chumpish bully, into playing golf to decide which one wins the hand of a not so fair lady. As neither wishes to gain the prize, each plans to lose. Hence the loser is really the winner.

From my experience, in most clubs anyone deliberately playing the back nine with such lack of respect for the ancient game would be reported to the club secretary or captain and penalized.

Plum plumbed the depths for this one.

The Passing of Ambrose

New Member Dave S.

The story opens with our main protagonist, Ambrose Wiffin arguing with his childhood chum Algy Crufts. It seems that the two were supposed to go to Monte Carlo and Ambrose was backing out to spend time with his paramour Roberta “Bobbie” Wickham.  Now it seems to be common knowledge that any involvement with Miss Wickham can only lead to trouble. Ambrose is having none of it even after being informed that she put a snake in someone’s bed and blamed in on another.

After this argument Ambrose heads to Bobbie’s house where unbeknownst to him she has agreed to take her cousin Wilfred and his friend Esmond “Old Stinker” Bates to the movies. However, she has made plans to help her friend chose some new cushions and is trying get out of her earlier promise but her mother won’t hear of it. It should be mentioned that both boys are quite unruly, actually they are insufferable brats, which we don’t really find out until later. Enter Ambrose and Bobbie’s escape clause. She immediately ropes him into going to the movies and while he enthusiastically agrees he actually regards small boys with a jaundiced eye. It is his belief that they wanted their heads smacked otherwise they should be out of the picture.

Like many of the characters in Mr. Mulliner Speaks Ambrose thinks of himself as quite the natty dresser, he spent long hours perfecting the minutest detail of his toileta glance in the mirror assured him, his hat was perfect, his trousers were right, his shoes were right, his button hole was right, and his tie was right.

Upon meeting Wilfred Ambrose determined that he was an officious little devil who needed six of the best with a fives bat. This feeling was doubled when he found that Esmond held the cab Ambrose had arrived in, with the meter running. Once at the theater Bobbie puts her plan into effect ducking out when Ambrose went to get the tickets. After an encounter with another patron his hat was knocked off and damaged. Oh the horrors! Naturally Wilfred and Esmond could not stop pointing out, for all to hear, how dreadful his hat looked. Then he was informed that Bobbie had to dash off but to leave her ticket at the box office and she would be there when she could. However, he was still so taken with her that he convinced himself she had a good reason for leaving. After the movie was over and they left the theater, still sans Bobbie, he boys started in on the hat again. It was all Ambrose could stand and above the roar of London Traffic there sounded the crisp note of a well smacked head. This of course prompted a lady to demand why he smacked the boy. As Ambrose had no desire to get into things with her he basically ignored her which caused her to continue berating him, threatening to call the police, and eventually drawing a crowd. Since Ambrose deplored a scene he hustled the boys across the street ending up in from of a restaurant which had oysters. Now nothing would do except for the boys to have oysters with an argument ensuing as to who could eat more. The thought of having oysters at 4:30 in the afternoon made Ambrose nauseous but apparently the lady who was scolding him followed them across the street so into the restaurant they went. After failing to dissuade the boys from eating oysters he placed the order and waited what seemed an eternity for them to finish. When he got the bill and paid it he found he only had sixpence left.  This presented him with another dilemma, tip the waiter and walk home or no tip and take the bus. Now the thought of walking two miles with these unruly boys was out of the question so he opted for the bus. Of course the boys just had to point out, again for all to hear, that he hadn’t left a tip. He pushed the boys out of the restaurant and fortunately there was a bus just outside. He hustled his charges in and they immediately head to the back of the bus while he sat near the door as far away as possible.

This set the scene for his final conflict with the boys. He noticed a passenger who got on somewhere near Hyde Park Corner and was sitting opposite Old Stinky. During the final leg of the journey home a white mouse crawled out of Old Stinkers pocket onto his knee. The passenger, looking horrified, slapped the mouse off of Old Stinker’s knee of course he missed and no the mouse was loose on the bus causing pandemonium. This caused the driver to stop and investigate. This was absolutely the last straw for Ambrose and in the confusion he made his escape.

The next day we find Ambrose breakfasting in bed with a letter on the tray before him. It is from Bobbie and she is obviously upset with him for abandoning the boys in the middle of London and how she thought she could trust him. At this point Ambrose was more than finished with Bobbie and called his friend Algy to let him know their Monte Carlo trip was still on and after many Right hosplans were finalized.

Being new to P.G. Wodehouse books I find his satirization of the English upper crust refreshing and enjoyed this book very much. As with many of the characters in the Jeeves and Wooster series my impression was that most of them shouldn’t really be left to fend for themselves.  Some might called them right gits.

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