Notes for The Mating Season

nov-13It would be hard to conceive of the person who does not like P.G. Wodehouse’s 1949 novel The Mating Season. It has so many things going for it: it’s part of the Totleigh Towers tetralogy involving Bertie Wooster’s off again/on again engagement to Madeline Bassett (and yet mercifully spares us the presence of that young gawd-help-us); there are enough impersonations to qualify this as a Blandings story; a rich cast of characters including newt fancier Gussie Fink-Nottle, the sparkling Corky Pirbright and her brother Catsmeat and although she was but a cameo, the enjoyable Hilda Gudgeon; a complete synopsis of that Rosie M. Banks classic Mervyn Keene, Clubman; an unusually blunt and physical Jeeves; a set piece that rivals the Market Snodsbury Grammar School speech; and finally, five aunts—“As far as the eye could reach, I found myself gazing on a surging sea of aunts.”

matingseason1Also viewed through the lens of history, it’s poignant to realize that the story was begun during the war and that it was finished in 1946. There’s nary a hint of the recent war in the story (no navigating through bombed out London streets or rationing), except for the many sore wounds Wodehouse was still nursing because of his imprudent wartime broadcasts following his “release” by his German captors. This is most evident when Bertie, while impersonating Gussie, has to recite at the village concert one of the Christopher Robin stories by A.A. Milne. Milne, who had been a friend, had criticized Wodehouse as a collaborator because of the broadcasts.

“It is unnverving to know that in a couple of days you will be up on a platform in a village hall telling an audience, probably well-provided with vegetables, that Christopher Robin goes hoppity-hoppity-hop.”—Bertie Wooster

Of course this is just why we admire Wodehouse—that his idea of revenge is to make someone have to say: “Christopher Robin goes / Hoppity, hoppity, / Hoppity, hoppity, hop.” The Russian Wodehouse Society has a reprint of a Daily Telegraph article discussing the rift between Milne and Wodehouse.

Wodehouse gets in a few other “zingers” at his detractors. Gussie, who’s before the dock for chasing news in the Trafalgar Square fountain, gave as an alias the name Alfred Duff Cooper. This same Cooper was a conservative politician and Minister of Information who also thought Wodehouse behaved as a traitor. Another subtle dig occurs at the village concert where a Miss Eustacia Pullbrook’s violin solo leaves Bertie altogether unimpressed. This is a reference to Sir Eustace Pulbrook, a fellow Dulwich College alumnus who objected to Wodehouse being readmitted to the school’s Old Boys Association. I like to think of Wodehouse chuckling to himself as he writes these barbs and saying, “And thus I am avenged!”

Ignoring Wodehouse’s revenge agenda and just looking at the plot of the story one can see its wonderful structure. I think the best Wodehouse stories move from set piece to set piece and it’s best when we have something to look forward to like the village concert. It’s a brilliant piece spread over two chapters and filled with incidental characters that shine like the Kegley-Bassington troupe. Although I’ve never attended a concert at a rural English village hall, I can imagine the domination of a theatrical family. (I’m thinking of my local Gilbert & Sullivan society and the frequency of certain last names among the volunteers.)

In contrast to the set piece one is expecting in the novel, there’s a totally unlooked for gem when Bertie attempts to retrieve Gussie’s letter to Madeline when he tries to call off their engagement. The scene of Bertie hiding behind the sofa at The Larches, Wimbledon Common, is a hoot, followed by the delightful Hilda Gudgeon and her carefree gun work, followed by Madeline Bassett explaining to Bertie how his actions so reminded her of the hero from Mervyn Keene, clubman.

I prefer not to examine too closely the motivations that cause an author to write a particular book. The Mating Season to me is just good, clean fun, with the mildest of jabs at his detractors. Some people detect in the novel a declaration that Wodehouse has forever turned his back on England and that he positively espouses the virtues of America. Despite my reluctance to look too deeply into the matter, I do have to admit the Thomas Paine references, Dame Daphne Winkworth’s praise of the American justice system and Jeeves’ pragmatic use of the cosh to silence Constable Dobbs does make the story seem very American, but then again we could say this of any Wodehouse story. There’s alway been a lot of gunplay, Mickey Finn’s and skullduggery that occurs in a Wodehouse story.

Other items of note: Although Esmond Haddock to my knowledge only appears once in Wodehouse’s novels, Sebastian Faulks employs the character in his pastiche Jeeves and the Wedding Bells.

If you’re wondering of the history of Bertie’s many engagements, I found this handy list that attempts to list them in order.

The Mating Season is still under copyright and so I can’t direct you to a place to read it online, however there is a audio version read by Richard Briers and Michael Horden. The audio quality isn’t great, but it rather lends to the charm of the thing. There are extensive annotations at Madame Eulalie.

And for those of you wondering, here are the words for the Yeoman’s Wedding Song.

Our next meeting will be as usual at Pints Pub on Sunday, Nov. 13 at 12:30 p.m. Apparently this is also the opening weekend of the Star Wars costume exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, so provide plenty of time to look for parking. I hope to be recovered sufficiently from my affliction to attend the meeting.

 

Happy Birthday, Plum!

Although we’re known for our fanatical devotion to P.G. Wodehouse, no one expects The Den(ver) of the Secret Nine to pay much attention to the calendar, and so we were a little late to celebrate our favorite author’s birthday a week late on Oct. 23rd. Nevertheless, seven (if Lee becomes a member) of the Nine met at member Jennifer’s home to stuff themselves with little finger sandwiches and drink tea from delicate porcelain, not to mention tiramisu cake and apple pie.

We entertained ourselves with pointed commentary about the elections currently afflicting the American public and also listened to a simpler time: the first of Wodehouse’s wartime broadcasts. Although we didn’t have an actual recording of the broadcast, we used a synthesized British voice to read back the transcript, which you can find at the UK Wodehouse society. (There’s supposedly a CD called The Spoken Word—Writers, compiled by Richard Fairman in 2003, that includes a recording of one of the wartime broadcasts, but I’ve never been able to find it.) This might sound a little gloomy for a birthday party, but you had to be there.

We also decided as a group that we will annotate Wodehouse’s If I Were You. This reporter will tackle the first chapter shortly and post it here.

Our next meeting will be Nov. 13, held as usual at Pints Pub at 12:30 pm. We’ll be discussing The Mating Season.

The Girl on the Boat wows; The Mating Season in the wings

Our assembled members, fewer in number by the absence of members Shawn and Janette (but buoyed by my relatives), were wowed by The Girl on the Boat at our September meeting. It met with unalloyed praise as we all read our favorite quotes, praised the well-drawn characters of Billie Bennett and Jane Hubbard, shook our heads at Sam Marlowe’s black-face performance and uttered “Svensk!”

Member Ed thought Wodehouse’s 1922 novel was quite a farce, in the best possible interpretation of that word. We traded links to YouTube recordings of “I Am the Bandolero!” and the 1961 Norman Wisdom movie (original member Mike mentioned that Wisdom was big in Albania). Newer member Mike dazzled us with his copious notes on the book and in general, we showed that seriously researching a Wodehouse novel is anything but serious. It’s great fun.

matingseason1We also chose The Mating Season as our next book to read for the Nov. 13 meeting, making a long-awaited return to the world of Jeeves & Wooster. This is the second book in the Totleigh Towers saga and has the wonderfully named Dame Daphne Winkworth, who bridges the Blandings and J&W stories. The story is annotated at Madame Eulalie. I will be providing the story notes.

Although The Mating Season was roundly received as the next book, Member Mike (the first one) suggested we take a look at the earlier stories like The Pothunters or Tales of St. Austin’s. Mike also suggested that perhaps we do a meeting where we discuss Wodehouse’s wartime broadcasts, the transcripts of which can be found at the PG Wodehouse Society UK. Unfortunately the Wodehouse in Exile documentary can no longer be found on YouTube. Comment here or on the facebook page if you like these proposals.

We also set the time and date for our Wodehouse birthday bash: 2:30 pm Oct. 23 at the home of this humble correspondent. The address will be sent out in an email. Member Joice suggested we do a potluck—a suggestion for which I am very grateful. We could do a tea or could pick some other theme.

Finally, I suggested at the meeting that one of our club activities could be contributing to Wodehouse research by annotating one of the novels not currently represented at Madame Eulalie. One that comes to mind is If I Were You, which we discussed in July 2014. Again, comment here or at facebook if that idea is appealing. We could divide a story by chapters and assign them.

The Girl on the Boat notes

New member Mike was so enthused by this story that he stepped forward to provide discussion notes for our Sept. 11 meeting. But before Mike’s notes, just a warning that there will be a 9-11 concert from noon to 5 p.m. that Sunday at Civic Center, so parking may be difficult to find. I’ll check in later with Pints Pub to make sure they will be open that Sunday.

Mike writes:

10 questions and thoughtful comments for The Girl on a Boat.

  1. Is this a three act play or a musical comedy without the music?
  2. Wodehouse opens the book with a unique mea culpa about plagiarism—certain lines, if swapped, could answer his critics for his wartime broadcasts.
  3. Movies factor in early in the description of the story, which ironically was made into (according to critics) a so-so movie in 1962, with mostly unknown to modern audiences casting, with the exception of Richard Briers as Eustace. I thought that a pre-Bewitched Agnes Moorehead would have been a solid choice for Mrs. Horace Hignett and Hattie Jacques as Jane. Who are others for the main roles in the book can you see from any decade being cast?
  4. Speaking of Mrs. Horace Hignett, is she the prototype Aunt of Wodehouse’s writinga? The ‘cloven footed aunt’, that haunts so many of Plum’s writings.
  5. There was a delightful rom-com out several years ago with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winselt. In it Kate Winslet meets a famous movie script writer from the “old” days of Hollywood, a well cast Eli Wallach as the aged neighbor she befriends. He tells her about writing movies and romantic comedies in particular where the boy and girl would meet for the first time in the movie. Wallach called the circumstances of the meeting, “cute meet”. Can you name or identify the “cute meet” in this story?

  1. Is it safe to say that Wodehouse’s world, golf is a safe topic of discussion with the modern girl?
  2. Wodehouse wrote this when he was almost 40, and only married 5-ish years, can you find the social commentary about the changing mores of dating in the story, as Sam reflects on the ‘old fashioned’ way his grandfather would have dated.
  3. Oops, another scene in here about someone, Sam, performing in Blackface. Can we all agree that this is a deplorable and despicable offense and that is regrettable that it was allowed and encouraged? I do feel better that Sam suffered humiliation while dressed as such.
  4. Is Jane not one of Wodehouse’s more fascinating female characters? Is she poster child for the NRA or feminist or both?
  5. Finally, (yes finally) there is one chapter title that really is the sub-title for all Wodehouse books. Chapter 14 is “A Crowded Night”. I think that is basically all Plum’s books, summarized.
Goodreads links about the book.
Gutenberg for a downloadable FREE book.
IMDB of Girl on a boat

A little Summer Moonshine for the July meeting

the-girl-on-the-boatThe Den(ver) of the Secret Nine indulged in a little Summer Moonshine at our July meeting, discussing Plum’s delightful one-off and surprisingly long story. We would have been nine had not member Janette been forced to remain behind because of the Nederland fire, which still rages as I write this. Here’s hoping her home remains safe.

sep-11.gifThe eight of us professed to have enjoyed the story, marveling at the number of characters and especially admiring the well-rounded heroine. We indulged in our usual game of who would we cast in a movie adaptation of the novel but with little unanimty. Member Ed, who had proposed the book, was a fount of knowledge and provided us with a link to a post  by John Robson, a filmmaker and columnist with the Canadian National Post, about the story.

Member Ed also sent us a link that demonstrates the near impossibility of impersonating a linnet:

At the meeting, we also discussed the possibility of attending another cricket game at Cornerstone Park in Littleton, but with temperatures reaching 100° the day of our meeting, there was little enthusiasm for a suggested Aug. 6th date. We discussed attending a September game, but looking at the schedule, I see the last games to be played at Cornerstone Park would be Aug. 27 and 28. The Littleton Cricket Club, where our cricket contact Dan plays, is scheduled for the 28th. Unfortunately this schedule isn’t necessarily reliable, but should the date be confirmed, it might be perfect.

We also discussed where to have our October tea and I suggested hosting it at my home (I’ll have to buy some tea cups).

Our next book is The Girl on the Boat, and perhaps if we promote it enough, people wanting to discuss The Girl on the Train might accidentally attend. The book is available at Project Gutenberg and as an audio book at Librivox. It is was also published as Three Men and a Maid.

Our next meeting will be September 11th.

Heart of a Goof well under par

summermoonshine1Which I think is a good thing, if I understand golf scoring properly. All the regular members who attended the May 8 meeting professed to have enjoyed The Heart of a Goof, or rather the collection of nine holes … er, stories. Coincidentally we were Nine in all, thanks to Member Janette’s friend Jane who tried us out to see whether she would become a member.

I can’t remember everyone’s favorite quote, but new Member Mike’s Overlook copy was full of Post-Its and Member Ed observed that the nine stories seem to progress over the course of the day, in that pivotal scenes followed the sun, with the last story ending at dusk. Original Member Mike (still looking thin but with a sexy deep voice after recovering from his therapies) related that he recognized many of the characters from his own golf playing days. We were very grateful for Member Shawn’s discussion notes, especially considering that the collection was not his suggestion.

Our next novel for discussion is Summer Moonshine (thanks to vigorous lobbying by Member Ed), which I believe is a standalone story. It’s not a public-domain story, but there are annotations at Madame Eulalie. Our next meeting will be July 10.

Members at the meeting did agree that another cricket outing would be enjoyable, so we hope to get the schedule for games from Dan Ruparel. With luck, we can manage another September Saturday game at Cornerstone Park in Littleton.

Fore!

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may-8Bring your mashie and your baffy when you come to discuss The Heart of a Goof Sunday, May 8, at Pints Pub in Denver. It won’t get you anything other than the admiration of fellow members of The Den(ver) of the Secret Nine, but $10 will buy a burger when we meet at 12:30 p.m. You can also bring your mother or mother-in-law with you, as member Shawn once did in living memory.

The Heart of a Goof is a short nine-holes of golf stories related by the Oldest Member of the club, and it’s interesting because several of the stories are related. The 1926 collection unfortunately isn’t in the public domain and I expect to see quite a lot of Overlook Press editions, unless you’re fortunate enough to bring a Golf Omnibus with you.

Member Shawn volunteered to write the discussion notes for this story:

  1. Oh, those confusing golf club names! Here’s a short guide to the ancient clubs and their modern equivalents.Play Club: Driver
    Brassie: 3 wood
    Spoon: 5 wood
    Baffing Spoon: 7 wood
    Driving iron: 1 iron
    Cleek: 2 iron
    Mid mashie: 3 iron
    Mashie iron: 4 iron
    Mashie: 5 iron
    Spade mashie: 6 iron
    Mashie niblick: 7 iron
    Pitching niblick: 8 iron
    Niblick: 9 iron
    Jigger: Modern ‘chipper’ or wedge

There were also ‘Sunday sticks’ or ‘Sabbath sticks’ which featured club heads designed to fit comfortably in the golfers hand until such time as they could surreptitiously drop a ball and play a few strokes. These came about after the Church of Scotland began discouraging golf on Sundays. In the dedication to The Golf Omnibus (and The Clicking of Cuthbert), Wodehouse mentions two golfers imprisoned in Edinburgh in 1593 and 1604 for the crime of playing on Sunday.

  1. The dedication in The Heart of a Goof” (To my daughter Leonora without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time), was a recycling of the dedication to Herbert Westbrook in A Gentleman of Leisure.
  1. 1926, the year in which The Heart of a Goof was published, was one of Wodehouse’s busiest and most successful years according to the Robert McCrum biography. It was exceptional in that he published no new novel that year (Heart of a Goof was, of course, a collection of previously published short stories). For Wodehouse, this was a theatre year. He adapted a Russian musical play called The Orlov under the new title Hearts and Diamonds. He also had his most successful straight theater piece with The Play’s the Thing, a show that ran for 326 performances before being transferred across the pond the London. The greatest amount of work went to his musical comedy Oh, Kay! This play, about bootleggers, was the idea of Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, with music by George and Ira Gershwin. Since Ira was taken ill with appendicitis, Wodehouse played an unusually large role in writing lyrics.
  1. Wodehouse, obviously, was an avid golfer, though he admits to being not so gifted in the sport. The preface to The Golf Omnibus reads: “The trouble about reaching the age of ninety-two, which I did last October, is that regrets for a misspent life are bound to creep in, and whenever you see me with a furrowed brow you can be sure that what is on my mind is the thought that if only I had taken up golf earlier and devoted my whole time to it instead of fooling about with writing stories and things, I might have got my handicap down to under eighteen.”
  1. The story “Chester Forgets Himself” features some of the most forceful faux expletives I’ve found in all of Wodehouse. In an interview Wodehouse once said of the topic of sex in novels that in his earlier days, sex was so taboo you couldn’t even hint at it. Wodehouse always found a way to indirectly put such topics or taboo words in one’s mind, but it is never quite as direct or forceful as “!-!!-!!!-!!!!-!!!!!” and “!!!!!!!!!!!” and “***!!!***!!!***!!!.”
  1. In the beginning of “Jane gets off the Fairway” in The Heart of a Goof, Wodehouse has the Oldest Member reading a book entitled Wodehouse on the Niblick.
  1. And of course, the golf stories are full of great Wodehouse one-liners, including:

“Golf, like the measles, should be caught young, for, if postponed to riper years, the results may be serious.” –from “A Mixed Threesome” in The Clicking of Cuthbert

“Yes, Marcus Aurelius undoubtedly played golf, and all the evidence seems to indicate that he rarely went round in under one a hundred and twenty. The niblick was his club.” (Spoken by the oldest member, who quotes the Stoicism of the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius in an effort to explain how to possess the proper golfing temperament.) –from “Ordeal by Golf” in The Clicking of Cuthbert

 …I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve all started compiling your own by now.