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.

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirt

may-14When next we meet, The Den(ver) of the Secret Nine will discuss Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, the 1954 Jeeves and Wooster pairing called Bertie Wooster Sees It Through in the U.S.

jeeves-and-the-feudal-spiritThat next meeting will be at Pints Pub in downtown Denver at 12:30 pm on Sunday, May 14. Unfortunately this correspondent shall not be there (I shall be up to no good out of the country), and so any RSVPs or questions should be addressed to member Larry or posted at the facebook page.


As is our usual practice, the member who fought tooth and nail to propose the agenda has the privilege, nay the honor, of supplying the rest of us with discussion notes. Member Larry, in his diabolical fashion, however, credits us with more resourcefulness than perhaps is our due. Rather than telling us, he encourages us to seek out our own information. And thus we have:

Notes and Guided Meditations on “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”

  1. Jeeves’ “Specials” play an important part of this story. They are said to be “a moralizing force” that “wake the tigers leaping in a chap” and Wooster reports that after one “fire coursed through my veins.” They seem certainly way more powerful than “mere martinis.”  (Chapter 1)

    Contemplate: What was the nature of these powerful concoctions of Jeeves? What was in them? What could explain their powerful effects?

  2. Who notoriously enjoyed “the most frightful bilge”? (Chapter 1)
  3. Mystery stories are an important motif in this story. From “The Mystery of the Pink Crayfish” to Aunt Agatha’s reading of “Agatha Christie.”

    What two famous detectives does Wooster suggest in the following phraseology in Chapter 1:

    “These are deep waters, Jeeves.”

    “… her bean was crammed to the bursting point with little gray cells”.

  4. “… makes no secret of his surprise and concern that I am still on the right side of the walls of Colney Hatch or some similar institution.” (Chapter 1)

    “I might be the most consummate ass that ever eluded the vigilance of the talent scouts of Colney Hatch.” (Chapter 7)

    Research: What and where is Colney Hatch?

  5. What are the two things that Bertie particularly dislikes about G. D’Arcy Cheesewright? (Chapter 3)
  6. What do the nightclubs “The Feverish Cheese,” “The Frozen Limit,” “The Startled Shrimp,” and “The Mottled Oyster” all have in common? Speculate about the legal basis for these short-lived institutions to be raided and closed down. (Chapter 5)

  7. What does Bertie think is “the odd thing about song writers”? (Chapter 5)
  8. “A little trouble last night with the minions of the law, Jeeves,” I said. “ Quite a bit of that Eugene-Aram-walked-between-with-gyves-upon-his-wrists stuff.” (Chapter 6)

    Research: Who is/was Eugene Aram?

    (Members would be advised to read The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders, ed.)

  9. Who spent her “girlhood and early womanhood … chivvying the British fox in all weathers” and what two effects did this have on her? (Chapter 8)
  10. Contemplate: What could be “a trick with two corks and a bit of string which cannot fail to bring a smile to the most tortured face”? (Chapter 9)
  11. Bertie won the Scripture Knowledge Award at school. What scripture did he interpret that his analysis showed him “you never know where you are these days”? (chapter 18)
  12. With the clanging of the closing of the safe, what could Bertie see as plainly as if it had been “the top of an occulist’s chart”? (Chapter 19)
  13. Bertie felt that “culturing pearls is a dirty trick to play on shellfish which simply wants to be alone with his thoughts.” Speculate on what thoughts a shellfish might want to be alone with. (Chapter 20)
  14. How did Spode act as though he were an arrow that “I shot into the air”? (Chapter 18)
  15. Be prepared to be render a portion of one or more of the following of Bertie’s bathtub songs. (Chapter1)

    Ah Sweet Mystery of Life, Roll out the Barrel, I Love a Lassie, Pale Hands I Love Beside the Shalimar, Every Day I Bring Thee Violets

Thanks Larry for throwing down the gauntlet. It’s a shame I shall miss the spirited discussion these notes will no doubt engender. I also propose our cabal order the modern-day equivalents of one of Jeeves’ Specials at Pints Pub.

As I will be gone, I will throw in my two cents for the suggestion of the next book. I propose either The Adventures of Sally or Jill the Reckless. I’ve also made it a little easier to pick our next book by updating the list of books we’ve read so far.