In Prohibition-era America, young George Finch is setting out as an artist - without the encumbrance of a shred of talent. He falls in love with Molly, but Molly's imperious stepmother is having none of it. Poor George doesn't seem to stand a chance.
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To me the wonderful stories of P G Wodehouse are the ultimate in "comfort" fiction and always leave me smiling. This particular book is one of my firm favourites.
The concept of a little studio flat on the roof of the apartment block, with a fire escape running down to a convenient speak-easy called "The Purple Chicken", has to abound with comedy complications.
Among the characters are Officer Garroway the policeman poet, Mullett the Butler, George Finch the artist with no talent, kindly J Hamilton Beamish, who makes a successful living by writing all those "How to become...." books and, of course, the beautiful love interest Molly Waddington, with her ghastly mother and downtrodden father, and many other lovely incidental characters that pop in and out at times.
This is a non stop joyful romp of a book and I recommend it gladly.
If there hadn’t been a P. G. Wodehouse, where would we be? I’m assuming there were authors like P. G. Wodehouse who wrote books that resembled the ones P. G. Wodehouse wrote—the closest one being, perhaps, Thorne Smith. I’ve tried reading Topper, but was put off by a sort of simmering cynicism that I sensed lurking at the root of that book. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I just pined for the deft, affable, humane hand of P. G. Wodehouse. Which gets back to my original question: where would we be if there had never been a P. G. Wodehouse?
He is funny without ever being nasty or bitter (even the gentle swipes at A. A. Milne, who attacked Wodehouse for his World War II broadcasts, can raise a benign smile as you leaf through The Mating Season). Certain of his women are horrible, but their creator stands clear of the popular and over-used charge of misogyny. He is romantic without being erotic. And for all the screwball comedy, he can turn around and touch the heart in the most poignant ways (just look at the last sentence of Summer Moonshine).
If there had never been a P. G. Wodehouse, we wouldn’t have books like Summer Moonshine. Or The Mating Season. Or The Small Bachelor. I’ll use a word I often use when discussing Wodehouse: romp. Small Bachelor is definitely that, made even more enjoyable by Jonathan Cecil’s wonderful performance. Of course, he has plenty to work with here.
J Hamilton Beamish, efficiency expert and author of a seemingly endless series of helpful booklets, is pompous but essentially likeable.
George Finch, his friend and the eponymous bachelor of the title, is a talentless artist and a shy lover with whom you sympathize from page one.
Mullet, his man, is an ex-con who has given up his former ways and given his heart to Fanny Welch, his pickpocket fiancée.
Molly Waddington is “cuddly”, which is all we can reasonably ask of any heroine.
Her father, Sigsbee H., is a downtrodden middle-aged married male, a stock Wodehouse character whom he always manages to make fresh in every new incarnation (this time by giving him a mania for the fiction and films of the Great American West).
Molly’s stepmother is also a standard Wodehouse type, the domineering, social climbing female who gets her long overdue comeuppance. But even when she does, Sigsbee H’s triumph is more about raising himself up than putting his wife down. He doesn’t leave her. Rather, he insists on her accompanying him out to the great open spaces “where men are men”. Having turned some worthless stock into a major fortune, he feels entitled. Beneath this plot twist lurks the brutal truth that, in most marriages, the one who has the money welds the power. But the fact that chinless, feckless Sigsbee H. is doing the wielding makes that truth a lot less brutal. Certainly his regime will be scads more benevolent than that of his wife.
Having also just finished Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, a book about a man who loathes the ordinariness, the “everydayness” of life, I think I have a new line on Wodehouse’s charm. Molly Waddington is, as we have seen, “cuddly”. George Finch is unremarkable. Sigsbee H. is, until the end of the book, a cypher in the home. All these characters are just as “everyday” as the “everyday” world Binx Bolling abhors. But what Binx flees from Wodehouse dives into. Much of his humor derives from the attempts of these unremarkable people to do remarkable things. Officer Garraway wants to write poetry. Sigsbee H. wants to ride the open range. His wife wants to mix with only the best people. George Finch wants to be an artist. Only Sigsbee H. succeeds—but the failure of the other characters is not a cause for bitterness or existential angst on their part. Nor do we mock them for their failures. Rather, we delight in the story Wodehouse has penned and see our own “ordinary” lives by the gently humorous light it casts.
If there had never been a P. G. Wodehouse, where would we be indeed?