P. G. Wodehouse on Rescuing Damsels in Distress

damsel in distressMy summer reading list this year was a vague idea. In fact, I wandered into the library at the beginning of the month and came home with nary a book. Dickens was too heavy; not appealing for the time of year. I could not find any of the authors I had a notion of reading, and to venture into the unknown of the classics, and fine-print, clumsy paperback volumes as wide as they are tall, was not inviting either.

So I gave it a couple of weeks, and while I was in the library on Tuesday I thought that I may as well try another author whose name had lately come to me. I am now a sold fan. You may say I am late to the Wodehouse fan party, but I remind you of the saying goes, ‘better late than never’ or something like that, etc., etc.

The Book

Lady Maud Marshmoreton believes that she is in love with an American man that she met in Wales last summer. Her overpowering aunt Lady Caroline Byng is horrified and certain that her niece is wrong. (Lady Maud is supposed to be engaged to her step-son, Reggie.) Thus, Lady Maud, the titular damsel, has been confined to the castle on strict orders.

Reggie Byng is an obliging young fellow, but he is already in love with Alice Faraday, the secretary to The Earl of Marshmorton. He has no objection to Maud’s illicit fancy, and offers to smuggled her away from Belpher Castle to London for a meeting with the American. Maud does not see him that day, however, for upon arriving in Piccadilly, she recognizes her pompous brother, Percy, who sides wholly with Lady Caroline on the subject of Maud’s affections. Percy recognizes her as well.

Maud is a quick young lady, and swiftly finds refuge in a cab at hand. The cab already has an occupant, one George Bevan, another American, this one a composer of great repute. He conceals Maud from her brother’s view and drives him away by knocking off his hat – no small offense in the eyes of Percy. The injured gentleman dogs George all the way to his hotel, loses his head and punches a policeman while Lady Maud escapes back to Belpher Castle safe and (mostly) undetected. The story comes out, however. She is once again confined to the estate, under the watchful eye of the vigilante Lady Caroline and Percy, who is smarting from the indignity of a night in gaol.

But George Bevan is utterly smitten. He tracks down his mysterious cab-mate, and after staking out a claim at the very gates of the castle, he starts his course of action. When the occupants of the castle discover this they are outraged. All of them – except for the servants, The Earl of Marshmorton and Maud. There’s just one hitch which everyone except Maud overlooked. They never met the man she claims to love, and while George is American, he is the wrong one.

My thoughts

I was charmed from Page One. The characters were colorful and varied, from the Earl and his genteel war with the thrips, to fat Percy, whose prolonged rage adds further humor and misunderstandings to the story. Albert the page boy, one cannot help but cautiously like, despite his seared conscience and bad habits. By the end of the story, I liked Keggs the butler far more than I had anticipated.

And of course, Maud and George, the center of attention. Despite the confusion, they are ‘pals’. Their handling of the situation was just as a true lady and a chivalrous gentleman should handle such an ordeal. I would not condone young ladies sneaking away from home to meet young men their elders disapprove of, but she comes round. I was worried for the Earl, at first, for he seemed a very weak father. But the good chap rallied splendidly and even drops a few bombs on his unsuspecting relatives.

And I mustn’t neglect to remark that you should be aware of the language. It amounts to what you’d find in most old English writing.

I was led to believe that A Damsel in Distress was set in the 30’s, but it was published in 1919. Old books published in by-gone eras are wonderful glimpses of that day and age and its society. You can read all the historical fiction you want, but nothing compares to the ripe authenticity of the original period pieces. It also depends on the writer’s view of the world, and Wodehouse took a seemingly current angle on Britain the way it was a year after the Great War. Perhaps it was because he was living in America. England seemed far from the stuffy, awkward place you might imagine it was at the time of A Damsel in Distress. This was pleasing, for The Good Adventurers ends at about that year, and I am always ready for insight into the era. I am gleaning all I can to ‘Britify’ my writing. It was brimming with little jewels of culture and style, and as an American author I am woefully short on insight.



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