Saturday, October 16, 2010
A Pelican at Blandings - P G Wodehouse
Blandings Castle certainly does attract imposters. I’ve only read two Blandings novels but imposters play a big part in both of them. The pelican of the title is Galahad Threepwood, brother of Lord Emsworth, the dottiest peer of the realm, & former member of the Pelican Club. The Pelican Club had been a bohemian club for the rich & idle in Gally’s youth & all he’s left with after its demise is a fund of good stories & several godsons, children of his old companions. One of these godsons, John Halliday, is a barrister, in love with Linda Gilpin, niece of Alaric, Duke of Dunstable, a really unpleasant man. John has just proposed to Linda & calls on Gally to tell him his news. Gally is surprised to take a phone call from his brother, Emsworth, asking for his advice because Dunstable has decided to visit Blandings with his niece. Even worse for such a timid, unsociable man as Lord Emsworth, his sister Connie has arrived unannounced from America with a female friend she met on the boat, so Emsworth will have a house full of undesirable & uninvited guests. He’s especially frightened of Connie, a really awful woman who has always bullied him. Galahad, on the other hand, is frightened of no one, least of all his sister, & he agrees to go down to Blandings to help out.
All Lord Emsworth wants to do is spend his days scratching the back of his prize sow, the Empress of Blandings. His favourite comfort reading is books on the raising of pigs. The only time he feels real concern for any creature is when he thinks the Empress is sickening for something. There’s already one uninvited guest at the castle, a friend of Emsworth’s son, Freddie (now working at a dog biscuit factory in New York), who arrived from America with a letter of introduction. Emsworth contrives to avoid Mr Howard Chesney by taking his meals in his room & spending the rest of the day with the Empress. Avoiding Connie will not be so easy.
In the train on the way to Blandings, Gally meets the Duke of Dunstable & discovers the reason for his sudden desire to visit Blandings. He has bought a picture (coincidentally from a gallery partly owned by Johnny Halliday). This is surprising enough as Dunstable hasn’t an artistic bone in his body. He bought it because a rich American, Wilbur Trout, had his heart set on it as he thinks the figure looks just like his latest wife, who’s just divorced him & left him heartbroken. Dunstable thinks he can ask Trout to pay any price for it & make a huge profit. Gally finds himself with several problems to solve. How to get rid of Connie & Dunstable? He has an unexpected visit from Johnny Halliday, distraught because Linda has broken their engagement. She was a witness in a motor accident case that Johnny was prosecuting & he had had to try to discredit her evidence. He succeeded all too well & now she won’t speak to him at all.
Then, it’s been discovered that the nude picture by a famous French artist bought by Dunstable, is a fake. Johnny begs Gally to help him swop the fake, now on display in the Blandings Portrait Gallery, for the real article & find a way to get Linda back. Luckily, Gally is a resourceful man & sets about his task with gusto. Especially as he enjoys wrongfooting Connie & irritating the horrible Duke of Dunstable.
This is a wonderful book with so many funny scenes. Lord Emsworth mistakes the subject of the nude picture for a pig & thinks it’s a wonderful likeness of the Empress. Emsworth visits the Empress in the middle of the night when he can’t sleep &, when he’s locked out, has to creep through Dunstable’s rooms to get back to bed. Startled by a cat, he upsets a table holding a clock, a bowl of roses, another bowl of potpourri, a calendar, an ashtray & a wedding photograph of Lady Constance & her American husband, James Schoonmaker. This intrusion only confirms Dunstable’s view of Emsworth as completely potty. Gally is triumphant in the end, of course, & the good end happily & the bad unhappily, with imposters unmasked & lovers reunited. Very satisfying, indeed.