Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Wodehouse and Kay - two short reviews
Bertie finds himself at Totleigh Towers, planning to steal a cow creamer, keep Gussie's engagement to Madeline on the rails & also help Madeline's cousin Stiffy Byng in her endeavours to get her uncle Watkyn to approve of her engagement to the local curate. I can't remember how many attempts at blackmail & theft (including the theft of another policeman's helmet) occur in just 250pp but there are a lot of them. As always, Jeeves is the one to extricate Bertie from all his troubles even though he's not above a little blackmail himself in the cause of persuading Bertie to take a round the world cruise. There's even some satire at the expense of Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists in the form of the Black Short wearing would-be dictator Roderick Spode. It's all reliably funny & very hard to keep track of the plot, which is half the fun of reading Wodehouse. I'm always amazed at how he managed to keep track of the plot himself.
Margin Notes Books have reprinted it so I can read it again after over thirty-five years.
Masha Fredericks (first introduced in Masha, also reprinted by Margin Notes Books) is an orphan who has been educated at the Smolni Institute, a school for the daughters of the military & nobility, in St Petersburg. Masha has been noticed by Grand Duchess Alexandra, wife of Grand Duke Nicholas, brother of Tsar Alexander I, & is about to leave school & become the Grand Duchess's lady in waiting. Her best friend, Sophie, is going home to a father she barely knows. Masha & Sophie have been inseparable at school & are determined not to lose touch. Masha falls in love with Sophie's dashing cousin, Sergei, & is swept up in the excitement of first love. She also meets Sergei's quieter, more thoughtful brother, Michael, & they become friends. Sergei is part of a group of young nobles who want to push for reform in the authoritarian Russian state. When Tsar Alexander suddenly dies & Grand Duke Nicholas becomes Tsar, there is unrest, exploited by the Army who wanted Nicholas's brother, Constantine, to succeed, & Sergei & his friends, including Sophie's fiancé, Mark. Masha is horrified by Sergei's plans & stays loyal to the new Tsar, bound by loyalty to the family. Sergei rejects her & rushes out to join his friends, called the Decembrists, in their rebellion.
I remembered so much of this story - the scene where Masha & Sergei stand on a plank over a puddle on a St Petersburg street & she realises that he cares for her; Sophie's Aunt Daria & her old country dacha, Rodnoye, with the household spirit, the Domovoy, flitting about the house, just out of sight. Masha's encounter with an old man who may or may not be Tsar Alexander, rumoured to have faked his own death & to be living as a holy man in Siberia. In some ways, The Youngest Lady in Waiting is just a historical romance, full of the cliches of Tsarist Russia - the glittering parties, the sleigh rides though the snow with the bells on the troika tinkling, the aristocrats on their dachas & the downtrodden serfs. But, seeing it through Masha's eyes, a shy young girl with no advantages & no expectations, is quite wonderful. This was probably the first book I'd ever read about Russia & I went on to read many more historical romances by Constance Heaven, Catherine Gavin, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles' Kirov trilogy & Victoria Holt. I also picked up Anna Karenina & Robert K Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra (the Readers Digest condensed version first), which started me on a reading journey that continues to this day.