Friday, November 25, 2011
Wodehouse for the weekend
George is miserable because he doesn't have the gift of the gab. He's in love with Celia Tennant but doesn't have the confidence to propose to her. He wants to ask his boss for a raise but is too timid. The Oldest Member suggests he write away for a booklet on "How to Become a Convincing Talker" advertised in a magazine. The Oldest Member forgets the incident until he meets George a few weeks later & discovers for himself just how confident a talker he has become.
The George Mackintosh I had known had had a pleasing gaze, but, though frank and agreeable, it had never been more dynamic than a fried egg. This new George had an eye that was a combination of a gimlet and a searchlight. Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, I imagine, must have been somewhat similarly equipped.
Exuding "a sort of sinful, overbearing swank", George describes how he talked his boss into offering him double the raise he'd asked for by talking at him for an hour and a half. George had always been a favourite at the golf club with more offers to play than he could accept but now his incessant talking had driven all his former playing partners to distraction & they ran to avoid him. His new-found confidence leads to a successful engagement with his beloved Celia but even she is wilting under the incessant flow of talk.
"When he proposed," said Celia dreamily, "he was wonderful. He spoke for twenty minutes without stopping. He said I was the essence of his every hope, the tree on which the fruit of his life grew; his Present, his Future, his Past...oh, and all that sort of thing. If he would only confine his conversation now to remarks of a similar nature, I could listen to him all day long. But he doesn't. He talks politics and statistics and philosophy and... oh everything. He makes my head ache."
The last straw comes during a round of golf. After talking throughout Celia's every tee shot so that her ball invariably lands in the rough or in a bunker & then telling her what she did wrong & how she could improve her stroke, Celia is driven to desperate straits when George begins discoursing on the price of rubber & why this should mean that the price of golf balls should be cheaper. She hits George over the head with her niblick.
"I had just made my eleventh attempt to get out of that ravine," the girl went on, "with George talking all the time about the recent excavations in Egypt, when suddenly - you know what it is when something seems to snap-... He bent his head to light his pipe, and well - the temptation was too much for me, that's all."
Although the Oldest Member thinks Celia was completely justified in her actions, he agrees that they should see whether George has really been killed after all. The result is not exactly what they expect but leads to a happy ending for all concerned with George back to his usual inarticulate self.
I've never really been attracted to P G Wodehouse's golfing books because sport doesn't interest me at all but if the other stories are half as funny as this one, I'm ready to be converted. All Wodehouse is beautifully written, he had such a command of the language that what reads so effortlessly is really incredibly complex & so clever. I laughed all the way through this story, it's so ridiculous but so true to life in the central idea. We've all known someone who can talk on any subject at great length & always knows more about it than anyone else. Queen Victoria complained that Gladstone addressed her as if she were a public meeting but she hadn't met George Mackintosh. Wodehouse is perfect reading for the weekend.