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“I think the Cosmopolis is a bally rotten hotel!” Having made a bitter enemy of Daniel Brewster, owner of New York’s Hotel Cosmopolis, Archie Moffam (fresh from England) checks out and heads south, where he woos and weds one Lucille Brewster … little thinking. Back at the Hotel Cosmopolis, Archie once again finds himself confronted by Mr. Brewster, who resembles nothing so much as a “man-eating fish.” Then the fun begins.Learn More
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“I think the Cosmopolis is a bally rotten hotel!”
Having made a bitter enemy of Daniel Brewster, owner of New York’s Hotel Cosmopolis, Archie Moffam (fresh from England) checks out and heads south, where he woos and weds one Lucille Brewster … little thinking. Back at the Hotel Cosmopolis, Archie once again finds himself confronted by Mr. Brewster, who resembles nothing so much as a “man-eating fish.”
Then the fun begins.
A Mixed (But Delightful) Bag
This isn’t classic Wodehouse. It isn’t Bertie and Jeeves, Blandings Castle or Mr. Mulliner. It lacks the sparkle and polish of the best Bingo Little stories, or the misadventures of S. F. Ukeridge. Nevertheless, it is still Wodehouse, which means it is still well worth a listen.
Start with the writing. When, for the best of reasons, Archie takes refuge in a haberdashery
"A confused aroma of cheap clothing greeted him. Except for a small oasis behind a grubby counter, practically all the available space was occupied by suits. Stiff suits, looking like the body when discovered by the police, hung from hooks. Limp suits, with the appearance of having swooned from exhaustion, lay about on chairs and boxes. The place was a cloth morgue, a Sargasso Sea of serge."
When Archie is caught in a summer shower, it starts with
"…a few scattered drops, as though the clouds were submitting samples for approval…"
English doesn’t get written much better than this.
In classic Wodehouse, world events rarely intrude. Ring for Jeeves has a brief, incisive analysis of the welfare state into which post-World War II Britain was devolving. In one of the Drones stories a member who refuses to sacrifice his pleasures to please his aunt is sent a postcard of the Little Chilbury War Memorial. And Something Fishy begins a few weeks before the 1929 Crash. But by and large the Real World doesn’t intrude, a fact that makes the regular reading of (or listening to) Wodehouse a sovereign antidote to the alarms and diversions of that world.
In Indiscretions of Archie, however, the years 1914 to 1918 loom large:
"Archie had many defects which prevented him being the perfect man, but lack of courage was not one of them. His somewhat rudimentary intelligence had occasionally led his superior officers during the war to thank God that Great Britain had a Navy, but even these stern critics had found nothing to complain of in the manner in which he bounded over the top."
'"My dear old soul," said Archie, "in the recent unpleasantness in France I had chappies popping off things like that at me all day and every day for close on five years, and here I am, what!"'
The book is filled with casual references to the trenches, leave spent in Armentieres, and whatnot. What’s interesting is that this experience in no way makes Archie a hero. His wife, his father-in-law, his friends—no one seems to think more of him for his semi-miraculous survival.
It all goes to make Indiscretions perhaps Wodehouse’s most realistic book. In spite of Archie’s lighthearted tone in the above snippet, we get a glimpse of the staggering human cost of the war in the character of the Sausage Chappie. Archie starts this slab of conversation:
"What did you do before the war?"
"How do you mean--forgotten? You can't mean--FORGOTTEN?"
"Yes. It's quite gone."
"But I mean to say. You can't have forgotten a thing like that."
"Can't I! I've forgotten all sorts of things. Where I was born. How old I am. Whether I'm married or single. What my name is--"
"Well, I'm dashed!" said Archie, staggered. "But you remembered about giving me a bit of sausage outside St. Mihiel?"
"No, I didn't. I'm taking your word for it. For all I know you may be luring me into some den to rob me of my straw hat. I don't know you from Adam…I don't seem quite to have caught up with myself since I got hit."
Archie takes him in and finds the Sausage Chappie a job. It’s a habit he shares with Wodehouse’s most famous creation, Jeeves. Acting out of a simple heart—and not, like Jeeves, from the heights of a massive intellect—Archie also has a gift for bringing the right people together for everyone’s mutual benefit. He finds a singer for a songwriter and, when his tobacconist’s contender in a pie eating competition backs out, Archie finds a replacement.
Over all there presides Wodehouse’s view of life which was, in spite of everything the 20th Century threw at the human race, happy. Wodehouse can make you laugh out loud, but more often (and more importantly) he can make you smile:
The more [Archie] thought of it the more did he marvel that a girl like Lucille should have been content to link her lot with that of a Class C specimen like himself. His meditations were, in fact, precisely what a happily-married man's meditations ought to be.
Indiscretions is a mixed bag; uneven and episodic, you sense that this is a series of short stories—or ideas for short stories—stitched together in a rather shapeless sort of way. If you’re looking for what critics used to call “significant form”, you’d better look elsewhere. However, if you’re like me and enjoy Wodehouse—his style, his gentle sense of humor that encompasses everyone from food reformers to labor leaders without making them targets—and if you enjoy Frederick Davidson’s unerring vocal
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