Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse

32. The Clicking of Cuthbert and Other Golf Stories
by P.G. Wodehouse
fiction, 1922
Kindle book 14
finished 6/2/12

Since Letters from a Hill Farm began in 2006, I've written only one book report on a book by P.G. Wodehouse - Something Fresh. I reread The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy in 2007, and Thank You Jeeves in 2008. I read Love Among the Chickens in 2008. But I didn't write about any of them. Most of my reading of Wodehouse happened in the years before I began the blog. For quite a time, I was completely immersed in his world, of which Evelyn Waugh once said,
Mr Wodehouse's idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.
Well, some of my happiest reading moments have been spent delighting in that special Wodehouse land.

I think he is one of the greatest writers of all time. Because he is funny, he isn't often given the credit or acclaim which he deserves. We somehow think humor isn't genius. Well, it certainly can be, and is when it comes to PGW. His wit and his intelligence are beyond compare. As is the amount of his output. If you go to Fantastic Fiction you may see a list. It takes one's breath away. The Cat-Nappers or as it is also known, Aunts Aren't Gentlemen is one of my very favorites and it was written soon before he died, at 93 years old! The man stands alone.

I have not read all his work by any means, but I have read a lot. Yet a 'lot' of Wodehouse isn't nearly all, or enough, and I've decided to begin reading the ones I haven't read. I started with The Clicking of Cuthbert, one of his golf books. Do I play golf? No. Am I the least bit interested in golf? No. Did I adore this book? Yes (with a qualification to follow later). It is comprised of mostly romantic situations which are resolved through the knowledge of and/or the playing of the game. It is clear that to those who love it, golf is a minor (?) religion.

The Clicking of Cuthbert contains ten short stories, one of which is the book's title. Throughout the stories a famous Wodehouse character makes an appearance. He is only known as 'the Oldest Member.' He is a golfer grown old. His time is still spent in the clubhouse, usually in the 'smoking room,' or out on the terrace, and he is always available to give advice to the younger generation in the form of a story.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse loved golf, and here he is in 1924 at the golf links with his wife Ethel, and her daughter Leonora, whom Wodehouse adopted.

The Clicking of Cuthbert begins with a young golfer dropping his clubs in the clubhouse and announcing that he is giving up golf.
"Blanked infernal fat-headed silly ass of a game! Nothing but a waste of time."
The Sage winced.
"Don't say that, my boy."
"But I do say it. What earthly good is golf? Life is stern and life is earnest. … Can you name me a single case where devotion to this pestilential pastime has done a man any practical good?"
The Oldest Member says
"I could name a thousand."
And he goes on to tell how Cuthbert Banks wins the girl and happiness through the game of golf. There's a funny line in which a Russian novelist, who is all the rage, says
"No novelists anywhere any good except me. P.G. Wodehouse and Tolstoi not bad. Not good, but not bad. …"
In Sundered Hearts, the reader is told that
A lifetime of observing my fellow-creatures has convinced me that Nature intended us all to be golfers. In every human being the germ of golf is implanted at birth, and suppression causes it to grow and grow till - it may be at forty, fifty, sixty - it suddenly bursts its bounds and sweeps over the victim like a tidal wave. The wise man, who begins to play in childhood, is enabled to let the poison exude gradually from his system, with no harmful results. But a man like Mortimer Sturgis, with thirty-eight golfless years behind him is swept off his feet. He is carried away. He loses all sense of proportion.
The stories proceed along, giving this reader an almost constant smile and some moments of outright laughter. The situations are quite ridiculous but are faced with great solemnity which makes them even funnier. I felt nothing but joy until I came to The Rough Stuff. A woman named Eunice loves novels where men were like
'brusque cavemen' who treated women like dirt.
What she wanted was a great, strong brute of a fellow who would tell her not to move her damned head; a rugged Viking of a chap who, if she did not keep her eye on the ball, would black it for her.
I'll tell you, those words chilled me. Those of us who read older books have noticed, and written about, the occasional racism and anti-semiticism which fly out of an author's pen without a thought. Well, there's another thing that I see in older books, and that is the hitting of women. It is often joked about, without any apparent wincing on the part of the writer.

There's an old song from the 1930s which makes me cringe called I Wish I Were In Love Again. Here are a few of the lyrics:

The sleepless nights,
the daily fights
the quick toboggan when you reach the heights
I miss the kisses and I miss the bites
I wish I were in love again!

The broken dates,
the endless waits,
the lovely loving and the hateful hates,
the conversations with the flying plates
I wish I were in love again!

The furtive sight
the blackened eye,
the words "I'll love you till the day I day"
the self-deception that believes the lie
I wish I were in love again!

If this is love, I sure don't want it. Nowadays we read of 'domestics' in the local police reports, but I have a feeling that years ago the police weren't even called (as is sadly still the case sometimes). It was part of the 'right' of a husband to hit 'his' woman. And what is almost worse, is when I read of women like Eunice who want that kind of treatment.

Anyhow, it may be a quibble, but nonetheless it spoiled what had been a lovely little collection of stories. As much as I enjoyed the hapless fellows and the salvation which golf brings, this little section taints the book for me. I'm quite positive Wodehouse himself was the gentlest of men, but this sentiment may well have been in the air, and thus he could write about it with no fear of disapproval from women, except this one ninety years later.


  1. Dear Nan, I can so well understand how a few sentences have spoiled this otherwise delightful read for you, and I am quite sure you are right in your assumption of how it was regarded as perfectly normal that a man would occasionally hit his woman, just as it is perfectly acceptable behaviour in many countries around the globe, no matter what the social and economical status of a family.

    Still. Wodehouse is one of the writers who have a very special place in my heart; I read LOADS of his books (certainly nowhere nearly all of them) in my late teens and early twenties, and you mentioning him here makes me go and check the Kindle store to see if there are any of his books there for free ;-)

    1. Yeah, just this morning it was on the news about a woman being executed for adultery.

      And yes, Wodehouse is and always will be the best!

  2. I keep promising myself I'll explore Wodehouse, because I did try reading Wooster years ago, and never got along with him, but so many people enjoy Wodehouse's work, I feel as if I should try again, and this does sound delightful.

    1. I so love the Jeeves and Wooster stories, and also the tales of Blandings. It's fun for me to begin reading the others.

  3. Morning Nan! I too am not a hitter or a receiver of such and my feelings are like yours. The world is changing (slowly), and whilst I can forgive it in older books e.g. PGW and his like, in newer novels I shy away, because even if the perpetrator gets his/her come-uppance, it is not a nice read for me (although I will get to the end, because it may be worth it)...... and you know, I loved that old song until you wrote down the words. Isn't it odd that it's a glorious old standard? Wonder how many others have missed that?

    1. I have the song on a Stacey Kent album, and I just fast forward it. :<)

      The older books don't go into the detail the new ones do. Sometimes I think the violence in thrillers/mysteries is just too much. There's a lot of it I don't bother with. What I meant is that in older writings/songs there is an acceptance that it's just the way things are. Sadly, it still is for way too many women. I give money twice a year to the local shelter for women and children in memory of two women who were murdered by the men in their lives.

  4. That cover is so lovely. It's something I would not have thought about picking up, but now I'd love to try this one. thanks

    1. I do love those old, old covers. There are some great golf terms in the book which I looked up as I read along on the Kindle.

  5. Isn't it so true that when you read something like this - or any other type of behavior or mindset that has changed over the years - it bring you up short and breaks te flow of your reading. I think you are right that it puts a shadow over book itself that the author never meant to be there. There are people who think that such things should be censored and the books altered (i.e. the debate over some of Mark Twain's books). My opinion is that it is important that things bring us up short and make us think. It's good for us to be disgusted or horrified or shake our heads. What do you think?

    1. Never, ever do I believe in censorship or changing words of the past. I think you have an excellent point that it is good for us to see the way the world really was in the time the books were written.

  6. I love to listen to Wodehouse as well as to read him. Some time ago there was a wonderful BBC radio series featuring The Oldest Member. I just looked it up on Amazon but sadly, it's practically unobtainable here and in the US, as you can see by that price.

    1. Oh, that's how I began with the late, wonderful David Case, also known as Frederick Davidson. I adored his readings. Almost all the Wodehouse I read in those days was on audio. Pure delight. Now I hear his voice as I read the words in print.

  7. A very thoughtful review and your comment is relevant to many older books. Should we judge them by our standards? How can we not? I suppose the best that can be mustered is to realize that Wodehouse was a man of his times and therefore reflected the prejudices of that age. Somehow, though, we always want writers to be better than their times.

    Kay, I really liked your comment, and I agree that such things should not be censored.

    1. It isn't really 'judging' for me - just the startling realization of how it wasn't a big deal. I don't judge Wodehouse, just feel badly that probably no one was shocked back then. A lot went on behind closed doors.

  8. I love Wodehouse. Psmith is probably my favorite. There is a shock when a writer we love drops a thought or attitude that is repugnant now, but was probably a common attitude in the past. I do have to think that in both the Wodehouse story and the song - there is some satirical intest. Or mayble that's how I can tolerate it.

    1. I'm about to embark on a Psmith adventure. I recently bought Mike at Wrykyn where I think we first meet him.
      Not sure about the 'satire.' I think it may have just not been even thought of - like those minstrels in Thank You, Jeeves.

  9. I must rectify the fact that I have NOT read this author....sounds like I'm truly missing out on fantastic reading!

    1. well, all I know is that I think he is a genius. I have laughed more within the pages of his books than any other writer.


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