“It is only a novel... or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language” ― Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
PG Wodehouse's novel A Damsel In Distress was published in the fall of 1919, though it had actually been released earlier that year as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post. It's a stand-alone novel, so is a good one to give to the uninitiated to introduce them to the delights of Wodehouse, containing his signature wit, clever turns of phrase, wonderfully silly characters and convoluted plots, without being part of a series. I was going to say that it was the one I gave to my younger sister to read first, but I think that was actually Hot Water, another of his stand-alone works. This first part of the book is essentially an introduction to the main characters of the novel, and it also lays the foundations for the rather convoluted story which will develop. George Bevan is the protagonist, and more or less the straight man in the novel. He's a sensible, level-headed sort, but boredom and loneliness drives him to- as we shall soon see- act recklessly, in a way which is out of character for him.
While A Damsel In Distress is a stand-alone novel, many of its characters are instantly recognizable as Wodehouse "types". Reggie, with his slightly vacuous good humour, is a good deal like Bertie Wooster. The Earl of Marshmoreton reminds one of Lord Emsworth in the Blandings stories, while his sister, the overbearing Lady Byng, brings to mind Bertie Wooster's feared Aunt Agatha. Wodehouse immediately makes us aware of whom we want to succeed and who we want to fail; we have a lively sympathy for Maud and George, and want them to be happy. On the other hand, it will give great pleasure to see Lady Caroline's schemes foiled, and great amusement to see Percy's snobbery brought low. The question is, who will emerge victorious at the end of the day... we shall see.
This illustration is from The Copper Beeches, one of the short stories in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, published in 1892. In this particular story, a young woman (Violet Hunter) asks Sherlock Holmes for advice about taking a job as a governess. The offered pay is incredibly- almost unbelievably- good, but comes with a number of weird requirements, including one that she cut her hair short. She ultimately decides to take the job, but Holmes has a bad feeling about the situation and asks her to contact him if anything happens. In this particular scene, Miss Hunter opens a drawer and finds a coil of long hair, the same colour as her own, and about the same length as hers before she cut it. It's all very unsettling.
The 1919 novel A Damsel In Distress is one of P.G. Wodehouse's stand alone works, not affiliated with either his Jeeves & Wooster series or his Blandings books. It is set in England, although its protagonist, George Bevin, is in fact an American. A Damsel In Distress starts out at Belpher Castle, home of the Earl of Marshmoreton and his family. The Earl is a widower whose son and heir, Percy, is about to reach his majority on his 21st birthday. He also has a daughter, Maud, who is twenty. Also in residence at the castle is the Earl's widowed sister, Lady Caroline Byng and her stepson, Reggie. The Earl is a simple soul whose pride and joy is his rose garden, where he would happily spend most of his days cultivating blooms and killing slugs. Unfortunately, his peace is being constantly disrupted by Lady Byng, who insists that he spend time writing a history of the Marshmoreton family, aided by the efficient secretary, Miss Faraday, whom she has provided for him. Lady Byng has an extremely forceful personality, and the Earl is generally cowed by her, so ends up unhappily working on the book he loathes. Meanwhile, Lady Maud has for the past year been a virtual prisoner at Belpher, kept under careful surveillance by her aunt. This is due to the fact that a year ago Maud was visiting friends in Wales and met an American man whom she fell in love with. When she gets wind if this, Lady Byng is aghast for two reasons: the young man is unsuitable, being a mere secretary to his wealthy uncle, and also, Caroline Byng has been nursing hopes of a match between Maud and Reggie. She whisks Maud back to Belpher, determined to keep her away from this objectionable man until her niece gets over her infatuation. Percy, pudgy and stodgy, has all the snobbery and class consciousness that his father lacks, and agrees wholeheartedly with his aunt's actions. There is, however, another problem with Lady Byng's plans: Reggie, though very fond of Maud, is in love with Alice Faraday, his uncle's secretary. The action starts when Maud receives a secret letter from Geoffrey, the man she loves. He has returned to England (his uncle having been travelling) and asks her to meet him in London. Thrilled by the prospect of seeing him after a year apart, she tries to think up a way to sneak to the city without her aunt finding out. She knows that Reggie is driving into London the following day to pick up Percy and bring him home for the birthday festivities, so she asks him to take her with him; she'll meet with Geoffrey and then take the train back to Belpher before anyone realizes she was gone. Reggie agrees, and the next day they make their way to London.
Meanwhile in London, we meet George Bevin, a successful composer whose musical has just opened the previous evening to rave reviews. He has gone out to pick up a newspaper, but as he walks along the bustling London streets, George wonders why, instead of being happy and excited, he feels tired and jaded; life has become stale and uninteresting. He meets up with one of the actresses from his production, Billie Dore, who is also out and about. He confides his feelings to her, and is surprised to find her understanding. She says that, if she had her way, she'd give up the stage and live on a farm where she could raise flowers like her father, who had run a plant nursery. She also tells George of her concern for a young actress in the show, whom she worries is being taken in by a stage door Johnny whom Billie pegs as trouble. She points this out as yet another downside to show business. As George picks up a newspaper, he realizes that he left his wallet at his hotel, and decides to take a cab back to get it. He and Billie part amiably, and George hails a taxi. Sitting in the cab which is stuck in traffic, he realizes broodingly that his real problem is that he's lonely. Being a success is not enough: he wants someone to share it with... he wants romance and adventure. He gloomily concludes, however, that he was born in the wrong age- the time of heroes rescuing damsels in distress has passed, never to return. It is just at this moment that a beautiful young woman whom George doesn't know opens the door of the cab and jumps in, breathlessly asking him to hide her.
I've arrived home from this year's family jamboree and have been unpacking and doing laundry. It was a great weekend; my 25 nephews and nieces ran wild, loving every moment they spent together from the moment they woke up ('way too early) in the morning to when they were finally corralled in bed at night (where they proceeded to giggle and whisper instead of sleep). As for the adults, we attempted to keep up with the kids during the day then sat up into the early hours of the morning, talking and playing games. I'm now tired, sun burnt and itchy (if anything, the black flies were worse this year) but happy; it was a great three days. Here's one of my nephews in costume for the family talent show- he and his siblings were singing "All God's Creatures Got A Place In The Choir":
The drive from where I live to where we were staying in New Brunswick takes about three and a half hours, so I downloaded an audiobook for the trip, choosing P.G. Wodehouse's A Damsel In Distress. I had read this book before, not listened to it, but Wodehouse is always a hoot to listen to being read aloud. A Damsel In Distress is a stand-alone work, not being connected with his Jeeves or Blandings stories in any way, and it's a whole lot of fun. I'm planning to do a review of it over the next week or so and so won't get into a description of the plot right now, but I really enjoyed revisiting the witty, frothy work. More on that later. In the meantime, here's Celtic Thunder singing "All God's Creatures Got A Place In The Choir"; their production was more professional, but ours was cuter.
It's the Victoria Day long weekend in Canada, and it's time for our annual Fam Jam, so I'm headed out to the wilds of New Brunswick for a few days and will be off the grid until late Monday. Looking forward to spending quality time with the entire family, and hoping the black flies aren't as bad as they were last year.
Well, the first trailer for the new Star Trek series, Discovery, was released the other day. I knew there was a new incarnation of Trek coming, but I haven't paid any attention because, frankly, I haven't been interested. I did, however, watch the trailer and found out that it is set ten years before the events of Star Trek: TOS. Huh. The last time a series was set before TOS, we ended up with Enterprise, which made almost every Trek fan feel like this:
This is a really early trailer and doesn't actually tell us anything about the show and I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and hope that the producers have learned from past mistakes and are going to make a quality show, but there are a couple of worrying signs. To begin with, the trailer says that this is ten years before "Kirk, Spock, or the Enterprise." This may seem nit-picky, but while this was before Kirk, it wasn't before the Enterprise or Spock, who served under the previous captain of the Enterprise, Christopher Pike. I get that they're trying to give viewers a frame of reference, but this is the sort of thing that irritates fans, because it makes it seem like the people making the show didn't do their homework.
Good Trek can be made by non-fans- case in point: The Wrath Of Khan, inarguably the best Trek movie ever made. Before embarking on developing the storyline for it, however, Harve Bennett went back and watched all of the episodes of TOS. The Trek universe is a lot bigger now, and it would be unreasonable to expect the writers of a new series to never trip over continuity, which makes me wonder why they would decide to set it pre-Kirk, and in the original timeline. They could have set the new show in the movie reboot timeline and not had to worry about continuity, or the limits which the TOS canon will necessarily place on them- such as not knowing what Romulans look like. Or, if they were determined to have it in the original timeline, they could have set it later so as to avoid a lot of these problems. But having insisted that Discovery is set when and where it is, it's just going to tick fans off if they then go ahead and ignore TOS canon.
What I really hope is that the new series won't be used as a soap box to preach to viewers about the correct attitudes to have about contemporary issues. This is what irritated me the most about a lot of TNG; usually when there was some sort of conflict over a moral, social, or political issue, we were told that the choice was between the reasonable, rational, enlightened Federation side, and the incredibly backwards, unreasonable and obviously wrong other side. Very few episodes bothered to present the truth about such issues: that both sides can be well-intentioned, have legitimate points or grievances, and that such things usually aren't clean cut and morally unambiguous. This is why I think that DS9 was a far superior show- they didn't shy away from pointing out that many of the issues being dealt with were messy and complex, and sometimes there were no morally or ethically pure solutions. So those are my rambling thoughts on a new Star Trek series... maybe it'll be good, but Voyager and Enterprise have left a bad aftertaste, and I'm having a hard time working up any enthusiasm for a new series.