Sunday, October 11, 2020

1956 Club: French Leave By P. G. Wodehouse

 

I've been reading a lot of P. G. Wodehouse lately and it occurred to me that it was very likely that he had published a book in 1956 that I could read for Simon and Kaggsy's 1956 Club! I depend on Wodehouse to cheer me up whenever I need a light read, and once again he came through with French Leave, a slight and amusing novel. 

This one digresses from the normal Wodehouse setting of London or the English countryside -- it's mostly set along the French coast, in fictional resort towns of Picardy and Brittany. The characters are primarily American and French and I don't think there's even a single English character which is very unusual for Wodehouse. 

But here's the setup. The book starts in America, on Long Island. The three Trent sisters, Kate, Jo and Teresa (known as Terry), are trying to make a go of a farm, selling eggs, milk, and honey, and having a pretty hard time of it. Conveniently, they have a windfall of $2000 each, and the two younger sisters, Jo and Terry, decide to risk it all on a trip to France, in search of millionaire husbands. Eldest sister Kate is aghast and is determined to go along as a chaperone. Jo and Terry will each pose as a wealthy American, with her sister playing her maid, for a month each. Jo goes first in Picardy but is unsuccessful and returns home; Terry continues to try her luck in St. Rocque.


Terry does meet up with some genuine millionaires, but she also meets the slightly shady and very broke Nicolas Jules St. Xavier Auguste, the Marquis de Maufringneuse et Valerie Mauberanne, also known as Old Nick. Old Nick is an impoverished French nobleman who prefers living off wealthy wives (he's had at least three), questionable business deals, and his son Jefferson, from his first marriage to a wealthy American. Jeff mostly lived with his mother in America but fought with the maquis, the French resistance, and has a dashing scar on his face to show for it. He's now a struggling writer who refuses to marry for money but is willing to help his father out of a tight spot. In return, Old Nick decides to set up his son with the delightful Terry Trent, whom he believes is loaded with American cash. 

Unfortunately this plot also includes spending time on a yacht with some other wealthy Americans, including Old Nick's second ex-wife Hermione Pegler, who believes that Terry is an adventuress (technically, she is) who will mess up her plans to marry off her niece Mavis. Mrs. Pegler wants to pair Mavis, a fizzy-water heiress, with Freddie Carpenter, another fizzy water millionaire (Mrs. Pegler owns considerable stock in both water companies, and hopes that a marriage between the two would be of financial and personal benefit). She thinks that Terry is after Fred's money, but Terry and Jeff are instantly smitten. The fact that neither of them has any money and assume the other one does leads to misunderstandings, tears, and a lot of physical comedic moments. This being a Wodehouse novel, everything comes right in the end. I can absolutely imagine adapted as a classic screwball comedy from the early 1950s. I recently watched Some Like it Hot and there are some elements that are similar -- wealthy Americans on yachts, husband-hunting, and characters climbing out of hotel windows.)

Not French, it's the historic Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego, California. It was the filming location for Some Like It Hot (which is actually set in Florida). 


I enjoyed French Leave, though it isn't a classic Wodehouse -- I think I've read 17 books by him so far, and I wouldn't count it among his best. There are some characters that seem superfluous, and some definite loose ends that are never resolved. However, it's a fun, short novel, and can easily be finished a day or maybe even one sitting (it would be perfect for a vacation read) -- preferably in a resort town on the coast of France. 

Thanks again to Simon and Kaggsy for hosting this event, can't wait to do it again next time! 

11 comments:

  1. Wodehouse excelled at entertaining but forgettable novels, didn't he? For every classic there is a throwaway like this but they are still usually so fun to read. I love the set up here and the setting - not a bad idea to escape to the elegance of a French seaside resort!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of the 17 of read so far there have only been a couple that were forgettable. The plots and characters seem to run together sometimes, but it's always a good time and worth reading. A mediocre Wodehouse is still a hoot.

      Delete
  2. Even though it's not one of his best, the difference in setting and character has an appeal. I do like the premise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's very fun and Wodehouse pokes fun at everyone -- the French, British, and Americans.

      Delete
  3. I have not read any of Wodehouse. Should add him to my classics list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. His books are an absolute delight and I think he published about 90! Some of them are in the the public domain, but nearly every library will have some, print, digital, and excellent audio versions. And he has two famous series, the Jeeves & Wooster series and the Blandings Castle series, that have also been adapted for TV. I haven't seen the Blandings but the Jeeves & Wooster series from the early 1990s star Hugh Laurie and Steven Fry and they are BRILLIANT.

      Delete
  4. I don't know how I've managed not to read Wodehouse for any club years, given how prolific he was! I don't think I have this one, but I have read a few of his more forgettable titles - as well as many great ones.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's tough to narrow them down when there are so many great choices! I had five or six I wanted to read this week and I just couldn't get to all of them, must start earlier next time around. Or maybe two weeks for the club? A whole month?

      Delete
  5. I love Wodehouse and haven't read this one, it sounds good. His books are so light hearted, they always lift my spirits and bring me smiles.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I hadn't realised Wodehouse lived so long, or wrote so late - you really do learn something new every day. This sounds like fun, and I like that there's a change of scene from English Country houses or New York, so I'll be keeping an eye out for it.

    ReplyDelete
  7. When it comes to delectable whodunits duly laced with dollops of subtle humour, there is perhaps no one in Plum's class.

    ReplyDelete