P. G. Wodehouse gave us many romances that linger long in our affections. Each February at Plumtopia is dedicated revisiting the Great Wodehouse Romances to mark the anniversary of his death on St Valentine’s Day, 1975.
Cuthbert Banks and Adeline Smethurst
One of the delights of a Wodehouse romance, is the inventiveness with which he steers his heroes and heroines toward their first meeting. Some of these introductions happen ‘off-stage,’ especially in the Wooster narratives, but elsewhere we are privileged witnesses to some truly memorable meetings. Among his fruitiest is the moment when golfer Cuthbert Banks interrupts Raymond Parsloe Devine’s lecture to the Wood Hills Literary and Debating Society, in order to play his ball – with a niblick – from on top of the table.
‘I have dwelt upon this incident, because it was the means of introducing Cuthbert Banks to Mrs Smethurst’s niece, Adeline. As Cuthbert, for it was he who had so nearly reduced the muster-roll of rising novelists by one, hopped down from the table after his stroke, he was suddenly aware that a beautiful girl was looking at him intently. As a matter of fact, everyone in the room was looking at him intently, none more so than Raymond Parsloe Devine, but none of the others were beautiful girls. Long as the members of Wood Hills Literary Society were on brain, they were short on looks, and, to Cuthbert’s excited eye, Adeline Smethurst stood out like a jewel in a pile of coke.’
Cuthbert quickly falls in love with Adeline, but she is a serious-minded girl who expects her future mate to achieve something worth while in life. The rising novelist Raymond Parsloe Devine is a clear favourite over Cuthbert, whose only achievements are on the golf course. Cuthbert’s efforts to prove himself worthy involve joining the aforementioned literary society, bringing together the worlds of golf and ‘serious’ literature.
‘After attending eleven debates and fourteen lectures on vers libre Poetry, the Seventeenth-Century Essayists, the Neo-Scandinavian Movement in Portuguese Literature, and other subjects of a similar nature, he grew so enfeebled that, on the rare occasions when he had time for a visit to the links, he had to take a full iron for his mashie shots.’
The great treat, in the Clicking of Cuthbert, is not so much our satisfaction when Cuthbert finally clicks, but the manner of his clicking. More specifically, we have the pleasure of meeting one of the great Russian novelists, Vladimir Brusiloff.
‘Vladimir specialized in grey studies of hopeless misery, where nothing happened till page three hundred and eighty, when the moujik decided to commit suicide.’
Every precious word written about Brusiloff is worth quoting. He is a splendidly drawn character who puts the pretentious aspiring novelist Raymond Parsloe Devine in his place.
‘No novelists any good except me. Sovietski — yah! Nastikoff — bah! I spit me of zem all. No novelists anywhere any good except me. P G Wodehouse and Tolstoi not bad. Not good, but not bad. No novelists any good except me.’
With Devine unmasked, Adeline ceases to be under his spell and finally turns her attentions to Cuthbert (I won’t give away all of the details). Adeline is not Plum’s most endearing heroine. She may be beautiful, but her initial objections to marrying Cuthbert are rather cold-blooded, and she lacks the pep and ginger of Plum’s more beloved female characters. But Adeline does redeem herself by taking up golf with enthusiasm.
‘Adeline is married to Cuthbert, and it was only his earnest pleading which prevented her from having their eldest son christened Abe Mitchell Ribbed-Faced Mashie Banks.’
The Clicking of Cuthbert must be regarded as one of the great Wodehouse romances. The worthy hero stays true to his love, persevering in the face of stiff opposition, and conquering against the odds in the most spectacular fashion. Romance aside, it is a perfectly crafted short story, packed with the sort of writing that makes it impossible to read aloud without laughing.
If you’ve never read the Clicking of Cuthbert, or want to refresh your memory, you can read the full story (with annotations) at the excellent Madam Eulalie website.