I asked my eight year old daughter to share her favourite Wodehouse romance and, after much umming and ahhhhing, she chose ‘The Truth About George’. In this short story (from Meet Mr. Mulliner) Mr Mulliner recounts the ordeal of his nephew George Mulliner, who must overcome his stammer in order to declare his love for Susan Blake.
Many Wodehouse couples are brought together through a common interest — it might be golf, Tennyson’s poems, or a shared love of mystery novels, for ‘there is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature’ (‘Strychnine in the Soup’). In the case of avid cruciverbalists George Mulliner and Susan Blake, it is a love of crossword puzzles.
…George was always looking in at the vicarage to ask her if she knew a word of seven letters meaning ‘appertaining to the profession of plumbing’, and Susan was just as constant a caller at George’s cosy little cottage, being frequently stumped, as girls will be, by words of eight letters signifying ‘largely used in the manufacture of poppet-valves’. The consequence was that one evening, just after she had helped him out of a tight place with the word disestablishmentarianism, the boy suddenly awoke to the truth and realised that she was all the world to him — or, as he put it to himself from force of habit, precious, beloved, darling, much-loved, highly esteemed or valued.
In an effort to cure his stammer, George consults a specialist —‘…a kindly man with moth-eaten whiskers and an eye like a meditative cod-fish’ — who advises him to speak to three complete strangers a day. I won’t spoil the fun by recounting George Mulliner’s disastrous pursuit of this advice. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, you have a treat in store (the text is available free online from Internet Archive).
Instead, I will skip straight to the part where George asks:
“Will you be my wife, married woman, matron, spouse, help-meet, consort, partner or better half ?”
To which Susan replies:
“Oh, George!” said Susan. “Yes, yea, ay, aye ! Decidedly, unquestionably, indubitably, incontrovertibly, and past all dispute!”
The reader is left with the happy impression of a well-suited couple looking forward to a congenial married life with barely a cross word between them.
For more on the theme of Wodehouse and crosswords, see Alan Connor’s excellent piece — Top 10 crosswords in fiction, no 9: PG Wodehouse’s The Truth About George — for The Guardian’s Crossword Blog. I also understand (courtesy of The Wodehouse Society mailing list) that Connor’s recent book “The Crossword Century” also includes a chapter on this subject.
Connor’s blog piece features an image of John Alderton, who played George Mulliner in the BBC Wodehouse Playhouse television series. It is a fine adaptation, recorded shortly before Wodehouse’s death, and includes an introduction from the author himself. You can watch it via You Tube.