In our recent post on ghostwriting Guy commented on a book by Pascal Garnier in which the writer hates his characters. This reminded us of a Wodehouse story we thought was a Bertie Wooster one, in which a character’s mind is invaded by the sickeningly syrupy spirit of romantic novels. When we looked further, we found that that it wasn’t a Bertie story, but one of the Mr Mulliner ones, called Honeysuckle Cottage. A crime writer, James Rodman, who writes very hard-nosed novels with lots of revolvers, cries in the night missing papers, mysterious Chinamen and dead bodies- with or without gash in throat, is left a cottage and five thousand pounds by his Aunt Leila, a successful romance writer of glutinous sentimentality. The money is conditional on his living in the cottage for six months of every year. Aunt Leila’s reason for this is:
She considered that living in London hardened him and made his outlook on life sordid. She often asked him if he thought it quite nice to harp so much on sudden death and blackmailers with squints. Surely, she said, there were enough squinting blackmailers in the world without writing about them.
Honeysuckle Cottage is the very stuff of romance novels, with rambling roses and an apple-cheeked housekeeper. James settles in happily to work on his next book. But a very strange thing happens. His detective hero, Lester Gage, hears a faint scratching at the door. What James intends to write is:
a dying man fell in and after gasping ‘The beetle! Tell Scotland Yard that the blue beetle is – ’ expired on the hearthrug.
But this is what he writes:
On the mat stood the most beautiful girl he had ever beheld. A veritable child of Faerie. She eyed him for a moment with a saucy smile, then with a pretty, roguish look of reproof shook a dainty forefinger at him.
James has no time at all for girls, and never allows one to appear in his books. Sinister landladies and foreign adventuresses are fine, but certainly not roguish beauties who only get in the detective’s way. This particular soppy, soupy, treacly drooping girl with a roguish smile even tries to butt in on Lester Gage when he’s trapped in the den of the mysterious leper.
But even worse, his whole life is being taken over by the spirit of Honeysuckle Cottage. A golden-haired blue-eyed girl called Rose is knocked down outside his gate and the local doctor insists she must stay in the cottage to recover. James realises that he is living the plot of a Leila J. Pinckney novel, and that he is being drawn inexorably towards a proposal to this infernal female.
I feel like an eggshell in a maelstrom. I am being sucked in by a force too strong for me to resist. This morning I found myself kissing her dog!
We won’t tell you any more. You’ll have to read it for yourself. It’s a very funny, clever tale (said to have been a favourite of Wittgenstein). This volume also contains another of our favourite Wodehouse stories about the effect of a tonic called Buck-U-Uppo on a bishop.
P. G. Wodehouse, Meet Mr Mulliner (The Overlook Press, 1955).