P.G. Wodehouse,
A Damsel in Distress
(George H. Doran, 1919)

George loves Maud, but Maud loves Geoffrey. Reggie and Maud are great chums, but their families think they should marry. Reggie loves Alice, but she's beneath him, socially, and his family would never consent. Geoffrey, too, is beneath Maud, and so far as anyone can tell, so is George. Billie longs for love and a simple life. Caroline and Percy want appearances to be maintained and standards to be met. Meanwhile, the 7th Earl of Marshmoreton simply wants to be left alone in his garden.

A twisted knot of romantic threads ties P.G. Wodehouse's A Damsel in Distress together. This lovely tale really gets rolling when Lady Patricia Maud Marsh, fleeing her irate brother, Lord Percy Wilbraham Marsh, in Piccadilly, takes refuge in George Bevan's cab. George is an American and his latest piece of musical theater has recently opened in London. His brilliant deflection of Lord Percy -- highlighted by a brutal assault on Percy's silk hat -- is only a prelude to George's own growing adoration of Maud, but her heart is set on the young man with prospects she met the previous summer in Wales.

That doesn't stop George from taking a rustic country cottage a stone's throw from Belpher Castle, in hopes of winning her heart.

Alice Faraday has been employed to assist John, the 7th Earl, compile a family history, but the Earl is forever tottering off to his gardens. That leaves Reginald Byng, the Earl's nephew, ample time to fall in love with her -- but he has no clue how to defy the family plan to marry him off to Maud. Reggie, it must be noted, is not a deep thinker. As Wodehouse tells it,

Reggie's was a troubled spirit these days. He was in love, and he had developed a bad slice with his mid-iron. He was practically a soul in torment.

And then there's the Lady Caroline Byng, the Earl's sister, who is a force of nature and has very strict ideas of how events should unfold. As her stepson Reggie relates,

The mater's a great speaker, especially in moments of excitement. I'm not looking forward to the time when she starts on me. Between ourselves, laddie, and meaning no disrespect to the dear soul, when the mater is moved and begins to talk, she uses up most of the language.

The lives of these young lovers are neatly woven into a yarn so tangled that, I swear, I didn't know how Wodehouse would manage to unravel it. Wodehouse hasn't disappointed me yet, however, and A Damsel in Distress is an absolute joy to read.

book review by
Tom Knapp

4 June 2011

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