The Prince and Betty, P.G. Wodehouse

Wodehouse is finely honing the comical style that characterizes the later novels. This novel, however, is very dissimilar to Bertie/Jeeves. Instead, it’s more like Damon Runyon, if Runyon had written a novel. The characteristic near-misses and misunderstandings of Wodehouse are present, as is the jocular young man in spats (here called Smith, supposedly American, but reading like the Psmith of the Wodehouse books of that name), but the two main characters are college-educated Americans. It is the subplot in the last half of the story involving gangs and their “canisters” (guns) that makes it almost unbelievable that this is Wodehouse. Although comedic, the real level of danger presented to the characters is great, especially compared with later novels in which danger is usually in the form of an avenging aunt who threatens to cut off the money supply. Imagine what Wodehouse would have been like if he had chosen to follow the path of this novel rather than the Psmith novels or the Bertie/Jeeves stories!

Wodehouse does a wonderful bit of satire here on the “wholesome” newspapers of the day, probably little knowing that his fare would be held up as wholesome in later years.

[Finished 2 March 1993]

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