Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, April 19, 2010

"The Man With Two Left Feet" by P G Wodehouse

"The Man With Two Left Feet" by P G Wodehouse (1915, 20 pages, read via

In my recent exploration of short stories I am finding them great for trying out new to me writers.   I read recently Kate Chopin's short story, "A Respectable Woman" and now I plan to read her classic work The Awakening soon as well as more of her short stories.

I just completed by first read of anything by P G Wodehouse (1881 to 1975, English).    P G Wodehouse was a very prolific writer, publishing over 90 books.   He had a interesting life that I will talk about a bit after a few remarks on the story, "The Man With Two Left Feet".

The central character of "The Man With Two Left Feet" is Henry Rice.   Henry is a detective and he lives in a modest boarding house.     He is single.   Henry is not Sherlock Holmes.   He does not solve cases that baffle Scotland Yard.    Insurance companies do not pay him huge fees to recover stolen art works.    If a lady wants to find out where her husband goes when he leaves his office at 500pm and gets home at 900pm she can contact the agency Henry works for and he will follow the man.   The open lines of "The Man With Two Left Feet" explain it very well and let us see the style of Wodehouse:

I must explain Henry early, to avoid disappointment. If I simply said he was a detective, and let it go at that, I should be obtaining the reader's interest under false pretenses. He was really only a sort of detective, a species of sleuth. At Stafford's International Investigation Bureau, in the Strand, where he was employed, they did not require him to solve mysteries which had baffled the police. He had never measured a footprint in his life, and what he did not know about bloodstains would have filled a library. The sort of job they gave Henry was to stand outside a restaurant in the rain, and note what time someone inside left it. In short, it is not 'Pifield Rice, Investigator. No. 1.--The Adventure of the Maharajah's Ruby' that I submit to your notice, but the unsensational doings of a quite commonplace young man, variously known to his comrades at the Bureau as 'Fathead', 'That blighter what's-his-name', and 'Here, you!'

One day Alice Watson moves into the boarding house.   She and Harry get along wonderfully.  Henry is surprised to find out she is an actress with a traveling theatrical company.  (Wodehouse wrote a number of musicals for the stage).   Alice is surprised to see Henry is a detective, a profession she sees as a sneaky one.   He asks her to marry him.  She says she would love to but she will only marry a man who is also in the theater as she loves her work.   There are some interesting twists and turns and I won't spoil them for you.

This story was fun to read.   The style is pleasant and well turned.   The entire story is told in prose just like in the portion I quoted.   The story could easily be turned into a cartoon feature.    (This is not meant as an insult to the story but if it comes out that way....)     This story is from the same era as Parade's End.   No one in the world of "The Man with Two Left Feet" would have ever heard of this book.    I am glad I read this story and when in the mood for some lighter reading I well might read some of his novels, or at least one.

P G Wodehouse is best known for his series of Jeeves novels (millions of people all over the world who have never heard of P G Wodehouse would tell you that Jeeves is an English butler even though he is a valet!).    In addition to novels and short stories he wrote a number of plays and over 200 songs for musicals.   He wrote the lyrics for the hit song "Bill" in the musical "Showboat.    He worked with Cole Porter and Gershwin.   He got himself in a bit of trouble in WWII.   He was living in France with his wife when WWII broke out.   He stayed in France because he did not think the conflict would be serious.    He ended up interned by the Nazis for a year.   While interned he entertained his fellow internees with amusing stories.  The Germans released him and asked him to go to Berlin to do a radio shows with amusing stories about his experiences and funny reflections on the war.   These broadcasts were aimed at keeping America out of the war.   After the war Wodehouse was investigated as a possible Nazi Collaborator.   Wodehouse basically said he did not realize the Nazis were bad people and he was just trying to entertain people.   The British public was not in the mood for this post WWII and many said he should be tried for treason and some libraries banned his books.   Upon investigation it was decided Wodehouse was not a traitor or a Nazi sympathizer.   George Orwell, a very  wise man in my opinion, said Wodehouse was just silly and naive.   Wodehouse moved to the USA, lived on Long Island in New York State, became a USA citizen and never returned to his native England.

I enjoyed "The Man With Two Left Feet".   I liked the story and might one day read one of his longer works. As I was reading the story of his radio Broadcasts for the Germans I was imaging a character in a Monty Python skit who had got involved with the Nazis and when asked why he was involved replying that he like the uniforms and doing the special salute but did not realize they were not gentlemen.


Hannah Stoneham said...

Sounds fascinating thanks for posting - i did not know much about him at all before I read this...


Mel u said...

Yes Wodehouse might be a good break from FMF book!

Suko said...

Mel, here is yet another short story you read on Dailylit. This one sounds amusing. I think you're self-described aversion to short stories is a thing of the past.

Chrisbookarama said...

I listened to some of his Jeeves stories a few months ago. I laughed quite a bit! I must read more.

Ben Carroll said...

I would recommend reading more--his style is infectious, and the more time you spend with it, the more you will love it. That's how it happened for me, anyway.

Also, he had two major series--Jeeves, but also Blandings Castle. Probably less well known in the US, but equally great.

I came here via The Blog Hop. Good stuff, I'll be returning.

Mel u said...

Chris-I will be reading more Wodehouse soon-

Ben Carroll-yes there is some very charming about his style for sure-thanks for the visit and I hope you will be back

Journey said...

Great post! And this will be my next read on :)
(Right now I'm still reading "Alice in Wonderland", but kind of really slowly...)

So far I never read anything by PG Wodehouse, only watched the wonderful "Jeeves and Wooster" tv series with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry.