Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wodehouse & Gene Stratton Porter

Today I bought several P. G. Wodehouse books at a used bookstore - as many as I could comfortably carry in my bicycle pannier, with other accessories: an emergency apple for fuel, old purse, inner tube, and map. it’s such a thrill to “shop local” instead of ordering everything. I relentlessly blocked the aisle - I was determined to take these unshelved Penguins right off the cart - and sorted through them methodically to ascertain which ones I had. How many novels DID Wodehouse write about the Earl of Emsworth and his pig, the Empress of Blandings, a “pre-eminent sow, three times silver medalist in the Fat Pigs class at the Shropshire Agricultural Show?” How many times DID Bertie Wooster & friends actually steal the pig? This is a quiz for the P. G. Wodehouse Society. At any rate, I bought Pigs Have Wings and Market Blandings, crossing my fingers that I didn’t have them.

My husband wants to know, "Don’t we have enough Wodehouse?"

It’s true that I prefer Nancy Mitford, E. F. Benson, and Angela Thirkell. But the Wodehouses are classics - and occasionally I am in the mood for them. I love Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, though I think I’ve read all those books.

On the Sony Reader I had to abandon Sheila Kaye-Smith’s Joanna Godden, an awkward novel about an attractive, aggressive, innovative woman farmer who is too successful to attract men, though I’ve just gotten to the part where she’s engaged to a Lord So-and-So, who has just fallen ill with a cold and may be dying - who knows, because I’m done with it. This is available in a Virago, but the writing is so terrible I advise you not to waste your money ,unless you’re simply interested in women farmer books, of which there are better ones: Far from the Madding Crowd and A Lantern in Her Hand. I looked up Kaye-Smith and apparently this is not one of her famous books, so it’s probably not the right one to read.

I am, however, very much enjoying Gene Stratton Porter’s A Girl of the Limberlost on the Sony Reader - a girls’ classic which I never read as a child - it was one of those moldy old books we never checked out of the library. Earlier this year Janet Malcolm wrote a good essay about Gene (Geneva) Stratton Porter in The New York Review of Books, and though Malcolm is far from my mentor, as she is also a fan of the Gossip Girl books, I have heard good things about Porter from other sources. Porter, an Indiana native and environmentalist, is best-known for two children’s books, Freckles and Girl of the Limberlost, and the heroine of GOTL, Lenora, reminds me vaguely of Anne of Green Gables. The novel thus far revolves around Lenora’s determination to attend high school, which she discovers on the first day will cost her a prohibitive $20 tuition and $6 for four books. In her old-fashioned calico dress, hat, and boots, she is mocked by the other students, and walks home crying. Her mother, a reclusive, well-educated, angry widow & farmer, allowed her to attend without money and in the wrong clothes, because she sadistically wanted her daughter to stay home. But two neighbors discover Lenora’s plight and buy what she needs - and then Lenora discovers from the Bird Woman, a local expert on natural history, that she can sell moths from her collection - she immediately makes $50.

Lenora gives away her lunch to three starving children and performs other good deeds. But this isn’t just a moralistic children’s book of the turn of the century. There are some sinister elements, warnings for girls. A thief and peeping tom steals Lenora’s money from a box in the swamp - and then spies on her at her house. He hears her talking about how she has no money, and guiltily returns the money, but leaves a note warning her not to leave her money there anymore, and saying that he can’t answer for what will happen if he finds her in the swamp. So Lenora simultaneously has found a way to make a living from the swamp and has met with terror.

Porter’s writing is sometimes good, sometimes merely page-turning, a mix of realism and melodrama. But I’m very glad to add this to my store of L. M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, and Charlotte M. Yonge.


Ashok Rajagopalan said...

Re: Wodehouse
I am on your side; one can never have too many Wodehouses. I have 86 and that's below the poverty line compared to an opulent friend, who has a room full of them.

Frisbee said...

Yes, I love Wodehouse. I don't have 86, but I'm keeping my eye on the used bookstores.

Ashok Rajagopalan said...

I got most of mine from used book stores. I love those old Penguins with covers by Ionicus.
You are one lucky stiff! I see that you got many like that!