Sunday, 19 January 2014

Penguin no. 1370: Doctor Sally
by P.G. Wodehouse

Cover by Geoffrey Salter.
'He talked and talked and talked. And then he talked some more. Mostly about his mashie-shots. I got him off to bye-bye at last, and I've tottered down to restore the tissues with a spot of alcohol. They say,' continued Lord Tidmouth earnestly, 'that strong drink biteth like a serpent and - if I remember correctly - stingeth like a jolly old adder. Well, all I have to say is - let it! That's what I say, Bill - let it! It's what it's there for. Excuse me for a minute, old man, while I mix myself a stiffish serpent-and-soda.'

It is the unexpected nature of Sally Smith's profession, given her gender, which underpins much of the humour in this extremely short novel. Striking and lovely in appearance, technically-minded and a little dour in demeanour, she is also rather formidable, and primed to make her displeasure known should anyone show the slightest surprise when they learn that she is a doctor. She seems fairly confidant and satisfied with all she has achieved, and especially proud of being a woman who can buy her own stockings, afford her own tickets for the theatre and spend her vacations travelling.

But being a member of a caring profession does not appear to have rendered her all that compassionate. She is so impressed with her own endeavours that she uses them as a benchmark against which others are to be judged. In particular, she has no time for the attentions of any charming man whose prosperous lifestyle derives from money owned by, or inherited from, his family. She is American and her values are modern ones; principal amongst them is that worthwhile people work, and she has no interest in those she judges to be indolent and idle.

And this all seems to bode quite poorly for Bill Bannister, and not because he is idle, but because Sally has perceived him to be so. Bill is neither poor nor work-shy, but he does seem spineless and vacillating: he is engaged to the even more formidable Mrs Lottie Higginbotham but he decides to cast her aside when he spies Sally on the golf links. He comes to this decision and acts upon it while unaware of Sally's name or profession, and of course Lottie has no intention of giving him up easily. His efforts to throw over Lottie are ably assisted by her former husband Bixby or 'Squiffy', who has recently become Lord Tidmouth, and who finds that he is still in love with his first wife.

This is a story of capable but socially-inept men intimidated as they travel through life by choleric uncles and strong, formidable women. There is something of Bertie Wooster in Lord Tidmouth, except perhaps for the latter's enthusiasm for marriage; his talk is peppered with all manner of idiosyncratic phrases such as toodle-oo and tinkerty-tonk, but they seemed affected rather than natural. There is also something of the earnest but inconstant affections of Bertie's many friends in Bill Bannister. But neither of these characters has the same appeal as those in the Jeeves stories, and they do read as if manufactured for an American audience.

With its brevity and its large font, this is a Penguin which can be read easily in a single evening. It may be written in prose, but it reads far more like a play than a novel, with the action principally divided between two settings, and with its slight and fairly silly plot, and its concentration on dialogue and physical humour. It was therefore no surprise to read that it been adapted from an earlier play, Good Morning, Bill (with this in turn an adaptation of a play by Ladislaus Fodor)But what might have entertained in the theatre can be disappointing as a novel, and I was very glad that it was only short.

First published in Methuen 1932. Published in Penguin Books 1959.

by the same author:
Penguin no. 994: Quick Service
Penguin no. 1273: Uneasy Money
Penguin no. 2205: Ukridge


  1. I never heard of a bad Wodehouse before! But he was very prolific.

  2. I haven't come across this one before, though the title is familiar - but it sounds like I haven't missed much!

  3. I still haven't got round to reading any Wodehouse, but I don't think this would be a good one to start with! I've got a couple of the Jeeves/Wooster books in the TBR pile, but what I really want is one of the Psmiths..

  4. Wodehouse's DOCTOR SALLY is from 1932...not a good year. I'm a fan of the Jeeves/Wooster series. Some of Wodehouse's short stories are masterpieces.

  5. there's something so delicious about a definition of a Modern Professional Woman who earns her own cash for stockings, nights at the Theatre and most likely has a Room of Her Own to boot.

    splendid review.

    we adore plum wodehouse.



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