Sally Nicholas has just inherited a truckload of money. (Well, $25,000, which was a truckload back in 1922, when money was larger and trucks were tinier.) You think that would solve all her problems, doncha? Doncha? Well, think again, bucky!
By the time of his novel The Adventures of Sally (1922, published in the US under the title Mostly Sally), Wodehouse was nearly a quarter-century into his writing career, but this book still has the trademark of his early work: a plot that's simpler and less intricate than his later novels (events tend to happen one after the other in a cause-and-effect momentum rather than the more complicated intertwined plots of later years that require a flow-chart, or Jeeves, to keep track of). Young, cheerful Sally uses her newfound fortune to help her friends at the boarding house and her brother, the earnest but pompous Fillmore. But she's not simply a pretty creature of charity: she also splashes out on a holiday to a French seaside resort, where she meets redheaded Lancelot "Ginger" Kemp. This being a Wodehouse novel, it's no surprise when on their second brief meeting Ginger can't let Sally go without asking her:
"I say..." Ginger Kemp turned bright scarlet and glared before him at the uniformed official, who was regarding their téte-a-téte with the indulgent eye of one who has been through this sort of thing himself. "I say, look here, will you marry me?"Oh, bad luck for Ginger: Sally's engaged to self-absorbed playwright Gerald Foster, but just like in any Wodehouse book, while the course of true love may not run smooth at first, and in fact jumps around and does handsprings and somersaults for a while, the situation sorts itself out when Gerald runs off an marries diva Elsa Doland, the star of his play.
Much of the rest of the book is a comedy of manners in which the balance of power shifts swiftly from character to character. Fillmore loses all the money Sally gave him and is forced to take work as a stage manager, but Sally re-appears in his life just in time to fund him yet again (Sally never learns!) when he plans to buy out the play and put it on the road. Ginger turns up again (only slightly coincidentally). These are the days before Peter Gabriel and boomboxes, and Ginger saves his back from lifting a gramophone over his head under her window to play the latest Gershwin ditty, and instead woos Sally in the way of all the world's most romantic lovers: by stalking her in her boarding house room:
Sally turned restlessly, and, having turned remained for a long instant transfixed and rigid. She had seen something, and what she had seen was enough to surprise any girl in the privacy of her bedroom. From underneath the bed there peeped coyly forth an undeniably masculine shoe and six inches of a grey trouser-leg.The Adventures of Sally is a longish but rather straightforward light comedy romance, in many ways inspired by Wodehouse's early years in New York City and his travels around America following stage productions. It doesn't have the elegant complications of Wodehouse's later comedies but it's sharp, clever and funny; he proves his skill at writing a sassy and spunky heroine with whom we giggle at her delight and sniffle at her sorrows. Most of Wodehouse's heroines are much the same, and true, he never varied tremendously from the formula, but Sally has a handful of sparkling moments which leave you with no doubt who the star of the book truly is, like here:
Sally bounded to the floor. She was a girl of courage, and she meant to probe this matter thoroughly.
"What are you doing under my bed?"
The question was a reasonable one, and evidently seemed to the intruder to deserve an answer. There was a muffled sneeze, and he began to crawl out.
The shoe came first. Then the legs. Then a sturdy body in a dusty coat. And finally there flashed on Sally's fascinated gaze a head of so nearly the maximum redness that it could only belong to one person in the world.
Mr. Lancelot Kemp, on all fours, blinked up at her.
"Oh, hullo!" he said.
She broke off and scrutinized Sally closely. "Say, what do you do with your skin?"...and, here, where she pulls a trick of mind-reading that Sherlock Holmes himself would have been impressed with:
She spoke with solemn earnestness which made Sally laugh.
"What do I do with my skin? I just carry it around with me."
As Fillmore sat opposite Sally on the train, he radiated contentment and importance.
"Yes, do," said Sally, breaking a long silence.
Fillmore awoke from happy dreams.
"I said 'Yes, do.' I think you owe it to your position."
"Buy a fur coat. Wasn't that what you were meditating about?"
"Don't be a chump," said Fillmore, blushing nevertheless. It was true that once or twice during the past week he had toyed negligently, as Mr Bunbury would have said, with the notion, and why not? A fellow must keep warm.
"With an astrakhan collar," insisted Sally.
Happy endings all around, of course, in the best Hollywood tradition, even tho' Sally eventually whips through her money ($25,000 doesn't go as far as it used to, eh, Sally?). The moral of the story? Well, maybe that twenty-five thousand clams aren't as important as the love of a good ginger-haired man. Or, as it was said elegantly and rhythmically some forty-two years later by four different but equally creative and whimsical Englishmen:
I've got only one edition of The Adventures of Sally, a Penguin mass market paperback featuring an Ionicus illustration of pretty Sally and a curiously sunburnt Ginger at a nightclub. Really, poor lad looks like he's been out in the Australian Outback. Wanna get yourself a copy? You're in luck, chuck: as it's in the public domain now, it's just been reissued in paperback. You can get yourself a Sally, for much less than twenty-five thousand dollars, by clicking on the Amazon link to the right. See? Tell 'em Bully sent you, and if Sally gives you a sweet, sweet kiss for buying her book, please make sure you pass it onto me.
A Wodehouse a Week Index.