Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Wodehouse a Week Special: "Goodbye to All Cats"

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Oh, hullo there. I'm Gus the Qat, Bully's kittycat friend. He's asked me to help out with this "A Wodehouse a Week" thing. I imagine it will be intellectually stimulating, if not necessarily tuna-flavored. So, let's get right into it, shall we? Right. Let's.

The Wodehouse story contained in Young Men in Spats that Bully didn't tell you about last time is entitled "Goodbye to All Cats." Huh. I'm not certain if I approve of that title. Yes, I'm a very well-read feline and I recognize it is a pun on the title of Robert Graves's autography. I'm not entirely certain Laura (Riding) Jackson would have approved, but as Robert Graves was a long-time friend of Spike Milligan, he probably would have enjoyed the works of Wodehouse as well. Then again, Graves is the human who wrote:
Through long nursery nights he stood
By my bed unwearying,
Loomed gigantic, formless, queer,
Purring in my haunted ear
That same hideous nightmare thing,
Talking, as he lapped my blood,
In a voice cruel and flat,
Saying for ever, "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!..."
Perhaps Robert Graves was more of a dog person. Which is his loss. But that's neither here nor there.

"Goodbye to All Cats" is the tale of young Freddie Widgeon of the Drones Club and his love for the animal-loving Dahlia Prenderby. Well, she sounds a bit of all right, doesn't she? With an eye to marching down the matrimonial aisle, Freddie is out to impress Dahlia's family, but he's not making friends of them...or of the RSPCA:
'Permit me,' said Freddie, suave to the eyebrows.

And, bounding forward with the feeling that this was the stuff to give them, he barged right into a cat.

'Oh, sorry,' he said, backing and bringing down his heel on another cat.

'I say, most frightfully sorry,' he said.

And tottering to a chair, he sank heavily onto a third cat.

Well, he was up and about in a jiffy, of course, but it was too late. There was the usual not-at-all-ing and don't-mention-it-ing, but he could read between the lines. Lady Prenderby's eyes had rested on his for only a brief instant, but it had been enough. His standing with her, he perceived, was now approximately what King Herod's would have been at an Israelite Mothers' Social Saturday Afternoon.
And rightfully so, I do think.

Bully passed me a copy of "Goodbye to All Cats" that he purchased in the United Kingdom, and a most unusual little item it is. It's not quite a book: it's one in a series of "Travelman Short Story Editions" which are printed and folded like a map, making them handy short reads for your commute on the London Underground or British rail, and indeed these were created to be mostly sold at W. H. Smith's and other newsagents in train stations. There were a large series of these which republished short stories and essays by famous authors from Saki to Ruth Rendell, Arthur Conan Doyle to C. S. Forester. Retailing for a mere pound a pop, they're cleverly and attractively designed—you don't even have to open them all the way at once, since the folds are planned so that you only need open a small portion at a time before flipping to the next section. It's a bit difficult with paws (after all, cat thumbs are designed mainly for flicking rubber bands), but clever, clever humans! First the canned tuna invention, and now this. I begin to see why we cats keep you humans about.

Still, aside from the "build a better mousetrap" sheer engineering skill of the Travelman concept, I can find little to recommend "Goodbye to All Cats" from a purr-ly feline purr-spective, being filled with much animal abuse for comedic effect as anything short of a Monty Python "Confuse-A-Cat" so-called "comedy sketch." Witness this scene following Freddie's horrified discovery of a Pekinese and a cat fighting in his bedroom, and his inability to explain the situation to his hosts:
Well, you can't say this was pleasant for poor old Freddie, and he didn't think so himself. He opened the door to perceive, without, a group consisting of Lady Prenderby, her daughter Dahlia, a few assorted aunts, and the butler, with poker. And he says he met Dahlia's eyes and they went through him like a knife.

'Let me explain..." he began.

'Spare us the details,' said Lady Prenderby with a shiver. She scooped up the Peke and felt it for broken bones.

'But listen..."

'Good night, Mr Widgeon.'

The aunts said good night, too, and so did the butler. The girl Dahlia preserved a revolted silence.

'But honestly, it was nothing, really. It banged its head against the bed...'

'What did he say?' asked one of the aunts, who was a little hard of hearing.

'He said he banged the poor creature's head against the bed.' said Lady Prenderby.

'Dreadful!' said the aunt.

'Hideous!' said a second aunt.

Well, that's all well and good, and perhaps there's more than meets the eye in Freddie Widgeon. Perhaps we should not be too quick to judge the young man harshly. Perhaps he means well. Shall we read further?
The spectacle he presented was so unpleasant that Freddie withdrew into his room and shut the door. His bosom, as you may imagine, was surging with distressing emotions. That look which Dahlia Prenderby had given him had churned him up to no little extent. He realized he had a lot of tense thinking to do, and to assist thought he sat down on the bed.

Or, rather, to be accurate, on the dead cat which was lying on the bed.
To be fair to the hapless human Widgeon, 'twas not he who was responsible for the demise of my fictional brother, but the over-excited dog who had worried it to roughly. Still. This supposedly cheerful little romance Bully has given me has turned into a rather gruesome and grotesque murder drama, and we can only hope that the poor departed soul's mortal remains be treated with the respect and reverence that he deserves.
And then the thought came to him that it might be possible not to be discovered with it on his person. He had only to nip downstairs and deposit the remains in the drawing-room or somewhere and suspicion might not fall upon him. After all, in a super-catted house like this, cats must be dying like flies all over the place.

...He suddenly thought of the window. There lay the solution. Here he had been, fooling about with doors and thinking in terms of drawing rooms, and all the while there was the balcony staring him in the face. All he had to do was to shoot the body out into the silent night, and let gardeners, not housemaids, discover it.

He hurried out. It was a moment for swift action. He raised his burden. He swung it to and fro, working up steam. Then he let it go, and from the dark garden there came suddenly the cry of a strong man in his anger.

'Who threw that cat?'

It was the voice of his host, Sir Mortimer Prenderby.

'Show me the man who threw that cat!' he thundered.

Windows flew up. Heads came out. Freddie sank to the floor of the balcony and rolled against the wall.

'Whatever is the matter, Mortimer?'

'Let me get at the man who hit me in the eye with a cat.'

That's it! That is right out. I am out of here, and I shan't review any more. Please to take your foldable catty-snuff story away, Bully. And whatever you do, do not click on the Amazon link to purchase this story by Mister Pelham Grenville "Fiend to All Cats" Wodehouse. Hmmmph.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

I regret to report that the cat Gus foully libeled the Alsatian Wilhelm in his review when he wrote, "To be fair to the hapless human Widgeon, 'twas not he who was responsible for the demise of my fictional brother, but the over-excited dog who had worried it to roughly."

In fact, all we know about the relationship between Wilhelm and the deceased feline is in the line "the dog seemed occupied with something that looked like a cushion on the bed. It was licking this object in a thoughtful way, and paid no attention to Freddie."

It was only later after the Alsatian Wilhelm had left the room that Freddie discovered the "cushion" was, in fact, a dead cat.

The evidence would seem to indicate that far from "being responsible" for the demise of Gus's fictional brother by worrying it roughly, the benevolent and kind Wilhelm was trying to nurse the cat back to health.

Cats are always quick to think the worse of dogs. I'm sure Bully would have divined the truth of the incident.