Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Wodehouse a Week #68: Hot Water

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Bonjour, ma petite fromages! Hot Water (1932), like French Leave, takes the usual Wodehouse couples in love and plops them en masse not in the London countryside but in a French chateau. Why isn't it called Eau Chaude? The world may never know.

ChateauNot everybody is who they seem during the house party at the Chateau Blissac in beautiful Brittany. The debonair Vicomte de Blissac? That's really American Packy Franklyn, who's tête oveur talons d'amour with Jane Opal, daughter of blustering American Senator. Problem 1: Jane's engaged to Blair Eggleston, who in a comedy of errors becomes the Senator's valet. Problem 2: Packy's engaged to the prickly and snobbish Lady Beatrice Bracken.
Packy was feeling mildly surprised that, considering how deeply in love he was with Beatrice, the recent embrace had not revolted him more. He had not enjoyed it, of course. He could scarcely have been expected to do that. But it had not really revolted him. He was, however, conscious of a feeling of relief that Beatrice had not been an eyewitness of the episode.

Jane was thinking rather along the same lines. It would be too much, naturally, to say that she had derived any pleasure from Packy's kiss. On the other hand, it had not jarred every fibre of her being. But she was glad Blair had not happened to be looking on at the moment.
Is there any reader in any doubt who will wind up with whom at the end this novel?

Along the way we have the usual comedy derived from the protagonist pretending to be someone he isn't when he meets someone else (confidence trickster Oily Carlisle, who later re-appears in Cocktail Time) pretending to be someone he isn't, both of them pretending to be able to speak French when they can't:
'Still, you did get here, didn't you, Duke?' said Miss Putnam, smiling in a roguish sort of way. 'And how nice it will be for you, having somebody to talk to in your own language. I was saying to the Vicomte only just now that, however well you speak a foreign language, it is never quite the same.'

A somewhat strained pause followed the delivery of this dictum. For the space of perhaps a quarter of a minute the French aristocrats stared at one another dumbly. Here, you would have said, watching them, were two strong, silent Frenchmen.

Mr Carlisle was the first to rally from the shock.

'Parfaitement,' he said.

'Alors,' said Packy.


'Nom d'une pipe!'

There was another pause. It was as if some theme of deep interest had been exhausted.

Packy indicated the sky, as if something to which he felt the visitor's attention should be directed.

'Le soleil!'

'Mais oui!'


'Parbleu!' said Mr Carlisle, rather meanly falling back on old stuff.

They paused again. Packy, except for 'Oo la la' which he did not quite know how to bring in, had now shot his bolt.

But Mr Carlisle was made of sterner stuff....after what he would have been the first to confess a bad two minutes, was his resourceful self once more.

'But really, my dear fellow,' he said, with a light laugh, 'all this is vairy delightful, but you must not tempt me, no. My English is not good, and I promise my instructeur that always I would speak it only. You understand?'

The interval of silence had enabled Packy to dig up a really hot one.

'C'est vrai,' he said, with a glance at Miss Putnam which suggested that, in his opinion, would hold her for awhile. 'Mais, c'est vrai, mon vieux. Oo lá lá, c'est vrai! I also, study the English and do not want to speak the French.'
Miss Putnam, in keeping with the Wodehouse Rule of Maximum Occupancy of Imposters, is also not who she seems:
'Presenting Kate Amelia Putnam, of the James B. Flaherty Detective Agency of New York," she said amiably, holding the pistol in her hand on a steady line with Mr Carlisle's pelvis. 'Drop that gun. And you,' she added to Packy, 'keep your hands up.'

Mr Carlisle's automatic dropped to the floor. Miss Putnam seemed well content.
(Although, in this little stuffed reader's opinion, this dénouement is slightly ruined by exposing it several chapters before to the reader, well before Packy and Oily discover it at the point of a gat. But I'm second-guessing Mr Wodehouse, and we all know that leads to tears.)

Silver cow creamerOh sure, between the love-crossed youngsters and the masquerading as Frenchmen story there's also a plot about trying to steal away an incriminating letter written by Senator Opal, but that's just a MacGuffin (or, as we like to call it, a Silver Cow Creamer) to set up a lot of laffs, lovely...
'...When I married you, my late husband's sister Mabel made herself extremely unpleasant. She seemed to consider that a woman who had been Mrs Wilmot Brewster ought to be satisfied for life. I'm not sure that when Wilmot died she would not have liked me to commit suttee.'

'Do what?'

'I was only joking. Commit suicide. When an Indian dies, his widow burns herself on the grave. They call it suttee.'

A wistful look came into Mr Gedge's face. It was just his luck, he seemed to be thinking, that an unkind fate had made the late Wilmot Brewster a Californian and not an Indian.
...and groan-worthy...
'I knew a man who was fired for removing a spot from his employer's clothing.'

'What a shame!' said Jane. 'Why?'

'It was a ten-spot,' explained Packy. lines even Chico Marx might be ashamed to utter:
'.,.Did they deport you?'

'Oh, no. My mamma send a cable that I should go out West to Colorado. I left New York to arrive there. It was a great wrench.'

'You were sorry to go?'

'No, I liked going. I had fun.'

'Then why was it a great wrench?'

'Because it was. A great cattle-wrench.'

'I get you,' said Packy, 'Your habit of dropping into Yiddish is a little confusing at times, but I get you.'
But nobody describes scenery the way Wodehouse does. He ought to have been a writer for Town and Country:
He found Mrs Gedge in the Venetian Suite, a large apartment with a heavily carved ceiling which always looked as if it were going to come down and bean you.
So, in short, Hot Water: oo la la.

A Wodehouse a Week #73: Hot Water

How to get Hot Water: fill a teakettle from the tap and put on the range, being careful not to set your fur alight. Turn around and don't watch it! Quickly the teakettle will whistle and...oh wait, I've made another one of my foolish mistakes. Like me, you can have a copy of Hot Water bubbling merrily in front of you in no time by clicking with upon the Amazon box to your right. (Prefer l'edition français? Simplement le clique ici.) I find it best enjoyed with some French toast made out of French bread. But that's just moi.

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SallyP said...

This sounds like fun. It also is about the same sum amount of French that I know. Oh wait, coquilles de St. Jacques!

THAT'S all the French I know.

Unknown said...

I strongly suspect Wodehouse borrowed the scene with the comic dialogue between the two fake Frenchmen, neither of whom speak French, from a situation in Act II of the Johann Strauss operetta "Die Fledermaus".

Dr Falke is playing a practical joke on his friend Eisenstein and has arranged for him to attend Prince Orlofsky's gala ball by pretending to be a French nobleman, Marquis Renard. Meanwhile Falke has also arranged for the prison governor Col. Frank to attend the ball as "Chevalier Chagrin" and introduces the two "Frenchmen" to each other.

The dialogue is a little different in every production, but here are a couple of samples from two of my Fledermaus videotapes:
Eisenstein: Chevalier, ça va?
Frank: Marquis, comme ça?
Eisenstein: Courage! Courage!
Frank: Fromage
Eisenstein: Bon voyage! uh, Massage?
Frank: Uh, Paris! (pronounced Pa-REE)
Eisenstein: Compris! C'est la vie!
Frank: Toujours.
Eisenstein: L'amour.
Frank: Bon chance!
Eisenstein: Vive la France!
Orlofsky (under his breath, to Falke): Men of few words, but what nuance!
Falke: And in such circumstance.
Eisenstein: Chevalier, ça va?
Frank: Marquis, comme ça?
Eisenstein (speaking a few words of French recalled from his high school days) What time does the next train leave for Dieppe?
Frank: (also remembering some high school French): I have lost my spectacles in the sea.
Eisenstein: My grandmother is ill. Please summon a doctor immediately.
Frank: My uncle has fallen overboard.
Orlofsky (in an aside, to Falke) What exciting lives these Frenchmen live!