P. G. Wodehouse on Maud Allan’s ‘Salome’

A major scandal of 1918 was the Pemberton-Billing libel case. In February 1918 Maud Allan, an expressive and sensuous dancer, presented her version of Wilde’s ‘Salome’ to a select audience. Noel Pemberton-Billing fumed about her in his paper, The Imperialist, suggesting that she was a lesbian, and that her audience was packed with the sexual perverts who were Germany’s fifth column in Britain. This was particularly controversial, since that audience included leading figures like Margot Asquith, wife of the previous Prime Minister.

Maud Allan sued and lost.

What I didn’t know until I visited Madame Eulalie’s terrific website was that when Maud Allan’s seductive dancing had come under fire from the puritans of the Manchester Watch Committee back in 1908, the young P. G. Wodehouse had written a poem about her:

Maud

(With acknowledgements to the gifted writer of the Gaiety lyric of the same name and to the Manchester Watch Committee.)

THERE’S a girl who can dance in a way
That astonishes people, they say.
They see her Salome,
And gasp out, “Well, blow me!
That’s pretty remarkable, eh?”
The name of this damsel is Maud,
She’s succeeded at home and abroad;
But the hawk-eyed committee
Of Manchester city
Are not among those who applaud.

Maud. Maud. Maud.
You may be all right for abroad:
But every one knows,
That in districts like those
Morality’s apt to get flawed.
Should Manchester grin at what pleases Berlin,
Our hearts with distress would be gnawed.
We don’t bear you malice,
But stay at the Palace,
Dear Maud. Maud. Maud.

When she dances a dance to the King,
He exclaims “Bis! Encore! Just the thing!”
If she were improper,
He surely would stop her,
And not take her under his wing.
When his friends are invited to munch
In the Premier’s home circle a lunch,
You’ll find that the lady
Mancunians deem shady
Is frequently one of the bunch.

Maud. Maud. Maud.
We beg you, don’t be overawed,
Let’s hope that the hearts
In those far-away parts
May shortly be softened and thawed.
If they saw you, like us, there would be no more fuss:
They’d be sorry they cavilled and pshaw’d.
And they’d all say your dancing
Was simply entrancing,
Dear Maud. Maud. Maud.

I found this poem on a website new to me  –  though I shall be returning to it frequently, I think. It is Madame Eulalie’s Rare Plums, which brings together a feast of  Wodehouse’s early journalistic writings, some of them previously unpublished.

The definitive account of the Pemberton-Billing case is in Philip Hoare’s very readable Oscar Wilde’s Last Stand (1997)

4 Comments

  1. Posted May 10, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh, George-P.G.W. was just the best and these two new references are plums indeed! You are a font of…and I thank you

  2. Posted May 11, 2012 at 1:40 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on ww1ha and commented:
    Ha-ha-ha! “We don’t bear you malice, but stay at the Palace!”
    “Oscar Wilde’s Last Stand” is very interesting as well as an object lesson for journalists: If your big story hinges on someone who is unhinged, you might want to get a couple of other sources, who are … what’s the word … sane.

  3. Posted October 11, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    The poem “Maud” by P.G.Wodehouse you can find in the recent publication by Tony Ring: “What goes around, comes around” (2014), in which there are 100 poems by Wodehouse. On April 14 in Kings Place in London an evening was dedicated to the poems of Wodehouse and actor Simon Brett read this poem “Maud”, in the presence of Wodehouse grandson Sir Edward Cazalet.

  4. Posted October 13, 2014 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m so glad you’ve discovered Madame Eulalie. It is a terrific resource for Wodehouse lovers.


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