‘Goodbye to All Cats’

I’ve written a chapter for a forthcoming collection of critical essays on P. G. Wodehouse. (I’ll be sure to relay full information here when there is firm news about publication date and details.)

My piece is on Wodehouse and the Great War – which might sound to some people like one of those thesis subjects imagined by parodists of academia, like ‘Jane Austen and the French Revolution’ , but looking at Wodehouse in relation to the War really does reveal some quite interesting things about his early work, and his attitude to his writing . I think so, anyway.

The publisher’s reader seems fairly happy with my chapter, too, but sent one little note. Did I know ‘Goodbye to All Cats?’

I didn’t, but the echo of Graves in the title had me interested. A bit of quick research revealed that this was a story in the 1936 collection Young Men in Spats, and had first been published in 1934, in Cosmopolitan and The Strand.

It’s the story of how Freddy Widgeon  lost (as usual) the girl he was chasing, and this time cats are to blame. There is a brilliant farcical build-up as the hapless Freddie disgraces himself ever more calamitously in the eyes of the girl’s father in a succession of cat-related incidents. To begin with, there is little that makes the title’s play on Graves particularly apposite.  then Freddie discovers that he is sharing his bedroom with an Alsatian called Wilhelm.

It fixed Freddie with a cold, yellow eye and curled its upper lip slightly, the better to display a long white tooth. It also twitched its nose and gave a sotto-voce imitation of distant thunder.

There are mentions of ‘No Man’s Land’, and of an ‘explosion’ when the Alsatian meets a Pekinese. Given the story’s title, should we take these as deliberate reminders of the Great War? (I had formed the impression that after Indiscretions of Archie the War was kept out of his work.)
My guess is that in the early thirties Wodehouse had been reading some of the products of the war-books boom. (We know from Performing Flea that he had read and been impressed by C.E. Montague’s ‘Judith’, that odd tale of the apparent prostitute who turns out to be spy and heroine). Graves suggested a snappy title, and a battle between man and dog allowed wartime images from his reading to bubble up haphazardly from his subconscious.

Or maybe there’s some deeper implication. I shall read the story again.

(By the way, Honoria Plum’s Plumtopia blog has a good post about cats in Wodehouse.)

5 Comments

  1. Posted June 4, 2014 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    That’s terrific news. I’d love to read the book. Thanks for the recommendation, and for sharing my piece. Coincidentally, we have a new cat entering the family home this week.

    • Posted July 26, 2014 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      Also, I hope you don’t mind but I have shared your piece at my own page.

  2. Posted July 26, 2014 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Plumtopia: The world of P.G. Wodehouse and commented:
    I am looking forward to reading George Simmers’ chapter on Wodehouse and the Great War. For now though, here is what he has to say on the subject of cats.

  3. Posted July 27, 2014 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    This brings in a fresh perspective. Look forward to savouring the final essay!

  4. Roger
    Posted July 29, 2014 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    “C.E. Montague’s ‘Judith’, that odd tale of the apparent prostitute who turns out to be spy and heroine”

    Flann O’Brien’s The Martyr’s Crown, set in the Irish War of independence, is an entertaining variation on this theme.


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