Bobbles & Plum: Four Satirical Playlets by Bertram Fletcher Robinson and PG Wodehouse by Paul R Spiring (Editor)
|Bobbles & Plum: Four Satirical Playlets by Bertram Fletcher Robinson and PG Wodehouse by Paul R Spiring (Editor)|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: Four satirical playlets by Robinson and Wodehouse, first published between 1904 and 1907 but never in book form until now, annotated and with full biographical and historical commentaries.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 140||Date: July 2009|
|Publisher: MX Publishing|
P.G. Wodehouse needs little if any introduction, but Bertram Fletcher Robinson's life and career were cut short and he is little known outside his connections with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This set of satirical playlets on which they collaborated, published in journals between 1904 and 1907 and virtually forgotten since, are presented in book form for the first time. As such they show how the careers of both men were evolving, particularly while Wodehouse was finding his feet and experimenting with the different facets of journalism before finding his niche in comic fiction.
The playlets were, I suppose, a kind of gentle Edwardian forerunner of 'That Was The Week That Was' and 'Have I Got News For You'. Their poking at the establishment of the day is naturally somewhat lost on the audience or readership of a century later, but to anyone with some historical or political knowledge of the contemporary issues (mainly the matter of tariff reform, which helped sweep the Liberals to a landslide election victory in 1906), it cuts quite sharp.
We are also reminded that the wit of Savoy Opera librettist W.S. Gilbert was a major influence on the young Wodehouse, as one of the lyrics, 'The Ploughman's Song' A wandering ploughman I, makes plain. The commentaries on the plays take up about half the book. They fill in the biographical background of both men well, making clear that even as a young man Wodehouse was quite old-fashioned in his tastes, having no time for modern art, modern poetry and contemporary trends in theatrical writing. Good old unpretentious entertainment rather than the groundbreaking drama of Ibsen, Shaw and others was more his line. He was also relatively apolitical, and the dialogue was left to Robinson, while Wodehouse was basically the librettist (somehow, calling him a songwriter doesn't quite ring true).
As for the playlets themselves, 'A Fiscal Pantomime: The Sleeping Beauty' is a skit on the political situation brought about by Joseph Chamberlain and fellow supporters of the Tariff Reform League, which helped to split the Conservative party of the day. 'Our Christmas Pantomime: Little Red Riding Hood' satirises the breakdown of Victorian values during the reign of Edward VII. (In the 1960s, Robinson and Wodehouse would have had little time for 'the permissive society'). 'A Winter's Tale: King Arthur and his Court' makes fun of the political groups opposing Arthur Balfour, the Prime Minister, during late 1905, while 'The Progressive's Progress – Some Memories of 1906' satirises the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France of 1904, and the growing increase in expenditure by the London County Council, that alarmed a number of Londoners.
What goes around comes around, and they say history often repeats itself. For tariff reform and Entente Cordiale, read European Union, for example. This book does not just throw an interesting spotlight on the early careers of two young authors, one semi-forgotten and one a household name, but also reminds us that political satire is nothing new. The commentaries and annotations are first class.
As a piece of historical and literary scholarship, I can't fault it at all.
Our thanks to MX Publishing for sending us a copy.
For more on Robinson, why not try his biography, Bertram Fletcher Robinson: A Footnote to The Hound of the Baskervilles by Brian W Pugh and Paul R Spiring, or for his fiction, Aside Arthur Conan Doyle: Twenty Original Tales By Bertram Fletcher Robinson by Paul R Spiring (Editor). As for the many stories by P.G. Wodehouse (around eighty, and almost every one still in print), Thank You, Jeeves is as good as any to start.
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