Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Saint, P.G. Wodehouse, and copy editing

The introduction to the new edition of The Saint and Mr Teal invokes the name of P.G. Wodehouse, and aptly so; the writing is that good.

The introducer, one John Goldsmith, claims a place for author Leslie Charteris alongside (or above) the stars of British adventure writing of the early and middle twentieth century. The Saint was a rule breaker, Goldsmith writes, free of the anti-Semitism and racism of his upper-class British fictional counterparts. Goldsmith also offers an astute discussion of Charteris' literary style.

The introduction's one conspicuous weakness is Goldsmith's account of his trip to "a remote fishing village on the coast of Brazil," where "when I mentioned the Saint faces lit up, recognition was instant. It was smiles and ecstatic cries of ‘El Santo! El Santo!’ all round."  Why the Brazilian villagers spoke Spanish rather than Portuguese is a mystery to be solved by Goldsmith, his copy editor, or, just maybe, a linguist. (Read Goldsmith's introduction at the Hodder & Stoughton website.)

Wodehouse lovers will also note the name of the Scotland Yard detective Claud Eustace Teal, whom Charteris introduced in 1929 — six years after Wodehouse had created Bertie Wooster's unforgettable scapegrace cousins Claude and Eustace Wooster in The Inimitable Jeeves. That makes Charteris the earliest crime writer known to your humble blogkeeper to have paid apparent tribute to Wodehouse. He joins such later authors as John Lawton and Ruth Dudley Edwards.

And finally, a tip of the Yorkshire wool cap to Zoë Sharp, who talked up Charteris and The Saint at Crimefest this year.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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22 Comments:

Blogger Matthew E said...

The Saint was a rule breaker, Goldsmith writes, free of the anti-Semitism and xenophobia of his upper-class British fictional counterparts.

I don't know about that. My Saint books are at home, but I distinctly remember at least one anti-Semitic passage in one of the early ones. I'll look it up this evening.

November 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Could be; Charteris wrote an awful lot of books. And, while I've read only John Buchan among the three non-Charteris authors Goldsmith cites, that author's works contains anti-Semitic passages (whether the anti-Semitism is the author's or the character's is not terrible germane to this discussion._

November 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Goldsmith calls The Saint "a free spirit, openminded, without a racist or anti-Semitic bone in his immaculately clothed body." Let me know what you come up with.

November 05, 2013  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

Eustace is also Psmith's middle name, of course.

I'm curious what you think about Sebastian Faulks' new Jeeves and Wooster novel. I'm not sure whether to cringe or not. I'll probably have to read it, if only to earn the right to complain.

November 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know which not to read first: Faulks' Bertie and Jeeves novel or John Banville's Philip Marlowe. Since I have not read Faulks, I'm likelier to read one of his real books before I try his Wodehouse.

Did your little Bouchercon souvenir ever arrive, by the way? I'd hate to think that just because its shape, some zealous drudge would have confiscated it.

November 05, 2013  
Blogger Hoppy Uniatz said...

Not entirely convinced Charteris was paying tribute to Wodehouse. He told me many years ago that Teal was named after an uncle on his mother's side.

(And the character was based on a Scotland Yard Inspector Charteris knew at the time)

November 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I did hedge with the possibility that the character's name was "apparently" based on the names of Bertie's cousins. And Goldsmith's introduction does invoke Wodehouse.

On the other hand, I know little about England in the early and mid-1920s, For all I know, the names Claude and Eustace could have been popular at the time, stock comic names and part of the zeitgeist to which any number of writers might have resorted.

November 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And thanks for the comment. I shall take a look at that Saint blog of yours.

November 05, 2013  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

It did arrive! And it's cooler than I imagined, so triple thanks. I'm planning a blog post about it after I read the story.

November 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Good. Now that it is safely in hand, I can reveal that the item in question, though shaped like a gun, is about an inch long. But one can't be too careful in this national security state.

November 05, 2013  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I'm sure we're both on the NSA watchlist anyway.

November 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I have had a pocket knife confiscated in Amsterdam and a corkscrew taken away in Tunis.

November 05, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

As for Faulks, he is best known for Birdsong, which I never managed to get around to. I may be alone in singing the praises of his later novel, Engelby. Don't know whether it would be your cup of tea, but the dark nature of its title character might appeal to you more than to some.

November 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. Didn't Faulks write a James Bond novel as well? Nice to hear he wrote his own books, too.

November 05, 2013  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

I'm back reading P.G. Wodehouse with great pleasure.

I've never read Charteris, but must look him up in the library.

November 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You might want to browse before you buy. Charteris wrote many Saint books (and others appeared under his name), and I remember reading one some years ago that I did not wow me. But the writing in this one is entertaining and good. (OK, maybe it's not quite Wodehouse, but then, what is?)

November 06, 2013  
Blogger Gavin said...

Unfortunately, even Wodehouse isn't always Wodehouse. I picked up a collection of his early material, and some of it was not very funny. (There was even a straightforward whodunnit, although I regret to say that it's not worth finding at all).

This is why I wouldn't hold out too many hopes for a Faulks novel -- Wodehouse took a long time to mature into his style; it's not something that comes naturally at all, and it's clear from his early books that it's a lot harder than it looks. (What I mean is, some of them have the kinds of lines he would use later, but they're just not quite as funny. I was starting to think I had misremembered how funny he can be, but then I read one of the later Emsworth books and I was laughing at loud).

November 07, 2013  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I took a quick look through The Last Hero this morning and couldn't find the anti-Semitic passage I was looking for. Maybe it's in a different novel. I remember basically what it said, though; the Saint was lamenting how the heroes of Britain these days were financiers with names that ended in "-vich" and "-stein". I'll keep looking.

November 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gavin, I won't hold an occasional lapse against an author who wrote so well and for so long. Even among the books he published in his prime, I thought he did not assimilate American popular speech as well as he probably thought he did.

November 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Matthew, let me know what you come up with. That Charteris was half-Chinese and had trouble because of this becoming a permanent resident of the United States may be relevant to this discussion.

November 07, 2013  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

I've just finished re-reading "Summer Lightning", a true gem and to be highly recommended.

November 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for mentioning that. I shall give it a try shortly. I have always like Wodehouse's short pieces better than his novels, so I am open to persuasion.

November 13, 2013  

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