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A Pelican at Blandings

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P.G. Wodehouse around age 38

A Pelican at Blandings is a comic novel by P.G. Wodehouse, first published in the United Kingdom on 25 September 1969 by Barrie & Jenkins, London, and in the United States on 11 February 1970 by Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, under the title No Nudes Is Good Nudes.[1] It is the tenth full-length novel in the Blandings Castle saga and the last one fully completed by Wodehouse. The title refers to the Hon. Galahad Threewood, an extreme example and rare survivor of the now-defunct Pelican Club, a once-noted hangout for raffish gentleman.

Plot overview

Blandings Castle lacks its usual balm for the ninth Earl of Emsworth, as his imperious sister Lady Constance Keeble is once more in residence. Also adding to his woes is the egregious presence of Alaric, the Duke of Dunstable, who is again making an extended visit, along with the standard Wodehousian quota of American millionaires, romantic youths, con artists, imposters, and love-struck girls. With a painting by a French Impressionist of a reclining nude at the center of numerous intrigues, Gally's genius is once again required to sort things out.

Plot, detailed

Lord Emsworth, that amiable but woolly-minded backwoods peer, is apparently now in clover at Blandings, with its only guest, an American named Howard Chesney, easily avoided by eating alone in the library. Imperious sisters are but a distant memory, and he no longer has an overly efficient secretary to contend with. His long spell of blissful peace is shattered, however, by the unexpected arrival of his particularly domineering sister Lady Constance Keeble, along with a friend she has met on the boat coming from America, Vanessa Polk. The news that the dreaded Duke of Dunstable has also just invited himself to the Castle for an indeterminate stay adds to his misery. Desperate, he telephones his dapper younger brother Gally for aid.

Gally is in London, meeting his godson Johnny Halliday, a lawyer who is also a part-owner of an art gallery. Johnny announces his engagement to Dunstable's niece, Linda Gilpin. Upon his Emsworth's appeal, however, Gally hurries off to the Castle, sharing a train carriage with Dunstable, who tells him how he has recently bought a painting of a reclining nude by a French Impressionist, having heard how anxious a wealthy American, Wilbur Trout, is to buy it; Dunstable intends to bring Trout to Blandings to sell him the painting at a large profit.

At the Castle, Connie urges Dunstable to cosy up to her guest, Vanessa Polk, the great wealth of Vanessa's father being an infallible lure for the avaricious Duke. Lord Emsworth's travails are further compounded by the refusal of his prize-winning pig, the beloved Empress of Blandings, to eat a potato. And Gally hears from Linda in no uncertain terms that her engagement to Halliday is no more, while Halliday himself comes to Market Blandings, hoping to explain away the incident of a grilling he was obliged to give Linda as a witness in a court case he was defending; it was this interrogation that led to her angry rejection. Johnny begs Gally to invite him to the Castle, where he could plead his case, but Gally, apologetically explaining that he is already in Connie's bad books, sends him back to London, promising, however, to do his best on his behalf.

Wilbur Trout arrives, and we now learn that Vanessa Polk was once engaged to him and still harbors tender feelings. He tells her the story of Dunstable's treachery about the painting, and she hatches a plan to steal the painting for him from the Castle's picture gallery, where it has been placed. In London, however, Halliday has been told by his partner in the art gallery that sold the painting to Dunstable that he has just discovered the painting to be a fake; not knowing what else to do, Johnny once again calls upon Gally for help. They meet the next day in Market Blandings, Halliday carrying the authentic painting (which had been out for cleaning) with him, and the wily old Pelican says he will be pleased to steal the fake version and swap it for the real one later that night after the inhabitants of the Castle are all asleep. They arrange to meet at the Empress's sty at midnight in order to make the actual swap of the two paintings.

Just before midnight, however, Lord Emsworth, visiting his pig because of a worrying dream, falls into the muddy sty, then finds himself locked out of the Castle, Gally having turned the key on the front door upon his return from meeting Johnny. Emsworth therefore enters the house via Dunstable's rooms on the ground floor, waking up the Duke when surprised by a cat, and later returns to wake the Duke again when he sees the empty frame in the picture gallery that once held the reclining nude. What has happened is that Gally decided to take a bath before putting the real painting into the empty frame, and during that interval Emsworth had chanced to visit the picture gallery to retrieve a pig book he had left there earlier....

When the rest of the household, however, goes to the picture gallery and sees the painting, now replaced by Gally, the Duke's low opinion of Emsworth's sanity persuades him to call in psychiatric help; with Sir Roderick Glossop out of the country, Gally quickly recommends his junior partner, one Johnny Halliday, who just happens to be on hand at the Emsworth Arms.

Vanessa Polk, having spotted Chesney for a crook, persuades him to help her steal the painting, but he recognizes Halliday, newly arrived at the castle, as the attorney who once defended him after an earlier crime went wrong. He wants to leave to avoid being unmasked and to return by night for the painting, but upon seeing Halliday at the top of the stairs, decides to push him down instead. Halliday falls, taking Dunstable with him, and while this angers the Duke, he endears himself to Linda, who finds herself kissing his face as he lies prone in the hallway. Linda, now firmly in favor of Halliday, reveals that, as a "ward or court" she cannot marry without Dunstable's consent, which, of course, he refuses after the stairs incident, and having also recalled Halliday's father, whom he never got on with.

Connie, suspicious of Johnnie's youth, calls Glossop's office, discovers that Halliday is an imposter, and promptly ejects him from the castle. Gally, meanwhile, learns from Beach the butler that Vanessa is not the daughter of the American millionaire J.B. Polk, who is unmarried and childless. Confronted by Gally, Vanessa laughingly tell him the truth: although unrelated to the millionaire, her name actually is Polk, and she is the millionaire's confidential secretary. For innocent, but typical Wodehousian reasons, she has indeed come to the Castle under false pretenses. Gally vows that he will not unmask her to Connie. Trout and Vanessa meet that same night to steal the painting from the gallery, but their accomplice, Chesney, fails to turn up, having crashed his car on the way. The two realize they love each other and leave the next morning to get married.

Connie, suspicious of their sudden departure and concerned that they may be in love, insists to Dunstable that he write Vanessa proposing marriage. The letter, however, is intercepted by Gally, who of course knows that Vanessa is not truly an heiress; he makes this known to Dunstable, who is aghast at the prospect of marrying a penniless secretary. Gally refuses to hand over the letter containing the proposal to the Duke unless he consents, as ward of court, to the wedding of Linda and Johnny. And he enforces this by drawing up a written contract for the furious Duke to sign. Connie, in the meanwhile, has been suddenly recalled to America by her husband, and the disgruntled Duke now returns home, leaving Emsworth once again the tranquil master of his harmonious domain.

Main characters

  • The Earl of Emsworth, the absent-minded master of Blandings
  • Alaric Pendlebury-Davenport, Duke of Dunstable, a cantankerous peer
    • Linda Gilpin, the Duke's attractive niece
  • Johnny Halliday, a barrister and partner in a London art gallery, godson of Gally
    • Ma Balsam, Halliday's voluble landlady
    • Joe Bender, proprietor of a London art gallery, Halliday's business partner
  • Wilbur Trout, a much-married American millionaire
  • Vanessa Polk, a charming and resourceful young girl, once engaged to Trout
  • Howard Chesney, a rather suspicious guest in the Castle
  • Beach, long-time butler at the Castle

See also

The egregious Dunstable previously visited the castle, as a mostly unwanted guest, in Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939) and in Service with a Smile (1962).

References

  1. McIlvaine, E., Sherby, L.S. and Heineman, J.H. (1990) P.G. Wodehouse: A comprehensive bibliography and checklist. New York: James H. Heineman, pp. 101–102.

External links