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Art Imitates Life
on 18 August 2010
Though one tends to think of his school stories when thinking of early Wodehouse, he did on several occasions stretch himself, and often with much better results than what he achieved with the school stories. "Not George Washington" is a case in point. Billed as an autobiographical novel, this story is very humorous and one of his better early efforts, along with "Love Among the Chickens" and "William Tell Told Again". Published originally on October 18th, 1907 and co-written with Herbert Westbrook, Wodehouse uses his early career and some of his and Westbrook's doings as the framework for the story.
The story is cleverly written, as it moves from one narrator to the next. The narrative starts as from Miss Margaret Goodwin, a woman who becomes engaged to James Orlebar Cloyster (Wodehouse). They fall in love and are engaged to be married, but first he must succeed as a writer, and so he heads off to London and they are parted. Her narrative jumps ahead a few years as she is still waiting, but has written a play which she sends to her husband so that he can succeed.
In London, the narrative shifts to Cloyster and returns to the time of his initial arrival and attempts to become a writer. Cloyster soon becomes distracted by other aspects of life, and the story artfully weaves its way through his career events, his personal relationships, and the waning of his feelings for Miss Goodwin. Cloyster ends up hiding his success from Miss Goodwin by publishing his works through three different men.
The narrative next shifts to Sidney Price. Price is one of Cloyster's fronts who becomes aware that he is not the only one who is allowing Cloyster to publish using his name. He and the others decide they want a higher rate and confront Cloyster, but Cloyster has decided to marry another woman (the cousin of a friend) and cancels his arrangement with all three of the men. Price then sees works still being published under the other two men's names, and learns that they have decided that they can write as well as Cloyster, so Price also begins to write and publish under his own name.
The narrative then shifts to Julian Eversleigh (Westbrook) - the friend of Cloyster who is the cousin of Cloyster's new fiancé - and then back to Cloyster as the story twists and turns at the end in a marvelous display of Wodehouse at his best. The overall story is fairly strong, though not quite at the level of the second version of "Love Among the Chickens", it is still one of the best of Wodehouse's early works.