Dave's Reviews > Tales of St. Austin's

Tales of St. Austin's by P.G. Wodehouse
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Apr 19, 09

bookshelves: humor, fiction
Read in April, 2009

“Tales of St. Austin’s” returns to the scene of P. G. Wodehouse’s first book, though to be fair, several of the included short fictional works were written and published prior to “The Pothunters”. “Tales of St. Austin’s” was first published in the U.K. on November 10, 1903, and contains 12 short stories and four essays. Prior to their publication in book form, all but one of the short stories appeared in either the Public School Magazine, or Captain” between July of 1901 and August of 1903. After reading “The Pothunters”, I had been hoping that this series of stories would do a good job of introducing the cast of characters, but the reality is that it expands the cast greatly and it does not help in understanding “The Pothunters”, though reading “The Pothunters” first did help several of these stories.

The book opens with “How Pillingshot Scored” which was first published in “Captain” in May of 1903. Pillingshot is a student who is worried about a test on Livy. He is worried to do just about anything for it; anything but study that is.

“The Odd Trick” was first published in “Captain” in August of 1902. In this story Philip St. H. Harrison is a young student who is pretty good at looking out for himself, but sometimes it is better to accept what you have coming.

“L’Affaire Uncle John” was first published in “Public School Magazine” in August of 1901. This story is written as a series of letters between the members of the Venables family regarding Richard’s rudeness towards his uncle John.

“Harrison’s Slight Error” was published in “Captain” in January of 1903. In this story Harrison returns and again gets into trouble when he elects to get revenge on someone without knowing who it is.

“A Shocking Affair” is the one story included which had not been published previously. In this story a student, Bradshaw, is very good at working to avoid work. In this case, the work he decides to avoid is a Thucydides exam.

“The Babe and the Dragon” was first published in “Captain” in February of 1902. In this story McArthur (a.k.a. The Babe) has been a home student who is now trying to decide which house to join. Being a sought-after athlete his choices are down to Merevale’s and Dacre’s. As it turns out Dacre is getting engaged, and because McArthur knows the woman he finds the decision to be easy.

“The Manoeuvres of Charteris” was originally published in “Captain” in August of 1903. In this story, Charteris gets some revenge on a player for the Old Crockfordians who knocked Tony Graham out of the game on a vicious play. From that point on the other person tries to get Charteris in trouble, though he skillfully avoids it, at least most of the time.

“How Payne Bucked Up” was originally published in “Captain” in October of 1902. Feeling that Payne has been slacking off due to being certain of getting his colours, Walkinshaw comes up with a plan to embarrass Payne into playing harder. The plan works, much to the misfortune of the rest of the team.

“Author!” was originally published in “Public School Magazine” in October of 1901. Abington decides to avoid a punishment and instead take in a matinee at the theatre. After the show he gets an opportunity to meet the author, whom he discovers to his dismay is the very man who gave him his punishment.

“The Tabby Terror” was originally published in “Public School Magazine” in February of 1902. Hungry schoolboys fight back against the new house cat which is making a habit of stealing their food.

“The Prize Poem” was originally published in “Public School Magazine” in July of 1901, and was his first story published. This story deals with how the poetry contest meets its end, thanks to a willing participant who is not eligible writing a poem for an unwilling participant who is required to enter.

There are also four essays titled “Work”, “Notes”, “Now, Talking About Cricket”, and “The Tom Brown Question” which close out the book. The essays all deal, as do the stories, with the life of schoolboys, although the last one actually has to do with a book about the life of schoolboys.

For the most part, these stories are examples of Wodehouse without the interesting characters and without the humorous situations. The storylines are very simple, and while some of the characters are known a bit either from other stories in the collection or from “The Pothunters”, Wodehouse again creates far too many new characters with not enough understanding of their personalities. I can easily mark this as the worst of the Wodehouse books that I have read, so while it may be of interest to those who want to read everything he published, the audience that is simply looking for a good Wodehouse book to read would do well to avoid this one.
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