The Adventures of Sally
by P. G. Wodehouse

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Collier's, 8 October 1921 - 31 December 1921
Grand, April 1922 - October 1922
Household, November 1925 - April 1926 (as Mostly Sally)

Herbert Jenkins: London, 1922
312 pages

George H. Doran: New York, 1923 (as Mostly Sally)
317 pages

August 2013


By the time he wrote the standalone romantic-comedy novel The Adventures of Sally, P. G. Wodehouse was accustomed to dividing his time between Britain and America; and several leading characters in the novel seem reasonably at home on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, one of the charms of the novel is that the plot's loose ends return via careful coincidence, not only to be tucked in but cleverly knotted, even back and forth across the ocean. Much of the action takes place in New York and London (plus excursions), with Anglo-Americans in the two ocean-port cities about as intimate and mobile as though they were partly separated but cozily united by a river, as in Buda-Pest or Minneapolis-St. Paul.

For this novel we have shaken free of Wodehousian cricket, although sport does get a couple of turns with some comic mysteries of British football slang; and with a less-comic scene of professional boxer sparring. The young heroine Sally Nicholas, before she came into legacy, had worked in a respectable dance-emporium as a ballroom-dance hostess of the ten-cents-a-dance sort. Wodehouse clearly thought this an intriguing occupation, as it is the subject of his short story "At Geisenheimer's" (1915).

A lot of the action has to do with launching a stage play, written by Sally's secret fiance and produced by her brother. The realism and vicissitudes of live theater Wodehouse himself already had experienced. Mark Steyn praises his musical-comedy writing in Broadway Babies Say Goodnight.

The mainspring of The Adventures of Sally, though, is romance. For a naturally sunny and level-headed gal, her emotions are sent caroming around like billiard-balls, often through her own initiative — being wrong for the right reasons, or right for the wrong reasons. But she is a happy personality, and by the time we win through all the twists and surprises, we are glad that she has a happy story.

We meet a couple of the major British characters when Sally is enjoying a first vacation in France, at a beach with sunbathers and dogs:

Sally was sitting with her back against a hillock of golden sand, watching with half-closed eyes the denizens of Roville-sur-Mer at their familiar morning occupations. At Roville, as at most French seashore resorts, the morning is the time when the visiting population assembles in force on the beach. Whiskered fathers of families made cheerful patches of colour in the foreground. Their female friends and relatives clustered in groups under gay parasols. Dogs roamed to and fro, and children dug industriously with spades, ever and anon suspending their labours in order to smite one another with these handy implements. One of the dogs, a poodle of military aspect, wandered up to Sally: and discovering that she was in possession of a box of sweets, decided to remain and await developments.

Two young Englishmen, cousins, come to sit on the sand near Sally. They do not realize she speaks English:

There was a slight pause. Sally gave the attentive poodle a piece of nougat.

"I say," observed the red-haired young man in clear, penetrating tones that vibrated with intense feeling, "that's the prettiest girl I've seen in my life!"

At this frank revelation of the red-haired young man's personal opinions, Sally, though considerably startled, was not displeased. A broad-minded girl, the outburst seemed to her a legitimate comment on a matter of public interest. The young man's companion, on the other hand, was unmixedly shocked.

And as more dogs also have wandered hither, soon thereafter a dog-fight for Sally's candies begins on the beach.

P. G. Wodehouse's The Adventures of Sally is fast-paced, more romantic than comedy, but with a contra-leavening of serious themes and elements too. Quite enjoyable.


© 2013 Robert Wilfred Franson

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