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Bill the Conqueror, His Invasion of England…

Bill the Conqueror, His Invasion of England in the Springtime

by P. G. Wodehouse

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193661,059 (3.84)8



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This was classic Wodehouse -- funny, charming, full of coincidences, mistaken intentions, and all the wrong people running into one another at exactly the wrong times.

The eponymous Bill, lazy and without direction, fancies himself in love with a gorgeous dame named Alice, whose brother (and Bill's top pal), Judson, is a drunk. Out of infatuation for Alice, Bill volunteers to take Judson to England to dry him out for a month or so while carrying out some vital business for his Rich Uncle on the side.

Once there, Bill runs into Flick, who has been in love with him of a sort since he saved her life five years before, only Flick has been coerced by her aunt and uncle into agreeing to marry Roderick, a stuffed shirt who is constantly afraid that he will be beset upon by hooligans seeking to beat his head in for libel. What with Roderick being in love with a stenographer, Flick being in love with Bill, Bill being in love with the idea of Alice (a love that is vague, obsessive, and dim), and Judson being in love with a spot of port, insanity is obviously just around the corner. Being Wodehouse, Bill has barely set foot upon English soil before shenanigans ensue, and of course it takes a few clever and tenacious women to even begin to sort out the mess.

There was actually quite a bit of character development in this book. Some characters remained fairly static: Roderick was spineless the whole novel, Uncle George remained a bully convinced of his own moral superiority, and Flick remained exasperatedly clever and determined throughout. However, the uncles were forced to act on their own actions and inactions, Bill went from hazy to determined, and Judson changed from a truly pathetic waste of human space into a rather hilarious, exasperating man quick to act when affronted. I found myself laughing hysterically at Judson's antics halfway through the novel and never fully stopping.

Bill managed to avoid the Wodehouse trope of the useless, bumbling fool who somehow gets the girl. It's fairly obvious why Flick likes him: in addition to being a bit dashing, he's very determined once he puts his mind to something, and while he's no strategist, Bill is a dedicated, solid bloke with a slow temper. He is very protective of his mates (even while being completely fed up with Judson) and, once someone points out a serious flaw in his reasoning (idleness, inattentiveness, missing something obvious), he goes about trying to correct the problem, including admitting that he was wrong. This is very attractive in a main character: the ability to admit to a flaw, then trying to fix it or at least get past it.

Bill didn't have so many of the ridiculous petty jealousies that seem to plague Wodehouse's Blandings men, and he possessed acute clarity of purpose whenever a blatant plot point fell into his lap. By the end of the book, I wanted to clap Bill on the shoulder: here is a character who realizes he's not as clever as the people around him, but he doesn't fret about it too much.

Overall, a fun, quick read for a snowy day spent inside. I think non-series Wodehouse novels are my favorite! ( )
  eldashwood | Apr 17, 2013 |
Entertaining romance set on both sides of the Atlantic. An early appearance of Percy Pilbeam as a sub-editor on the tattle sheet "Society Spice". However, the rich and foppish American, Judson Coker, is not quite up to Bertie Wooster standard. ( )
  ianw | Sep 13, 2008 |
The disintegration of my copy of the old Mayflower paperback was a good excuse to add another Everyman hardback to my PGW collection. As usual, I like everything about the Everyman except the cover art, which for some reason depicts a slightly uglier version of Elizabeth II, ca. 1960, meeting a man in his socks. The paperback is just as bad: it has what appears to be a scene from The Avengers on the front cover...

This is a fairly early Wodehouse novel (1924), perhaps not quite as self-assured as what he was writing ten years later, but still well worth the effort. The plotting is a little bit loose, we cross the Atlantic a few more times than are absolutely necessary, and the criminal gang is a bit too clever for its own good, but the central characters (Bill, the kind-hearted but not-very-clever football hero; Flick, the clever, sympathetic and enterprising Wodehouse Girl; Judson Coker the party animal and Prudence Stryker the pugilistic chorus girl) are out of the classic Wodehouse mould. In a later book we would probably have seen more of Prudence (she would have married Judson). A particular delight is that this book marks the first appearances of Percy Pilbeam, the greasy journalist (later to become a pig-detective extraordinaire) and his employer Sir George Pyke (Lord Tilbury). I'm not sure if Flick is the first Wodehouse Girl to jump to the wrong conclusion after seeing her fiancé dining with a chorus girl at Mario's, but she certainly isn't the last!

As nickhoonaloon says, there are lots of classic Wodehouse images to enjoy. One thing I noticed: as far as I'm aware, this is the only place where Wodehouse gets the title of Browning's poem right: everywhere else the good news is brought from Aix to Ghent, but here some publisher's editor seems to have stepped in and got the messenger to go from Ghent to Aix as Browning intended. Maybe it's because Wodehouse played a bigger part in my early education than Browning, but I've always thought "Aix to Ghent" sounds better... ( )
1 vote thorold | Aug 26, 2008 |
Many years ago, whilst reading a Wodehouse novel, my sister mentioned to me the author's propensity for hilarity. When someone says that to you it stays. For years in this case. My friend recently decided to cut down his book collection and I was on the receiving end of a couple of Wodehouse that I didn't already have. My sister's comments returned to me and, after the entertaining unpleasantness of King, I thought I might try a bit of Wodehouse. The copy I chose is a blue, dilapidated, cloth covered edition of Bill the Conqueror, published (reprinted) in 1932 . A pair of coffee rings adorn its cover like a motif. Various stains and petrified fingerprints, watery accidents, and severe foxing testify to it not having had the best time of things. But I have it now and it seems pretty happy on the shelf next to my other Wodehouse. And, unlike most other people who on seeing someone hold an old book think they must be homeless and insane, I like to read from a battered old edition.
Bill is about a young man who leaves America for England to show his super-rich uncle that he deserves some stake in his fortune. In England, through a series of giant coincidences, he meets and becomes entwined with young Flick, who eventually becomes his wife. Writing that sentence I realise that confining the plot of this book to a summary is a difficult thing to do. There are many characters in this book who are noteworthy for their input into the plot, and the overarching plot just mentioned is misleading because so much is going on concurrently to prove that there is more than one plot. Perhaps what I should say is that our protagonists, Bill and Flick, are brought together through a series of events involving cantankerous rich uncles, aunts and a conniving gossip writer. But, the plot is not paramount. Like any wonderful writer, Wodehouse's writing transcends sensationalism. Eg. 'Alice Coker was an amazingly handsome girl. She was modelled on queenly lines, unlike her brother Judson, who favoured his father's side of the family and looked like an Airedale terrier' (p. 32). Or this: 'A warm breeze blew languidly from the west and the sun shone royally on a grateful world; so that even Wimbledon Common, though still retaining something of that brooding air which never completely leaves large spaces of public ground on which the proletariat may at any moment scatter paper bags, achieved quite a cheerful aspect...' (p. 64). I know I have gone on about this skill to capture the hilarity and inanity of humanity, juxtaposing its expert description with the commonplace, making it unexpected. Wodehouse has this skill and it is great to encounter. How many people are able to see themselves as ridiculous and revel in it. Look at anyone on the street. Looking beyond the everyday, the commonplace, the expected, do you see anything that isn't slightly or overtly dumb. I see it everywhere. I even cultivate it in myself sometimes, although I am sure that I often do it unwittingly. But I don't really care. It will all make a great story one day.
  bezzalina | Mar 2, 2008 |
I`ve given my copy of this away, but as I read it recently, i thought a review might be a good idea.

This title, originally published in, IIRC, 1924 is maybe not P G at his most assured, but still has it`s fair share of laugh-out-loud moments.

If I had a criticism, I`d say that he maybe overdoes the plots and sub-plots, so that towards the end one feels as if the author is really just tying up loose ends. Neverhelss, a good read and certain to amuse and entertain our man`s many fans. ( )
  nickhoonaloon | Feb 7, 2008 |
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To My Father and Mother
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With a sudden sharp snort which, violent though it was, expressed only feebly the disgust and indignation seething within him, Sir George Pyke laid down the current number of "Society Spice" and took up the desk-telephone.
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