Thursday, August 18, 2011
Kathleen is a short, lively little novel by Christopher Morley. It's a slice of early 20th Century Oxford life--It's what Oxford was probably like when Dorothy L Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey was earning his First in History and swatting balls all over the cricket field. And, I am SO turning into a Christopher Morley fan-girl. I loved The Haunted Bookshop. And now I've loved Kathleen. It's like Wodehouse. But better. I'm getting all gushy and I don't think I can help it.
Morley's book brings us the Scorpions, a literary society made up of Oxford undergraduates whose purpose seems to be to write witty poetry, share literary papers, and to put together a smashing serial novel penned in turn by each member. Kenneth Forbes has been elected to start the serial off with a bang and has been given the entire Christmas vacation to use his fertile imagination to produce the opening chapter. So of course, in true undergraduate style, he is spending the first Sunday of term "at his desk desperately driving his pen across the paper." The Scorpions will be invading his rooms for their weekly meeting in about two hours time.
But Forbes has come up with a winning opener. While browsing at a bookstore, he discovers what appears to be a mild love letter from "Kathleen" to her beau "Joe." He decides that the Scorpions should use the letter as their guide--writing their story about the trials and tribulations of the couple's romance and only using people actually mentioned in the letter as characters. His fellow society members think this is a ripping good idea and they spend the term producing the saga of Kathleen and Joe--and in the process, Kathleen becomes the ideal woman for each of them. They soon decide that it would be great fun to descend upon Kathleen's hometown and attempt to meet the woman of their dreams. A contest is suggested in which each member is to make whatever arrangements he might (so long as they are not distressing to Kathleen and her family) and the winner will be the one who succeeds in speaking with Kathleen and having her agree to visit them in college. What follows is an onslaught of disguises, telegrams, and humorous hijinks. Great fun indeed!
This was so much fun. I started it at 7:30 last night and could not go to bed until I finished the last page (midnight). I couldn't wait to see what disguise, what elaborate plan each society member would come up with next. The events of the dinner party at Kathleen's house are the highlight of the adventure and it was all laugh-out-loud terrific. Morley writes with such simplicity; he was an absolute delight after wading through the over-done prose of Stevenson.
I suppose if one wanted to get all analytical and English-majory (oh, wait, I am English-majory), then one might want to look in-depth at the perception of women in the early 20th Century and examine this early form of stalking....Nah. Let's just enjoy it for what it is. Good clean fun with a bunch of high-spirited Oxford undergrads. Lovely. Five stars.