Miss Cuddlywumps reviews P. G. Wodehouse's classic “The Story of Webster”
At first I was determined not to like this story because it opens with an alcohol-inspired discussion of all the things that are “wrong with cats.” Cats are supposedly “selfish,” “unreliable,” and tactless. Then, of course, there is cats’ “insufferable air of superiority,” which supposedly stems from the fact that we were worshipped in ancient Egypt. Apparently cats are too willing to criticize humans, to “stare rebukingly” and “view with concern,” and this can have unfortunate effects on certain people.
If you ask me, those certain people deserve to be stared at rebukingly and viewed with concern, but that is beside the point here.
After all the faults of cats have been sufficiently discussed, one man tells a story to illustrate the dangers of cats’ superiority complex. This story involves a young man, Lancelot, who becomes a free-thinking and free-living artist, much against the wishes of his wealthy uncle. When the uncle goes off to Africa, he sends his cat to Lancelot, with two hopes: (1) that the cat will be well cared for and (2) that the cat will be a good influence on Lancelot.
Lancelot accepts the arrangement, because it might heal the strained relations between him and his uncle—and there might be some future money in the deal. His fiancée supports him only because of this possible future money (but she gets soup in her hair at lunch and later gets asparagus in her eyebrow, so we think she is sort of an idiot).
Would you take advice
From this cat? You should.
Photo by She of Little Talent.
Enter Webster, a large black cat who carries himself with an air of confidence and reserve. Webster is unimpressed by Lancelot. He expects a certain level of behavior and manners in a human, and this artistic young fellow does not begin to measure up. The cat’s piercing eyes instill a feeling of guilt and general unworthiness in the young man. Soon our Lancelot is shaving every morning, dressing for dinner, and (in the absence of his fiancée) is nearly engaged to a woman he does not even like.
To put it simply, Lancelot is completely cat-pecked (though I confess I don’t see why that is much of a problem).
An ultimatum from his fiancée (the one he likes) leads to the desperate desire for a large whiskey, which leads to a dropped bottle and spilled drink, which leads to a drunken Webster. (Do not try this at home; alcohol is bad for cats.) A drunken Webster is far less intimidating than a sober Webster, and Lancelot now knows how he can control his cat and get his life back. (Though if you ask me, he should just grow a backbone. She of Little Talent is obviously inferior to her real cats, but she still lives her own life—occasionally.)
A tragic descent.
(No cats were harmed or intoxicated in
the taking of this photo.)
Photo by She of Little Talent.
“The Story of Webster” was published in 1933 in the collection titled Mulliner Nights. P.G. Wodehouse was a master 20th-century humorist, and She of Little Talent enjoyed how his writing trips along effortlessly in an oh-so-British manner. She also enjoyed the supposedly humorous parts about the cat running the human’s life; very funny, she thought. And she laughed out loud when Webster got drunk. To me, this story is a tragic tale of one man’s inability to follow good advice and one cat’s descent into addiction. As a beautifully written tragedy, it earns…