We’re now on to some novels that have not been reprinted in recent times (as far as I know!) and I think have been pretty much forgotten. Herbert Jenkins will be a familiar name to some as a publisher, most famously for publishing P. G. Wodehouse. I’ve mentioned him before as the publisher of Willie Riley; he was notable for his modern and innovative marketing techniques. See the winter Newsletter and the post on Willie Riley.
Jenkins was also a novelist, and had popular success with the character ‘Bindle’. There were a whole series of these. I read The Night Club, which claimed to be ‘Some further episodes in the career of the cockney furniture-remover’, but it was a lie! It was series of short stories, hung together by the conceit that they were told by a group of friends to each other. One of the characters was Bindle, but most of the stories were not about him at all. Apparently there were complaints and Jenkins responded to his public by returning to Bindle for his next book, Adventures of Bindle (1919).
Review by Helen C:
I found “Bindle” a good read, often hilarious, not so much for the ‘plot,’ which consists of a catalogue of his unlikely, often outrageous, escapades, as for the characters of the irrepressible Bindle himself, and his wider family, and for the humour and witty turns of phrase in the writing.
Bindle may seem a bit of a caricature – an easygoing working-class Londoner (with speech written as spoken), popular and generous, passionate about his beer and his ‘little joke’. But he is more complex: certainly optimistic, in contrast to his scolding and prejudiced wife; willing to indulge in any practical joke, and often showing no concern at the discomfiture of those at the receiving end of his escapades; never losing ‘an opportunity of indulging his sense of the ludicrous’ and with a good conceit of himself (‘Lord! How the ladies fight for me in the kissin’games!’); but he is a ‘shrewd judge of character’ and has ‘a strong sense of justice’, intervening when a man was mercilessly beating a horse because ‘it ain’t good for a cove to be let ‘it things wot can’t ‘it back.’ His ‘sympathies are quickly aroused’, and he collects money from his mates for a sick colleague, rescues a homeless girl, and is very happy to escort his delightful niece, Millikins, secretly to the cinema to meet up with her suitor, unbeknown to her strict and bigoted father.
Bindle’s attitude to women and matrimony is a major theme; he declares on page 1 ‘women is all right if yer can keep ‘em from marryin’ yer’ and muses ‘Funny things, women. Yer think yer’ve got a bloomin’ peach, when squash! and there is only the stone and a little juice left in yer ‘and.’ He re-iterates his fundamental liking for women on the final page, explaining that he is not a misogynist and ‘ain’t got nothink to say against women provided they don’t marry yer. When they do they seems to change.’ When his wife accuses him of being spendthrift, and threatens to leave him, he tells her pleasantly that ‘women like you don’t leave men like me. That’s wot matrimony’s for, to keep two people together wot ought to be kept apart by Act o’ Parliament’.
His wife is ‘obsessed with two ogres: Dirt and the Devil’ and is embittered that she has married the maverick Bindle, rather than her sister’s husband, a pillar of the Chapel and a successful tradesman. She constantly berates Bindle for being out of work, or for ignoring the precepts of her religion (although Bindle says he has nothing against religion ‘providing it’s kept for Sundays and Good Fridays, an’ don’t get mixed up wi’ the rest of the week’) – a religion which doesn’t seem to comfort her, since she ‘ain’t at her best Sunday evenin’s … Er soul seems to sort of itch a bit an’ ‘er not able to scratch it.’ But she is an excellent cook, hardworking at domestic tasks, and even defends her husband by fighting off an angry foreman (sacked, through a practical joke of Bindle’s) with her dishcloth and broom.
Religion – Church versus Chapel – comes in for some gentle mockery, with the Church contingent at the Temperance Fete recoiling ‘in horror at the thought of eating Nonconformist sandwiches’. But the un-endearing figure of Bindle’s bigoted and pious brother-in-law, Mr. Hearty, a Chapel stalwart, is offset by the jolly young missionary who, with Bindle’s help, becomes the life and soul of Mr. Hearty’s party. And such is Bindle’s horror at being prayed for in chapel by Mr. Hearty as a ‘brother…fallen by the wayside’ that he instigates a major practical joke on his relative.
Bindle’s escapades are risky and outrageous (and usually amusing to the reader) but he ends up unscathed, by luck or cunning, until he eventually goes too far and loses his job. He then tries to enlist, without success, owing to his ‘various veins’ but finally gets into uniform as a special constable (which he uses to his advantage when caught in the act of helping his upper-class student pal and lady friend to elope).
As a modern reader, 100 years on, I am surprised at how much still rings true, though we are perhaps less likely to be scandalised at anything. Some Victorian sensibilities are mentioned (e.g. Mr. Hearty’s remark that ‘women have limbs, not legs’) but many topics are still relevant and understood today: men feel that ‘Women ain’t wot they was’… ‘it’s women everywhere now. They’re on buses, driving’vans … yer can’t get away from ‘em’. And the arguments for and against involvement in a war which doesn’t directly threaten Britain could be heard in any modern gathering; as no doubt could the patriotic support of Britain ‘s monarchy and free speech (‘We got a fine ole country and a good king, an’ we can tell an archbishop to go to ‘ell …wi’out getting’ pinched for it’.) The challenges of matrimony can be understood by any generation, e.g. when Bindle finally admits that, when women seem to change with marriage, ‘P’r’aps it’s because they find out all about yer’; and he touchingly pacifies his wife by making the great sacrifice of agreeing to attend chapel on Sunday. Even women’s fashion comes up, but may divide opinion less now than when Mrs. Bindle shunned, (as ‘contrivances of the devil’) ‘a short skirt and a pneumonia-blouse’ – an outfit which would raise few eyebrows on today’s high street! This book is full of witty phrases, which made me laugh out loud, and I am glad to have read it.
Review of Adventures of Bindle by Margaret B:
A picaresque novel about Bindle, a larger than life cockney and prankster with a strong sense of what he believes to be right and wrong. He sets out through practical jokes and pranks to expose and even punish hypocrisy, bullying, narrow mindedness, snobbery and arrogance. However some of his pranks seem rather cruel and unnecessary to a 21st century reader– such as letting a flat to two different and quite innocent tenants while he is a temporary caretaker or covering a group of suffragettes in soot.
The novel provides fascinating insight into the daily lives of lower middle class Londoners during the First World War– what they ate, what they did to entertain themselves, what they wore, their working lives and the daily domestic duties. The description of Mrs. Bindle doing the ironing while she is in a rage with her husband is very amusing.
The book challenges conventional morality in a light hearted way but we only tend to see things from Bindle’s point of view. There is no debate. Most of the characters are quite stereotypical and two dimensional – almost cartoon like which makes it easier to accept the way they are treated. Bindle is portrayed as a loveable rogue (a first World War Del Boy?) but the way he treats people can feel uncomfortable at times.