Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen

Aunt’s Aren’t Gentlemen is one of my favourite PG Wodehouse titles. I haven’t actually read the book, you understand, but the title sums up pretty much everything I enjoy about Wodehouse.

But that isn’t what I’m talking about today. Do you ever come across a book, through perfectly sensible literary paths, which makes you sit back and think “how on Earth did this become a part of my collection?” The connections which led to purchase are wholly admirable, but… Well, if you have to murmur the title to anyone sotto voce, then that’s a sure sign. If there’s a ready-made reason for buying on the tip of your tongue – “Oh, it seems strange, but I bought it because…” – then perhaps you’re in the same boat as me. How did I ever buy Cordial Relations: The Maiden Aunt in Fact & Fiction?

I’ve been reading the letters of Joyce Grenfell and Katharine Moore, on and off, for a few weeks – the latter kept mentioning the writing process, and consequent publication, of her book Cordial Relations (while making very clear that the title was Heinemann’s idea, not her own). Eventually I capitulated.

The letters are very interesting (have I mentioned them before?) Moore wrote to Grenfell after hearing her criticise a poem on the radio, leaping to the poem’s defence. A few tentative missives back and forth, and then the two became correspondents up until Grenfell’s death – though never met. Quite like blogging/internet friendships, really. But some amusingly odd letters – Moore often saw Grenfell on stage or in concert, and would write of it afterwards. How strange to see your correspondent on stage; stranger to think your correspondent could be somewhere in an anonymous audience. A fascinating scenario. Would I know if I walked past other bloggers on the street?

Anyway, I then discovered that Katharine Moore also wrote, and was rather intrigued by this volume. Seemed quite an arbitrary categorisation, but also quite an interesting one. Have a brief think – who do you reckon will get in? Of which maiden aunts can you think? Only had a quick flick through so far, but can tell you that the book includes sections on Jane Austen, Caroline Fox, Emily Eden, Dorothy Wordsworth (hmm, not very maiden, surely), Louisa M. Alcott, Maria Edgeworth, Harriet Martineau; Aunts to the Brontes (where is that pesky accent?), Gibbon, Lamb and Emerson; fictional Aunts in Ivy Compton-Burnett, Saki, Dickens, and, indeed, Wodehouse. What a wonderful selection of people! And a fascinating schema under which to approach them. I look forward to perusing…

And now I can proudly boast the title of this book. Maybe. Any other strange titles you feel the need to defend?

One thought on “Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen

  • May 13, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    I love the sound of “Cordial Relations” and I may have a companion volume: “Old Maid to Radical Spinsters, Unmarried Women in the Twentieth-Century Novel”. Typically me though I haven’t actually read it yet.


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