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An acquaintance with a silly nickname rings to beg that the narrator take his place at a charity dinner put on by his aunt.

That summary could describe the beginnings of several Bertie Wooster stories by P. G. Wodehouse; but the story is “Champagne for One”, part of the Nero Wolfe / Archie Goodwin canon by Wodehouse's friend Rex Stout.

Provoking a question: did Wodehouse ever return the compliment by writing a scene featuring, say, a wise-cracking detective whose employer grows orchids?

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    I hope I am not unreasonable about criticism, but I undid an edit that removed any hint of who Archie Goodwin might be. Feb 3, 2022 at 5:31
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    Hi and welcome to LitSE. It might be helpful to add some more description of Archie and Nero. I’m not quite clear if you are asking if Wodehouse included Stout’s characters, Stout borrowed the characters from Wodehouse or if you think they may both have incorporated another friend in their work.
    – Spagirl
    Feb 3, 2022 at 8:44
  • "pointedly resembling" suggests a specific resemblance in some particular feature, but you don't make it clear what that is. Are you specifically wanting to know if the laryngitis story occurs in Wodehouse?
    – Stuart F
    Feb 3, 2022 at 17:15

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Is there evidence that Rex Stout intended an homage to Wodehouse, or is this simply an assumption?

I read at least a score of the Nero Wolfe stories in the long ago (and I have forgotten most of them, which is certainly not meant as a criticism) and ‘Champagne for One’ simply feels faithful to his formula, and shows no signs of any winking references to Wodehouse. I don’t think a ‘silly nickname’ germane: it is appropriate to the class Stout was describing—he rarely described the murders of poor people!

This certainly doesn’t mean that Wodehouse couldn’t have written a pastiche himself ... and he did write ‘Honeysuckle Cottage’ (which I adore) and which according to Wikipedia, may reference Henry James:

In an article published in The Henry James Review, Marijane R. Davis Wernsman writes that there are parallels between the story and Henry James's novel The Turn of the Screw (1898), which is mentioned by name early in "Honeysuckle Cottage". For example, each story is told by an uninvolved narrator and concerns an isolated haunted house that is near London but in the countryside. Wernsman also states that Wodehouse derived some of the names of characters in the story from Henry James. Colonel Carteret's first name is Henry, and the main character's first name is James. Carteret is also the name of a character in Henry James's The Tragic Muse (1890) who convinces the hero, a younger man, to marry.

I confess this strikes me as pretty feeble ... impossible to prove or contradict. I would actually think it more likely it was intended as an homage to Rex Stout, given the hero of the story is a mystery writer! But again, evidence would be nice.

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  • If the Drone-esque nickname doesn't tickle your antennae, how about the prominence of an aunt? Jun 3, 2022 at 0:36
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    As Rex Stout often had a large cast of characters, I would expect an occasional aunt, and even an occasional silly nick-name. I wouldn't dare affirm that he couldn't have meant to amuse Wodehouse ... but I don't see it myself. I did find this essay interesting: criminalelement.com/…
    – Barnaby
    Jun 3, 2022 at 2:05
  • @AntonSherwood The overbearing matron or aunt is a stock character that goes back at least to Plautus, so that although Wodehouse frequently employed the trope, this does not mean that anyone else who employs it is necessarily pastiching Wodehouse. Jun 15, 2022 at 18:29
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I have read Champagne for One as well as all the othe Nero Wolfe mysteries, and most of Stout's other work. I have also read pretty much all of the work of Wodehouse, including all of the Jeeves novels and stories, all of the Muliner stories, all the Drones Club stores, and all of the Blandings Castle tales.

Champagne for One does not strike me as an homage to Wodehouse. Yes, the opening situation, when described in a single sentence sounds as if it could be a Wodehouse plot. But within the first few pages (I think on the very first page) it is mentioned that the "charity" is a home for unwed mothers, and several of the young ladies will be present at the event. Absolutely never would that have happened in a Wodehouse story. The nearest his characters get to sex is an occasional kiss, most find hand-holding the acme of romantic bliss. I don't recall pregnancy ever being so much as mentioned in any of his tales, much less any character ever being pregnant during the course of any onstage scene. Also, "Dinky" as a nickname is not in my view nearly as unusual and "sill;y" as a nickname in the 1950s as most of the Wodehouse names are, but that is a question of style and opinion.

Also while Mrs. Robilotti is an Aunt, she is not at all a Wodehouse Aunt. She does not dominate her family by moral pressure, for one thing. She is rich and intimidating, but in a very different way, I think.

I refer others to the plot summery in the Wikipedia article. I ask if the overall summery sounds much like a Wodehouse plot. Archie's verbal style (and thus the tone of the book, since he narrates) is his usual one, which I have heard described as "first-person smartass".

It is true that there are published letters by Wodehouse praising Stout's work as "re-readable", and I believe a positive comment from PGW appeared on the back cover of a Wolfe novel. I think there may also be published praise of Wodehouse by Stout. But each had his own very distinctive style, and rarely varied it in his mature work. Stout at least is said to have disliked any sign of a literary influence in his work.

In short, I think the degree of similarity in the books does not support the theory.

Now Stout has been imitated a few times, particularly in Too Many Magicians by Randal Garrett. This is the only novel in Garrett's "Lord Darcy" series of alternate-world mysteries, and it is an obvious and acknowledged Wolfe pastiche. But several of the stories in that series are clear pastiches: "Murder on the Napoli Express" is a clear imitation of Murder on the Orient Express, although Darcy appears in disguise as "Father Armand Brun" (aka 'Father Brown') The title of Garrett's "The Ipswich Phile" echos Len Deighten's The Ipcress File and his major spy character is "Sir James le Lein". Now a "lein" is a French-derived term for a secured debt. A very common English term for a secured debt is ... "bond".

In Too Many Magicians the title itself is a reference, Stout's Nero Wolfe series includes Too Many Cooks, Too Many Women, Too Many Clients, and "Too Many Detectives". The Wolfe-character, "Milord de London" is described is weighing over 300 pounds, and never leaves his "palace". He has a passion for Horticulture. His diction is an imitation of Wolfe's. His assistant (whose diction and style imitates Archie's) is "Lord Bontriomphe". Unpack this name: "Bon" is French for "Good", and "triomphe" is French for "victory" or "win", aka 'Good-win" (this, of course, ignores the actual origin of the name "Goodwin" which was Anglo-Saxon for "God's friend"). Lord Bontriomphe carries a .38 "Heron" pistol. In several stories, Archie Goodwin drives a 1938 Heron sedan. There are other references.

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  • I did not mean to suggest that “Champagne for One” as a whole resembles a Wodehouse story; only the opening conversation. Jun 9, 2022 at 22:09

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