Best Seller

by

P.G. Wodehouse

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Miss Postlethwaite, the barmaid of the Angler’s Rest, is so moved by the novel she is reading that she attracts the attention of the pub’s patrons. Mr. Mulliner, a regular, recognizes the novel as the work of his niece by marriage, Evangeline, and tells the story of how she came to be married to his nephew Egbert.

Mr. Mulliner’s narration begins with Egbert at a seaside village, where he has come to recover from an illness caused by the strains of his profession: he is an assistant editor who must interview female novelists. Egbert meets Evangeline at a picnic and falls in love at first sight. Before proposing, however, Egbert makes sure that she has never written a novel (or a short story, or poetry, for that matter). She insists she has not and accepts his proposal.

Unbeknownst to Egbert, Evangeline is so inspired by her feelings for her fiancé that she proceeds to write a romantic novel. When she tells Egbert what she has done and reads the book to him, he struggles to hide his distress. Her writing is both terrible and autobiographical: Egbert’s proposal has been included word for word, and he can’t believe that he ever uttered “polluted the air with such frightful horse-radish.”

Evangeline’s publisher is focusing on promoting a different, more salacious book, but their marketing efforts are undercut by an abrupt shift in fickle popular taste. Readers have grown tired of sex and want wholesome love stories. As a result, Evangeline’s novel becomes a best seller.

Evangeline is unsure of herself at first, but she quickly grows more comfortable with her success. She writes letters to her fans and gives lectures instead of spending time with Egbert. She employs a handsome literary agent named Jno. Henderson Banks, and she begins to turn down Egbert’s invitations so that she can go out for meals and to the theater with her agent. Egbert, jealous, demands that she stop seeing Banks. She refuses and breaks off their engagement.

Egbert is heartbroken. In order to cope with his grief, he focuses on his work. His experiences have made him tougher, and he is no longer too fragile to interview female novelists. He wins his boss’s approval by taking on especially difficult tasks, such as interviewing an author who has driven one of his fellow editors mad.

Eventually, Egbert is assigned to interview his ex-fiancée, Evangeline Pembury. He hides his emotion as he arrives at Evangeline’s home, and the two exchange formal greetings as if they are strangers. Egbert begins his interview, and Evangeline’s answers are unenthusiastic until Egbert asks how her novel’s sequel is coming along. Then she breaks into tears. Egbert moves to comfort her and asks the cause of her distress.

Evangeline explains that her agent has committed her to publish numerous short stories and serials. She has already been given an advance, but she has realized she hates writing and can’t figure out what to write about, so she doesn’t see how she can fulfill her contractual obligations. Egbert has a solution: he himself is a failed author, and he has three novels and twenty stories that he never was able to publish. Once they are married, Evangeline can simply publish them under her name. The story ends happily, with Egbert and Evangeline reconciled.