The Courts of Idleness by Dornford Yates is a collection of short stories originally published in 1920 but my copy is a reprint from 2008. The author’s real name was William Mercer but he chose to use both his grandmothers’ maiden names as his pseudonym. Writing was obviously in his blood as his elder cousin was Hector Hugh Munro, better known as Saki.
I enjoyed these stories which are similar to Wodehouse in that the characters are ‘bright young things’ all such fun and silliness, but every now and again there’s a teeny reference to the men’s previous experiences as officers at the front during World War 1. To me they bubble with the near hysterical personality of survivors. It’s authentic too as Dornford Yates was a Second Lieutenant in the London Yeomanry.
There are five short stories which are mainly fun, interrupted by a wartime ‘Interlude’ which is anything but fun, then another six short stories of the amusing silliness, verging on the sort of thing that I remember from sketches in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The stories are linked as the characters travel from Madeira to Macedonia.
One story called As Rome Does begins: Solemnly we regarded the Colosseum. “Reminds me of the Albert Hall with the lid off,” said Berry. “But it does want doing up. Glad I haven’t got it on a full repairing lease.”
“Is anything sacred to you?” demanded Daphne.
“Yes” said her husband. “My appetite. That is why I venture for the second time to suggest that we should leave this relic of barbarity without delay, Besides, it revives painful memories.”
“When were you here before?” said Jonah.
“In a previous existence. Joan of Arc was by no means my first incarnation. In AD 77 I was a comic gladiator. Used to fight with gorgonzolas which had been previously maddened by having Schiller read to them in the original tongue. They used to call me ‘Sticking Plaster,’ because I was always coming off.”
The blurb on the back says: ‘Mr Yates can be recommended to anyone who thinks the British take themselves too seriously’ PUNCH.
I’ll read more by Dornford Yates whose books seemed to haunt me for a long time as there were shelves full of them wherever I went, but I knew nothing about him then – they all disappeared for ages before some surfaced again in my recent trip to Edinburgh bookshops with Jenny and Celia.