Mr Stimpson And Mr Gorse

Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse – Patrick Hamilton

This is the second of Hamilton’s trilogy recounting the exploits and machinations of Ralph Gorse, published in 1953 although set in the 1920s. The book introduces us to one of Hamilton’s foremost comedic creations, Joan Plumleigh-Bruce, Gorse’s next victim. Hamilton lavishes much care and attention in drawing Plumleigh-Bruce’s character. A widow and not as well off as she would like to be, she is a terrific snob and terribly vain. With little to do except devour anything about Marie Antoinette and making her Irish maid’s life a misery, she holds court in the early evenings at a pub, The Friar, in Reading.

Among Plumleigh-Bruce’s small circle is Donald Stimpson, an estate agent, comfortably off and with aspirations to marry her. Major Parry, married, acts as a part rival, whose presence eggs Stimpson on to press his claims to her hand. Plumleigh-Bruce, although realising that marriage to Stimpson would give her financial security, finds him repulsive. It is into this little circle that Ralph Gorse ingratiates himself when he moves to Reading.

We have seen Gorse in action in The West Pier and his method of attack once he has chosen his victim is little different. He flatters and charms Joan, winning her confidence, spinning a line that he is a businessman, successful of course, and a war hero and related to a General, Joan is too. Once his flattery finds fertile ground, he seeks to move Stimpson out of the running, something he does by taking the estate agent on an ill-fated trip to a London night club and an encounter with a French lady of the night, a piece of folly that Gorse can use against him.

With Stimpson tames, Gorse can extend his hold on Joan, introducing her to some money-making schemes. He leads her on to believe that he wants to marry her and takes her up to London for a wild week in which he encourages her to drink more than she is accustomed to. He claims he has just bought a house in the better part of Reading and a swanky car. Joan entrusts him with £500 and Gorse sends her back to the house he has allegedly bought, saying that he will join her shortly. Of course, he does not and Joan realises that she has been played for a fool, lost her reputation and much of her money. To make matters worse, Stimpson and her Irish maid exact their revenge on her by getting together.

It is hard to feel much sympathy for Plumleigh-Bruce. Hamilton has gone out of his way to create a ludicrous character who falls victim to her own snobbery and stupidity. Gorse, too, is vain and in his own way snobbish, but with a more knowing, worldly approach, and it is this convergence of characteristics that enables him to ensnare Joan into his trap.

Much of the action takes place in pubs and drinking establishments. As a notorious drinker himself, Hamilton is excellent in his descriptions of pub culture, inebriated conversations and the mechanics and effects of alcohol. His strictures on the perils of serious lunchtime sessions which renders the drinker almost insensible even if he drinks a modest amount in the evening should be a lesson to us all.

I enjoyed the book more so than The West Pier, simply because of the wonderful creation that Joan Plumleigh-Bruce is.

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