QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
First published in 1930 and now reissued by Penguin Classics, Poet’s Pub tells the story of an Oxford poet named Saturday Keith and the lively cast of characters who stays at the pub he runs in Downish, England.
As the novel begins, Keith’s fledgling literary career has suffered a severe setback. Reviews of his second book of poems, the unfortunately titled February Fill–dyke, range from condescending to dismissive. This negative reaction is very much at odds with Keith’s own estimation of his work and his pride is deeply wounded. Despondent, he heads off on a hundred–mile walk at the end of which he is quite unexpectedly offered the chance to run the Downy Pelican, a pub owned by Lady Cotton, the mother of his novelist friend Quentin. He welcomes the opportunity to step away from the harsh light of literary scrutiny and the chance to become a good landlord. “For malt does more than Milton can / to justify the ways of God to man,” he says aloud to mark the occasion (p. 11).
The Downy Pelican quickly gains notoriety as the “Poet’s Pub” and soon fills with a lively and eccentric cast of characters, not all of whom are who they claim to be. Chief among them are the supercilious Professor Benbow and his beautiful daughter Joan, with whom Saturday falls in love; the red–haired vixen of a maid, Nelly Bly, who casts a spell over Quentin; Mr. Wesson, a rather unconvincing book collector; the irritable literary critic Sigismund Tefler, who despises Keith’s poetry; the American entrepreneur Mr. van Buren, who has developed a potentially lucrative and highly secret technology for extracting oil from the earth; and the bartender Holly, who is likewise guarding an important invention: a blue cocktail.
Eric Linklater shines a gentle but nevertheless piercing satirical light on each of these characters, and once they start interacting with one another, the plots thicken in delightfully outlandish ways. Passion, possible espionage, multiple deceptions, secrets kept and stolen, towering poetic ambition, and a hilarious car chase through the English countryside carry the reader along to a very satisfying conclusion.
A wonderfully fluid story itself, in many ways the novel is about the act of storytelling. Several of the main characters are writers (Saturday, Quentin, Nelly, and Sigismund) but nearly all of them are storytellers of one kind or another participating in imaginative self–performance and self–invention. Author Eric Linklater exhibits brilliant humor, a gift for quick and vivid characterization, and an ability to satirize his characters’ foibles without reducing them to stereotypes. From a failed poet’s dream of glory to an American businessman’s dreams of wealth to an aspiring novelist’s desperate attempts to find material to a barman’s puffed–up pride, Poet’s Pub gives us the whole range of the human comedy.
ABOUT ERIC LINKLATER
Eric Linklater was a Scottish writer born in Penarth, Wales, on March 8, 1899. Although Linklater initially studied medicine, he later became interested in journalism. Much of his writing is based on his experience in the military and his extensive world travels. During World War I, he served as a sniper with a Scottish infantry regiment and after suffering a severe head injury he was hospitalized for several months. In the 1930s he became a full–time writer, publishing novels, poetry, short fiction, satires, travel pieces, children’s books, war histories, and two volumes of autobiography. The satirical Juan in America examines the catastrophe that was Prohibition, while Private Angelo humorously recounts the postwar reorganization in Italy. His children’s novel The Wind on the Moon was awarded the Carnegie Medal. Poet’s Pub was adapted into a British comedy film in 1949.