wodehouse’s emsworth portrait (1919)

“Belpher, in addition to all the advantages of the usual village, has a quiet charm all its own, due to the fact that that it has seen better days. In a sense, it is a ruin, and ruins are always soothing to the bruised soul.


“Ten years before, Belpher had been a flourishing centre of the South of England oyster trade. It is situated by the shore, where Hayling Island, lying athwart the mouth of the bay, forms the waters into a sort of brackish lagoon, in much the same way as Fire Island shuts off the Great South Bay of Long Island from the waves of the Atlantic. The water of Belpher Creek is shallow even at high tide, and when the tide runs out it leaves glistening mud flats, which it is the peculiar taste of the oyster to prefer to any other habitation.

“For years Belpher oysters had been the mainstay of gay supper parties at the Savoy, the Carlton, and Romano’s. Dukes doted on them; chorus girls wept if they not on the bill of fare. And then, in an evil hour, somebody discovered that what made the Belpher Oyster particularly plump and succulent was the fact it breakfasted, lunched and dined almost entirely on the local sewage.

“There was a typhoid scare – quite a passing and unjustified scare, but strong enough to do its deadly work, and almost overnight Belpher passed from a place of flourishing industry to the sleepy, by-the-world-forgotten spot which it was when George Bevan discovered it.

“The shallow water is still there; the mud is still there; even the oyster-beds are still there; but not the oysters nor the little world of activity which had sprung up around them. The glory of Belpher is dead, and over its gates Ichabod is written. But, if it has lost in importance, it has gained in charm; and George, for one, had no regrets.”

A Damsel in Distress (1919)
Extracted by Bob Smyth