A Gouty Courtship, Part 1
Introductory Note: “A Gouty Courtship” details the romance of Miss Maud Somerville and Mr. Percy Goring through a series of extracts from their diaries. Published in Punch, a magazine known for its satiric political humor, the story takes a lighthearted foray into the realm of thwarted love.
Advisory: This story contains ableist slurs.
This entry was published as the first of two parts:
Royat, July 4th.—Arrived here to-day from London, condemned by doctor to twenty-one days without the option of a fine! In other words, I have to swill tepid water at a bubbling fountain, soak myself daily in a running bath and undergo a gentle massage treatment at the hands of an expert Swede for three consecutive weeks, and all because my forefathers drank too much port, and left me as a heritage the most unmistakable signs of gout.1Arthritis caused by the inability of the body to properly metabolize uric acid. Yes, in the flower of my youth (I am only thirty-three) I find myself extremely “dicky” on one leg, and my hitherto angelic temper is rapidly changing to chronic irascibility.2“Dicky” was a slang term that meant shaky or weak. Derived from the name for a seat at the back of a carriage or automobile due to its shaky, uncomfortable nature. Gout at thirty-three! It is sickening, disgusting, absolutely ridiculous. I was told that I should find Royat delightful.3A commune in the Auvergne region of central France. Two casinos, two theatres, bands playing all day, baccarat and petits chevaux, health restored—in fact, a perfect little Paradise on earth.4“Petits chevaux” is French for little horses. I have already seen all the former attractions. I have lost a few louis at the “little horses,” I have been politely invited to become a member of the Baccarat Club, but I experienced a shock on hearing a lady, who was dining at the next table to mine, say, “It is my seventh season here—the waters are so good for gout!” But why seven years if the waters are any good? Shall I have to come here seven years? I who already grumble at the prospect of twenty-one days? I must make this lady’s acquaintance, and find out what she means. Surely she must have been talking nonsense, or perhaps she has gout on the brain. It seems to me that you ought either to be cured, or not, in your first year. Why persevere seven years?
Royat is empty; the bands play to rows of unoccupied chairs, a few sepulchral looking cocottes walk listlessly round the petits chevaux, and you can inscribe yourself for any hour you like at the baths.5“Cocottes” is French for prostitutes. The hotel proprietors say, “Les Anglais nous manquent cette année!6French for “the English are lacking this year,” meaning that many English people are away from their homeland. I should think so! France has been so inviting to English people lately.
I have noticed one pretty girl here, and she is staying at this hotel. But what is the good of thinking of pretty girls when you have gout, and a prospect of spending seven seasons at Royat? I close my Diary with renewed feelings of despair.
Royat, July 4th.—This is papa’s tenth day here, and he is no better. Our excellent doctor, the type of the courtly English physician, tells him that the waters show no beneficial signs at first. Papa asks him, with a sarcasm even more suppressed than his gout, at what period they do begin to show beneficial signs, and our dear doctor smiles goodnaturedly and tells him not to be impatient. All the same, Mamma says Papa’s temper has certainly improved within the last few days. His grumbling, which he feared was becoming chronic, is certainly less violent and the intervals between the outbursts of fury are becoming longer. I hope he will really be cured soon. Royat is so dull, and every second person one meets is an invalid. By the way, we have got a new man at the hotel. He is rather nice-looking; but he, too, looks delicate. He is too young to have gout, although he certainly walks a little lame. Perhaps he has been wounded in the Transvaal.7An area of South Africa where the Anglo-Boer War took place 1899-1902. That would make him rather interesting. We want interesting people in the hotel—there are only about six men all told, and they are all what the shops call “damaged goods.” I wonder what a dance would be like here. There is a lawn-tennis club, but I never hear of anyone playing. Perhaps it is kept up by charitable contributions, like the hospital. I went to one little soirée dansante at the Casino, but there were only the shop-keepers from Clermont who danced, and Mamma was so afraid that one of them would ask me to dance that she hurried me away after the first valse. 8A “soirée dansante” is a formal dance or ball. Ah, well, we have fifteen days more to spend here. Ordinarily the “cure” is twenty-one days, but it appears that Papa’s case being an obstinate one requires four days more. “Your father always was obstinate in everything,” Mamma said when she heard this prescription. And to think that gout is hereditary!
July 5th.—Took my waters, my bath and my massage; feeling worse—furious.
July 6th.—The same as yesterday. Decidedly that English girl is pretty. Her name is SOMERVILLE –MAUD SOMERVILLE. She has red hair, her father has gout. She looks sad and devoted. Poor girl! What an existence!
July 7th.—She dresses well and has a pretty figure. There is a mother, a faded, nearly obliterated portrait of the girl. I should like to make their acquaintance; but they seem to know no one, and not to care to. After dinner they take their coffee on the terrace of the hotel and then go to their rooms. I am not allowed coffee. Took my treatment as usual.
July 8th.—Am I overwhelmed with vanity, or do I fancy that she looks at me sometimes? Perhaps she pities my lonely condition. I wonder if she knows what I have the matter with me. I sat very near them at the band this afternoon, but with no result. Treatment as usual.
July 9th.—My masseur masses her father’s stomach, to aid his digestion. Scarcely a sufficient introduction. I could not very well say: “I think we have a mutual friend, who masses your father’s stomach.” I must find some other means. Of course, the usual treatment—which is doing me no good.
July 10th.—Did not see her all day. Masseur said she had gone for an excursion with her mother. What silly things excursions are, and how I hate Royat!
July 11th.—It appears they have gone to Vichy for two days. Royat is perfectly loathsome.
July 12th.—She has come back, looking more charming than ever. She almost seemed to recognise me, and appear pleased when she saw me at luncheon. It is fine and the place is looking brighter, people arriving every day. Fancy my knee is a little better.
July 5th.—Papa is certainly better. Mamma says he swears with less volubility, and experiences a difficulty in finding fresh oaths which she has never known before. It really looks as if the waters were doing him good. The new invalid looks very dull, and as if he was boring himself to death. Perhaps he is longing to be back again at the war.
July 6th.—I rather fancy the new invalid would like to make my—I mean, our acquaintance. Naturally it is very dull for him, but Papa won’t know anyone. He says it is quite enough to be bored with people at home, without coming abroad to have fresh inflictions thrust upon one.
July 7th.—His name is GORING—PERCY GORING. He is not in the army. He has gout! What a disillusion. Still, I can’t help pitying him. He is so young to suffer. I hope the waters will do him good.
July 8th.—We have had an invitation from the DENTONS to spend a couple of days at Vichy.9A commune in central France. Neither Mamma nor I wanted to go, but Papa insisted on our going. He said it might do him good not to see us for two days. A new kind of cure! He has tried almost every other one. Mr. GORING looks very ill and sad. I hope he will be looking better when I come back.
July 9th.—He looked so piteously at me to-day. I wish he was going to Vichy. Mamma says perhaps he drinks—it is very unusual for a man of his age to have gout. Papa went further, and said of course he was a confirmed drunkard. He could see dissipation written in every line of his face. I can’t—I can only see resigned suffering.
July 10th, Vichy.—Arrived here this morning. It is very like Royat, only ten times bigger and more crowded. I don’t think I should like to stay here.
July 11th.—Decidedly, I hate Vichy! Thank goodness, we go back to Royat to-morrow.
Royat, July 12th.—It seemed almost like seeing an old friend when I saw him coming in to luncheon. He limps a little less, but not much. I fancied he looked reproachfully at me, as much as to say, “Why did you go away?” I tried to look as if it wasn’t my fault, as if I would have given anything to stay here. But all that was rather difficult to get into one look, and I am not at all sure that I succeeded. Papa is still making improvement. I think he ought certainly to prolong his stay, as it is doing him so much good. I have told Mamma to tell the doctor so. She seemed surprised, and said she thought I disliked Royat. I said I thought it better to make the sacrifice a complete and unique one, instead of having to return here year after year. She agreed with me.
July 13th.—What rotten things introductions are, and to what a corrupt state Society must have arrived to require them! Why can’t I speak to her without being introduced? I think she would like to know me and sympathise with my miserable condition. She has a very sweet voice. I am sure she would soothe me, and I want soothing very badly. If I don’t make her acquaintance in two days, I shall finish my treatment at one gulp and go away. I shall sit in a bath for twelve hours at a stretch, and drink thirty glasses of water.
July 14th.—She has gone to Clermont to see the National fête. I shall go to Clermont to see the National fête. Hang the treatment!
July 15th.—No good! They got lost in the crowd, and I never saw them. At dinner the waiter brought her father the wrong water—St. Victor instead of Cesar. Old man furious; let loose choice Billingsgate. I jumped up and promptly offered my bottle of Cesar, which waiter had just brought me. Old man still more furious. “I was not speaking to you, Sir; I was addressing the waiter.” Tears of mortified humiliation in her eyes, apologies from mother; but I had to retire defeated. I shall certainly finish my treatment to-morrow. I shall order a bath for the day!
July 13th.—It seems very hard that we can’t talk to each other without being properly introduced. I am sure he is dying to know me, and that we should have a lot to say to each other. He has lovely eyes, and they look at me so reproachfully sometimes. But what can I do?
July 14th.—We went to Clermont to see the sports, and the review, and all the stupid things of a National fête. In the morning, I said in a very loud voice as he passed us: “I think it will be very hot at Clermont,” with a strong accent on Clermont; but he never came, or if he did he must have been lost in the crowd.
July 15th.—When I have written my day’s diary I am going to bed and have a good cry. We had such a terrible scene at dinner. Papa was very thirsty, and ordered a bottle of Cesar water. The waiter brought it and poured some out, and Papa took a gulp, and suddenly sent it flying in every direction, accompanied by the most horrible language, partly French and partly English. Papa’s French is very elementary; he can’t get much beyond Sacre! and Imbecile! “Vous voulez poisoner moi?” he yelled at the waiter.10French for “Do you want to poison me?” “Vous savez que l’eau St. Victor il est plein d’arsenic et moi je dois pas prendre ça!”11In French means – “You know that St. Victor’s water is full of arsenic and I can not take it!” And then English came to his relief, and he sank back in his chair purple in the face, and emitting verbal fireworks of a very fiery nature. Then my angelic martyr came to the rescue with a bottle of Cesar, which he promptly and graciously placed at Papa’s disposal. But this only made him worse—he curtly refused it, and glared at Mr. GORING as if the bottle he had offered him was really a deadly poison. So poor Mr. GORING retired, followed by pleasant little mutterings such as “D – d cheek!” “Infernal snob!” “Mind his own blank business,” etc., etc., and so now I am going to bed to cry. The DENTONS are coming over to spend the day to-morrow. Such a nuisance!
July 16th.—Hooray! I have made her acquaintace! She is adorable, perfectly bewitching, and she gains tremendously on acquaintance—even the acquaintance of a few hours. It appears that the DENTONS—excellent angels of mercy!—are staying at Vichy. I have known them all my life, and they actually came here to spend the day with the SOMERVILLES. It was not an opportunity to let slip; so the moment they came and spoke to me, I whispered, in hurried, tragic accents, “You must introduce me to the girl with the red hair—I mean the SOMERVILLES.” “Is it as bad as that?” laughed Mrs. DENTON. “Of course we will, in good time. But you might ask us how we are, and what we are doing here. JACK has had awful dyspepsia.12Indigestion. He can’t digest a simple biscuit, so we are at Vichy.” “How sad!” I answered. “But don’t let’s talk about symptoms. I am much worse than Jack. Tell me about the SOMERVILLES.” So then I quickly learnt that she was an only child, adored by her parents, rich, attractive, gifted, and very hard to please. “I don’t know how many men she has already refused,” concluded Mrs. DENTON. “It is either morbid, or a mania with her.” This, of course, is discouraging, but after the introduction had been made I felt less disheartened. I sat at the band with them in the afternoon, and I was quite charmed with her easy, unaffected conversation. We carefully avoided the waters, the baths, and other usual topics of conversation here. She asked me once if I drank the waters, and I replied with evasive lightness that I had had a slight accident to my knee and took them occasionally. Then I adroitly got her back to safer topics. The DENTONS went back in the evening. I was rather glad—they had served a very useful purpose, and I would rather have her to myself. Mrs. DENTON is loud and cheery, and horribly energetic. Even her husband’s incurable indigestion doesn’t seem to have damped her spirits. I am looking forward to to-morrow and every day until she goes, which, alas! is to be very soon. I counter-ordered the all-day bath, and resumed rational treatment.
This story is continued in A Gouty Courtship, Part 2.
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How To Cite (MLA Format)
F.C.PH.. “A Gouty Courtship, Part 1.” Punch, vol. 121, 1901, pp. 34-6. Edited by Ashton Carrington. Victorian Short Fiction Project, 9 June 2023, https://vsfp.byu.edu/index.php/title/a-gouty-courtship-part-1/.
25 January 2021
7 June 2023
|↑1||Arthritis caused by the inability of the body to properly metabolize uric acid.|
|↑2||“Dicky” was a slang term that meant shaky or weak. Derived from the name for a seat at the back of a carriage or automobile due to its shaky, uncomfortable nature.|
|↑3||A commune in the Auvergne region of central France.|
|↑4||“Petits chevaux” is French for little horses.|
|↑5||“Cocottes” is French for prostitutes.|
|↑6||French for “the English are lacking this year,” meaning that many English people are away from their homeland.|
|↑7||An area of South Africa where the Anglo-Boer War took place 1899-1902.|
|↑8||A “soirée dansante” is a formal dance or ball.|
|↑9||A commune in central France.|
|↑10||French for “Do you want to poison me?”|
|↑11||In French means – “You know that St. Victor’s water is full of arsenic and I can not take it!”|