Monday, 9 November 2009

She done him wrong (West) 401

Originally a play, then a film, and then a novel, She done him wrong went through a number of versions before it became the book that I read. I wanted to widen my VMC reading again, having enjoyed a couple of other non-English-middle-class VMCs recently, so I picked this one up from my VMC TBR. I had heard of Mae West as an actress and was surprised to tie her together with the author of this book, but the introduction by Kathy Lette explained that she wrote a number of plays and a couple of novels as well. She was famous for her curvaceous figure: during the Second World War soldiers called their inflatable life preservers "Mae Wests", partly because they were rhyming slang for breasts, but also because their shape resembled her body!

In fact, Mae West's theatrical background came out strongly in this novel; the scenes were vividly painted and the whole reminded me of a stage-show like Chicago.

She done him wrong is a story about Lil Diamond (namef from the diamonds she gains from suitors, since they are more valuable and reliable than men), a girl living in New York in the Gay Nineties; she sings and is surrounded by men and loosely involved in the trade of prostitutes. However, she falls in love with a Salvation Army Officer, Captain Cummings, and is determined to seduce him, despite the differences in their lifestyles.

Much more famous as a movie than the book, the book is full of the same wonderful one-liners that make the film so entertaining. Here's a quote (from the film!) where Diamond Lil (played by West) tries to get Cummings (played by Cary Grant) to come out on a date.

West: "Why don't you come up some time, see me? I'm here every night."
Grant: "Yeah, but I'm busy every night."
West: "What're you tryin' to do, insult me?... You can be had."

One of West's other novels, The constant sinner, is also published as a VMC and I will be interested to see how that compares.

Just the one VMC publication, in a green cover above. Definitely worth a read whether you've seen the film or not.


  1. This is a Cary Grant movie?! Do you have it?! I love Cary Grant!!!

  2. I don't have it, sorry Claire! Am sure you would enjoy it though.