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A funny, fantastically entertaining debut novel, in the spirit of Wodehouse and Monty Python, about a famous poet who inadvertently sells his wife to the devilthen recruits a band of adventurers to rescue her.
When Lionel Savage, a popular poet in Victorian London, learns from his butler that they're broke, he marries the beautiful Vivien Lancaster for her money, only to find that his muse has abandoned him.
Distraught and contemplating suicide, Savage accidentally conjures the Devil the polite "Gentleman" of the title who appears at one of the society parties Savage abhors. The two hit it off: the Devil talks about his home, where he employs Dante as a gardener; Savage lends him a volume of Tennyson. But when the party's over and Vivien has disappeared, the poet concludes in horror that he must have inadvertently sold his wife to the dark lord.
Newly in love with Vivien, Savage plans a rescue mission to Hell that includes Simmons, the butler; Tompkins, the bookseller; Ashley Lancaster, swashbuckling Buddhist; Will Kensington, inventor of a flying machine; and Savage's spirited kid sister, Lizzie, freshly booted from boarding school for a "dalliance." Throughout, his cousin's quibbling footnotes to the text push the story into comedy nirvana.
Lionel and his friends encounter trapdoors, duels, anarchist-fearing bobbies, the social pressure of not knowing enough about art history, and the poisonous wit of his poetical archenemy. Fresh, action-packed and very, very funny, The Gentleman is a giddy farce that recalls the masterful confections of P.G. Wodehouse and Hergé's beautifully detailed Tintin adventures.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Forrest Leo was born in 1990 on a homestead in remote Alaska, where he grew up without running water and took a dogsled to school. He holds a BFA in drama from New York University, and has worked as a carpenter, and a photographer, and in a cubicle.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2016 Forrest Leo
In Which I Find Myself
Destitute & Rectify Matters in a Drastic Way.
My name is Lionel Savage, I am twenty-two years old, I am a poet, and I do not love my wife. I loved her once, not without cause—but I do not any-
more. She is a vapid, timid, querulous creature, and I find after six months of married life that my position has become quite intolerable and I am resolved upon killing myself.
Here is how my plight came about.
Once upon a time about a year ago, I was very young and foolish, and Simmons informed me we hadn’t any money left. (Simmons is our butler.)
‘Simmons,’ I had said, ‘I would like to buy a boat so that I can sail the seven seas.’
I hadn’t, I suppose, any real notion of actually sailing the seven seas—I am not an adventurous soul, and would relinquish my comfortable seat by the fire only with reluctance. But seemed a romantic thing to own a boat in which one could sail the seven seas, should one suddenly discover he had a mind to.
But Simmons (whose hair is grey like a thunderhead) said with some remonstrance, ‘I’m afraid you cannot afford a boat, sir.’
‘I can’t afford it? Nonsense, Sim- mons, a boat cannot cost much.’
‘Even if it cost next to nothing, sir, u still could not afford it.’
My heart sank. ‘Do you mean to tell me, Simmons, that we haven’t any money left?’
‘I’m afraid not, sir.’
‘Where on earth has it gone?’
‘I don’t mean to be critical, sir, but you tend toward profli- gacy.’
‘Nonsense, Simmons. I don’t buy anything except books. You cannot possibly tell me I’ve squandered my fortune upon books.’
‘Squander is not the word I would have used, sir. But it was the books that did it, I believe.’
Well, there it was. We were paupers. Such is the fate of the upper classes in this modern world. I didn’t know what to do, and I dreaded telling Lizzie—she was in boarding school at the time, but even from a distance she can be quite fearsome. (Lizzie is my sister. She is sixteen.) Despite the popularity of my poetry, I was not making enough money at it to maintain our household at Pocklington Place. Another source of income was necessary.
I set out to find one. Being a gentleman,* the trades were quite out of the question. Commerce is not a gentlemanly pursuit and sounds wretched besides. I considered physic or law, but lawyers turn my stomach and physicians are scoun- drels all. I decided it must be marriage.
Finding a suitable family to marry oneself off to might sound a bore, but turned out to be rather a lark. I sought out only families of enormous means, without bothering myself too much about social position. As such, I had a few truly un- pleasant experiences—but no dull ones.
The Babingtons were every bit as eccentric as one reads in the papers and proved entirely unsuitable. (Not that I object to eccentricity; but it is not a quality one searches for in a wife.) Sir Francis Babington and I are old friends, he having once savaged† a collection of my poetry.
‘Frank,’ I said one evening, having contrived to run into him while taking a turn about the Park,‡ ‘I suppose it’s about time I came over for dinner.’ (I abhor taking turns about the Park. I only do so when I have ulterior motives.)
‘Looking for a wife, Savage?’ said he.
*It is for the attentive reader to decide for himself whether Mr Savage is deserving of that epithet.—HL.
†I believe this is meant to be an unfortunate play upon my cousin’s name. It is a literary offence typical of him.—HL.
‡My cousin refers naturally to Hyde Park. This (in case the reader has the misfortune to be on the Continent or in the Colonies) is the London park which people of fashion and breeding frequent.—HL. 1S
‘Certainly not,’ I replied coldly. I was thrown off. I had not thought myself so transparent. I groped for a new subject but was not quick enough.
‘Never fear, lad, you’ll find no judgment here.’ He was laughing. Sir Francis is a ruddy and a rotund man, and his laugh is well matched to his person. ‘Been looking to unload Agnes for a while now, as a matter of fact. Helen and I ain’t particular as far as who to, and you’ll do just fine. Why don’t you come round Tuesday evening?’
This sort of impropriety I would ordinarily celebrate, but not when auditioning fathers-in-law. I declined.
The Pembrokes I enjoyed greatly, but the prospect of a half-dozen sisters-in-law was untenable. (One sister is quite enough.) I made it as far as a dinner, which was proceeding reasonably well, when the littlest one (Mary? Martha?) de- cided to be Mr Hyde. She jumped up on the table, thumped her chest with her tiny fists, and heaved a roasted pheasant at my head. That was that.
The Hammersmiths could have been the ticket, but their daughter was, I believe, replaced at infancy with a horse.
I could carry on and mention the Wellingtons, Blooms, and Chapmans—but my native discretion forbids it. Suffice it to say that the field was quickly emptied of players, and my op- tions began to run low.
At the end of the day, in fact, the only real possibility was the Lancasters. They were rich, they were respectable and re- spected, and their daughter was beautiful. I will say that, whatever else I may lament—Vivien is very beautiful. Her hair is beaten gold, her eyes are a meteorological blue, her figure is—well, you have heard about her figure. It was her beauty I fell in love with first.
The dinner at which we met was unremarkable. It was not a private affair, but something of a party. I had contrived to pro- cure myself an invitation on the grounds of my literary fame, and it seemed most of the guests had done the same. Whitley Pendergast was there, of course, as was Mr Collier, Mr Blake- ney, Mr Morley, and Lord and Lady Whicher. (Whitley Pender- gast is my rival and sworn enemy, and a terrible poet besides. The rest are literary personages of some reputation and indiffer- ent talent. Benjamin Blakeney’s Barry the Bard I hope you have not read, and Edward Collier’s Penthesilea’s Progress I fear you have. I have forgotten what mangled offspring crawled from the pens of the others.) A few ministers of state rounded out the meal, but it would be in poor taste to mention them by name.*
I was seated between Pendergast and Vivien.
—But I have forgotten to finish setting the scene! Easton Arms, which is the Lancasters’ place in town, is a large town house in Belgravia furnished in the best and most modern taste. They are a very modern family, though very old in name. The art on the walls was unremarkable not in execu- tion but in choice. If you were to close your eyes and name the six artists respectable and cultured persons of no particu- lar taste ought to have on their walls, then you will have a very
*I, too, was present. I dine often at Easton Arms. My father being brother to Lord
Lancaster, I am Vivien’s first cousin. As Mr Savage is my cousin’s husband, he is thus by law my cousin also. It is for this reason I made bold to include an epigraph without obtaining his express permission. We harbour between us that particular and tenuous affection which marks the sobrinical bond.—HL.
good idea of what hung in Easton Arms.* I haven’t a clue as to their names, as I do not keep up with such things. But you take my meaning.
Everything seemed gilt-edged. The mirrors, the frames of the paintings, the books on the shelves (I pulled several down and found the pages to be uncut)—even the curtains were trimmed with gold lace. The situation seemed promising. I prepared to be charming.
I had a passing acquaintance with Lord Lancaster, who has a restless mind trapped by the constraints of domesticity and a portly person, but I had never met his wife. She turned out to be much as you imagine her to be from the papers, only rather shorter and even more terrible.
The gentlemen of the party were enjoying cigars before dinner. I have no fondness for cigars, but I appreciate the ritual of girding up one’s loins in the fellowship of one’s own gen- der before mingling at table. Besides, Lord Lancaster’s smok- ing room is notably fine. The walls are decorated with intriguing memorabilia sent home by his son—a dozen tribal masks from a dozen countries, bits of colourful native cos- tume, a gleaming blunderbuss—and the fireplace is large and the armchairs luxurious.
We sprawled in that peculiarly insolent way of the male gentry, smoking expensive cigars and speaking of nothing in particular.
*I beg you to note that this is equivalent to declaring popular art bad art—which would I am afraid quite condemn the poetry of Mr Savage. In addition, it should be mentioned that the collection at Easton Arms has a national reputation for excellence.—HL
Pendergast, a tragically short fellow with a peninsular nose, was attempting to be more pretentious than Collier, and was succeeding without too much effort. Every now and again he lobbed an insult my way, but I was not in the mood to test wits. I was too busy seducing Lancaster.
‘Are you a political man, Mr Savage?’
‘Not especially, my lord. I find that Politics and Art are rarely willing bedfellows; and when forced to it, Politics invari- ably takes Art’s virtue without so much as a by-your-leave.’
He chuckled at that, but I did not. To never laugh at one’s own wit is a thing I learned from Pendergast. (In a nearby armchair, Pendergast at that moment answered a question I did not hear with, ‘Certainly not—I relegate such things to Mr Savage,’ and laughed loudly.)
‘Always wished I had time for art,’ said Lancaster. ‘Bought some paints, once, but Eleanor had ’em thrown out. Said it was an accident and blamed it on a maid, but you know how those things go. Probably for the best. Vivien, though—she inclines that way, you know.’
‘Does she?’ I murmured.
‘Certainly,’ said he. ‘You and she ought to have a talk some- time. Think you’d get on famously.’
I was about to say something about how I should like that very much indeed, and to suggest future plans for such an ac- quaintance, when Lady Lancaster entered the room and curtly informed us that dinner was served and we were already late. I was nettled at the interruption. As it happened, though, I
needn’t have been—for when we took our places at the table I was upon Vivien’s right.
Of all the literati at that salon, I was perhaps the most fa- mous. It was because of this, I am certain, that I was seated next to Vivien. Lady Lancaster has a fondness for fame. She does not court it herself, but courts those touched by it. (It is this, rather than any actual interest in the arts, which causes her to hold dinners like the one I am describing.) I was also perhaps the handsomest at the table. I mention it not out of vanity—I am not a vain man—but to emphasise the impor- tance the Lancasters attach to appearances, and also in case you have never seen a likeness of me. I am neither tall nor short, and very slender. I have very pale skin, very dark hair which is unruly, and very blue eyes—not a blue like Vivien’s, but blue all the same. (The Lancaster blue is something akin to the sky at its bluest; the Savage blue is the sort of blue the sea turns when it is grey. If this does not make sense to you, you are not a poet.)*
I couldn’t have known it at the time, but it was my good fortune that Vivien was approaching twenty-one and her mother felt it was past time she was married to someone in the public eye. Marriage is important to the Lancasters. It was and is a source of most acute pain to Lady Lancaster that her son is not yet domesticated. (He is at the moment in Siberia, I believe.)
I do a tolerable job of fitting into society.† I do not flaunt
*It appears I am no poet.—HL.
†This, too, is open for debate. Mr Savage at all times displays such deep contempt
1S for society that one wonders at the grudge he nurses. Whence comes it? Is it innate or learned? Can it be cured? Such questions are beyond the scope of your humble editor.—HL.
my native eccentricity, nor do I endeavour to seem any more mad than I am. The poetry published under my name displays vision, refinement, learning, wit, and taste—but not insanity. That I reserve for those offerings I distribute by secret means, under noms de plume.* My fame, as I have said, is not insig- nificant, and it was evident that Lady Lancaster, though drag- onish in demeanour, was a dragon with a keen desire to impress. (It need not be pointed out that a mercenary dragon is far more dangerous than a work-a-day dragon.)
And so I was seated next to Vivien, and I do not believe it was an accident. Pendergast was on my right, which was a nuisance; but at the time I remember thinking it a small price to pay to sit beside one so fair.
The dining room at Easton Arms is very grand. The table is a mile or two long, and it was laid that evening with every- thing from venison to wild boar to caviar to quail eggs. There were sauces which defied description and puddings which boggled the mind. The serving trays were silver, but worked with the requisite gold filigree. I was not alone among the guests in my nervousness to take food from a platter worth more than I had ever owned. We were spared, however, the terror of actually holding one of those trays by the appear- ance of a flotilla of footmen who served us in frankly eerie silence, controlled apparently by minute signals of Lady Lan- caster’s head.
The dinner began, and though I stole many glances at my
*These names include Horatio, Britannius Grammaticus, Iucundis Eremita, and Charles Greenley.—HL.
fair neighbour, I found myself for the only time in my mem- ory unable to begin a conversation. I spent the first course searching for a subject and feeling a coward. I could not, try as I might, speak to Vivien. I once made it so far as to venture a remark upon the weather, but Pendergast swooped in and in- tercepted it.
‘I’ve been considering a poem about the rain, you know,’
he said, as though my comment had been meant for him.
‘I trust the rain is magnanimous enough to forgive what- ever offence you might give it,’ I replied.
‘You wrote a rain poem once, didn’t you, Savage?’ called
Blakeney from across the table.*
‘I can’t recall,’ said I. ‘I might have, but it’s foggy in my memory.’
‘Foggy!’ exclaimed Lady Whicher rapturously. ‘Did you hear, Henry? He said his rain poem was foggy!’
‘A sloppy pun, Savage,’ declared Pendergast.
‘I’d have made a better, but I can’t hear myself think over the noise of your cravat.’
‘This cravat,’ he replied pompously, ‘was given me by a
French countess who expressed an affinity for my verse.’
‘One hears at the club that the cravat wasn’t the only thing she gave you.’ A scandalised murmur went round the table and it seemed I had scored a hit—but Pendergast was a stauncher opponent than that.
*See epigraph. It is for elucidation of this exchange as well as for other reasons that I elected to include it.—HL.
‘No,’ he said without missing a beat, ‘she gave me also an annuity of two hundred pounds and a promise to bring out a uniform edition of my published works. I asked her to pay you the same compliment, but she said your output was too slim to bear the cost.’
‘Did she?’ I said, taking the bait. He was building to some- thing, and it amused me to let him see it through.
‘She did, and very bad manners I thought it, too. So I said, “But madam, surely the sparsity of Mr Savage’s verse makes it the more precious, rather like ambergris?” To which she re- plied, “Much like ambergris, Mr Pendergast, I can only stom- ach Mr Savage’s poetry after it has been refined in the fire.”’
The table applauded his thrust, but I remained unruffled. I have always enjoyed sparring with Pendergast, and that night it was also a means to delay converse with the divinity on my left. Besides, the key to success in a battle of wits is to main- tain one’s equanimity at all times. While the company lauded his hit, I calmly considered a riposte. I had almost got one when Vivien spoke up.
‘It is a pity, Mr Pendergast,’ said she, in a voice which was low and husky and altogether glorious and in retrospect rather like a siren’s, ‘that much like Mr Savage’s poetry, ambergris needs no fiery refinement.’
‘Does it not?’ cried Lady Whicher.
‘Not a bit. Its value comes from its unaltered chemical makeup.’
‘Ambergris or Mr Savage’s poetry?’ demanded Blakeney.
‘Precisely!’ I interposed, and just like that I was again on top. I attempted to thank my fair saviour, but the words trans- muted by some reverse alchemy into an attack on Pendergast and his countess.
I will not bore you with the continuation of our match, as it proceeded through the duration of the second and most of the third course. I won in the end, but the victory was hollow to me—the entire episode was nothing but a cover to hide the fact that I could not speak to the woman beside me.
It was Vivien who at last broke the silence between us, and so I may say without hesitation that the fault for my current predicament lies squarely upon her shoulders. Had she not said anything I would not have been able to, and would have returned home to Pocklington Place that evening with a feel- ing of cowardice and self-reproach which would have lasted for a day or a week and then given way to my accustomed cheer.*
Instead, I left that evening with a wife.
I do not mean literally, of course—our courtship, while brief, was not that brief. But later when Simmons asked how the dinner had gone, I believe my words to him were, ‘I have found a wife, and I haven’t the least intention of letting her go.’
Bitterest of ironies! If I could return to that night in March and relive it, I should have eaten my foie gras with relish, taunted Pendergast with pleasure, and never spared a second
glance at that awful creature on my left. Could I even return
*Like the unicorn, legends of my cousin’s cheer persist only because they cannot be disproved.—HL.
as a spirit and whisper in my own corporeal ear, I should whis- per with such urgency, ‘Ignore her, sir! She will be your death!’ Well, but I cannot and I did not. Instead, when over the oysters she enquired, ‘What are your thoughts on the matter, Mr Savage?’ I turned and lost myself in those damned eyes
and knew I was finished and did not mind a jot.
I will not here recount my wooing. It was, looking back, strangely joyous and brings me pain to recollect. There was throughout it a bizarre sense of burning happiness—a prickly feeling on the back of my neck, a pleasant tightness of the chest: something more than contentment, greater than the satisfaction of a match well made.
I thought it was the sensation of being in love. I have learned that it was not, it was the joy of the chase. I wonder now if I oughtn’t have been a hunter. Perhaps I still could be one. I am certain that Simmons keeps an ancient musket somewhere, and I could steal a horse from my coachman and sally forth to murder foxes—or stow aboard an Arctic vessel and try my hand at clubbing seals, which cannot be difficult. But that is neither here nor there. I am a poet, I am a married man, and I am resolved upon my own immediate suicide—for I married for money instead of love, and when I did I discovered that I could no longer write.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Absolutely loved this book! It was adventurous and funny. Reading "The Gentleman" put my mind to work, I could vividly let it play out in my head as though it were a play. Truely a great read, and I cannot wait until Forrest Leo writes another book!
Disclaimer first: I won my copy of The Gentleman by Forrest Leo in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. Set in Victorian London, The Gentleman is the tale of a poet (Lionel Savage) who's opinion of himself exceeds that of most of the people around him. He is a lazy, self indulgent fop who has married for money and is now dealing with the ramifications of that ill-conceived decision. An encounter with The Gentleman (the character, not the book) sets Savage on one of the most incredible and hilarious adventures I have read in a long time. He is surrounded by the most eccentric cast of characters you'll ever hope to meet; a lawyer (the editor of the story), an explorer of places no one else can find, an inventor, a remarkably liberated younger sister, and of course, the Gentleman. Together they begin a quest to recover Savage's wife Vivien from Hell itself (you'll have to read the story to find out how she becomes trapped there). My wife noticed that I was laughing out loud while reading The Gentleman and it's true. Author Forrest Leo masters the dry wit of British humor. He sets the tone with the Editor's Note at the beginning of the book. Since I am not sure of the legalities involved in quoting I won't copy it here. But I will say: It is priceless. The group of adventurers (questors? goofballs?) take in stride as completely natural some very bizarre occurrences. They are at times stumped and perplexed by their circumstances, but never overwhelmed by the extraordinary situations they deal with. They apply their own logic to the illogical and continue on their merry way. The climax was very satisfying (did I really just say that?), I wasn't expecting that end at all. If you enjoy dry humor as much as I do, and are in the mood for a farcical adventure that will make you laugh out loud, I strongly urge you to give The Gentleman by Forrest Leo a read. You won't be disappointed (at least I don't think you will). Enjoy! Mike
This one took a while to get into. I was not enjoying Lionel or his narrative. He’s pompous, elitist, and ridiculous. The reason I kept reading was because of the foot notes. Things started rolling a quarter of the way through and really picked up with additions to the cast: his sister and brother in law. The conclusion though is the BEST. The Gentleman is a humorous historical paranormal romance, but that’s a tame box to put it in. I wouldn’t say it’s action packed like the blurb though. It’s mostly talking, talking about others, previous conversations, reading, and poetry. It’s entertaining and got me chuckling but I wouldn’t say it’s “very, very funny” either. Basically: It’s an unusual style, an acquired taste, and I enjoyed it the longer I read it. But it’s not for everyone. Preview it or borrow it
It’s not every day you find a book where the Devil is accidentally conjured and a wife accidentally sold. It’s even rarer to find one where it’s actually funny, which is why The Gentleman by Forrest Leo was such a fantastic treat to read! The writing is so well done that you find yourself swept away with Savage in his quest to save his wife and stop trying to think rationally about anything. For such a bumbling fool, the author does a tremendous job portraying the charisma that has kept Savage afloat in society for so long. The Gentleman is absolutely absurd in the most marvelous way. Every reaction, every situation is so over-the-top extraordinary, you just never stop laughing. Each of the characters play their caricature-esque persona perfectly. From the wild brute of an adventurer, to the brooding poet, to the all knowing butler, they are all so well written that you never bore of them or feel like “the gag” is getting old, mostly because it never feels like a gag. Leo does a tremendous job of making it all seem and feel genuine, which only adds to the hilarity of the situation. I wholeheartedly would recommend this book to anyone interested in a laugh that is also sharp-witted enough to appreciate absurdist humor. The Gentleman by Forrest Leo reminds me a bit of Pinter’s early plays, as well as the McDonagh film, Seven Psychopaths, so if you’ve enjoyed either, this will definitely be a treat. This is definitely a book I would LOVE to see transformed into a play or movie because the absurdity and humor seems like it would work exceptionally well in a visual medium. // I received this title for free in exchange for an honest review //