Unlike “Some Like Them Cold,” “The Golden Honeymoon” is an example of Lardner the light humorist who has a hopeful view of human nature. Lucy and Charley Frost travel from New Jersey to Florida to enjoy their golden wedding anniversary in the warm sunshine of Tampa. However, early in their trip they run into the Hartsells. Fifty years before, Charley had won Lucy away from Frank Hartsell, to whom Lucy had been engaged. In true Lardner fashion, pettiness and jealousy prevail, and Charley and Frank spend several days trying to prove that the other is the lesser man. Naturally, they only embarrass themselves, and when Charley finally confronts Frank directly, telling him that if he was really the better man he would never have lost Lucy to him, the explosion the reader has been anticipating is at hand.
Finding out that she was Frank’s second choice, Mrs. Hartsell is mortified. Charley accuses Lucy of liking Frank better than him; Lucy accuses Charley of being stupid. However, Charley and Lucy reconcile, laugh at themselves, and enjoy the rest of their honeymoon. Their love proves to be stronger than their fears.
At first glance, the title simply reveals the occasion for the story’s events, the celebration of a marriage that has endured for fifty years. It is only after reading the story that the readers understand the irony in the celebration of a union more brass than gold. Charley, the ingenuous first-person narrator, recounts his adventures in St. Petersburg, but in doing so reveals himself as shallow, insensitive, and boring. As the plot unravels, so does Charley, yet he remains blissfully unaware of and not bored by a life composed of unrelenting trivia.
The structure of the story is the recollection in detail of a trip to St. Petersburg, Florida. The story begins with the most important word and person in Charley’s life, “Mother,” as he calls his wife, Lucy. His refrain, “You can’t get ahead of Mother,” is evidence of his pride in all things connected with himself, whether it be the state of New Jersey or his prosperous son-in-law, John H. Kramer, a real-estate man and member of the Rotary Club, an important status symbol in Charley’s eyes. After a tedious and typical explanation of how and why he and Lucy went to Florida for their “golden honeymoon,” including prices, detailing to the penny the differences between a sleeper and a compartment on a train and a complete timetable for all stops made between Trenton and St. Petersburg, Charley is ready to begin his real story.
The real story, however, is actually the revelation of Charley’s character and his marriage to Lucy, both of which are tested by the vicissitudes of travel and encounters with new and old acquaintances. On the train, Charley unconsciously reveals that appearance and status are extremely important values for him. He notes and admires anyone he meets who is a Rotarian, rides backward on the train, facing his wife, and insists on sleeping in the top berth to protect his image, even though neither he nor his wife sleeps well when he is in that precarious position. During the trip, Charley is nearly left behind in Washington, D.C., an occurrence that entails the admission that it is Mother who manages and carries the money.
It is, however, in describing St. Petersburg and the people that they encounter there that Charley reaches the peak of his powers. Ungrammatical, inelegant, clichéd...