Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen

A response to the critic Emsworth

Emsworth, that worthy critic with an equally worthy name, suggests “P.G. Wodehouse had hung on too long when he wrote The Cat-NappersThe Cat-Nappers being an alias for the work known to British readers as Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen. Emsworth provides some good evidence that this 1974 work of a nonagenarian is not Wodehouse at his finest.  For those unacquainted with Emsworth’s excellent piece, I suggest reading it for yourself.  When my considered response (however unqualified I am to make it)  ran to half a page, I decided to post it here instead.

Wodehouse was a careful and proficient editor in the habit of  re-working his stories thoroughly until he was satisfied with them. I wonder whether this book received a less scrupulous reworking than Wodehouse was accustomed to. Perhaps Wodehouse felt he was running out of time…

Emsworth’s comments on Wodehouse’s repeated use of abbreviations (telegram-speak being a forerunner of SMS) illustrates my point. Wodehouse used this sparingly to great comic effect in other novels, but the criticism of overuse here could be indicative of writer’s shorthand – perfectly acceptable in a draft manuscript. Similarly, the issues with repetition.

I have often wondered whether publishers their treat star authors differently when it comes to editing. J.K Rowling’s work might make an interesting study in this regard. The first Harry Potter novel is fine, tight writing, but the same cannot be said of the later instalments — there are all sorts of issues with them, which I feel would have benefited from a firm editorial hand.

Emsworth notes instances of rambling and dithering, which could also be attributed to editing. Most writers ramble and dither, and need to cut material from their first drafts, age notwithstanding. But Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen certainly isn’t a rambling final novel, in the way that Agatha Christie’s Postern of Fate is.

Emsworth also believes that in Aunt’s Aren’t Gentlemen Wodehouse reveals his true political colours, citing the following example:

Being a Communist, Orlo Porter was probably on palsy-walsy terms with half the big shots at the Kremlin, and the more of the bourgeoisie he disembowelled, the better they would be pleased.

Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen

Bertie Wooster is hardly a mouthpiece for expressing the political views of his author. Bertie’s position on Communism, made clear in  The Inimitable Jeeves (1923), is one of genial self-preservation. While Wodehouse made Comrade Bingo’s Heralds of the Red Dawn appear ridiculous, he was an egalitarian writer who created the equally ludicrous fascists (Roderick Spode), crooked Conservatives  (Sir Gregory Parsloe Parsloe), loathsome Lords, and grotesque Captains of Industry.

The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you’re someone. You hear them shouting “Heil, Spode!” and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: “Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?

The Code of the Woosters

Wodehouse’s consistent treatment of political activists – if it tells us anything at all – suggests that he found them all equally ridiculous, and ripe for picking as excellent sources of ‘material’

If I were find fault with Aunt’s Aren’t Gentlemen I would tend to agree with FretfulPorpentine’s  response to Emsworth:

I wonder whether one of the problems with Aunts Aren’t Gentleman / The Catnappers is that its setting was more or less contemporary to when it was written, with its Sixties student demos and jokes about Billy Graham. Better, perhaps, had it been set in the classic (and, if it’s not a contradiction to say so) Wodehousian interwar era. The sixties bits really jar with me.


It’s not that the setting doesn’t work – it’s just different from what we’ve become accustomed to. We want more of the old stuff we know and love. But it shows us that Wodehouse was still striving to write something new.  A younger Wodehouse might have popped this manuscript in his bottom drawer and reworked it again later, but at 93, one can be forgiven for not putting things off.

As is stands, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen still offers much of the usual Wodehouse to enjoy and I am reluctant to damn it as the work of a man who had lost his touch. I would gladly ‘suffer’ another 20 books of this quality.

I would gladly have continued our conversation, but I knew he must be wanting to get back to his Spinoza. No doubt I had interrupted him just as Spinoza was on the point of solving the mystery of the headless body on the library floor.

Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen


18 thoughts on “Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen

  1. Well Aunts Arn’t Gentleman was about the fith I read and confess was a favourite of mine. Certainly up to par. Roberts Mcrum’s definitive “Wodehouse, A Life” discusses Plum as a geriatric scribe continue to be masterful up until the morning he died. What other author has such a vast portfolio within a huge web of reoccurring characters and story lines, we acknowledge the few mistakes which can be offen and the same which adds an element of delight to the knowledgable Wodehousian. Also you need to know Wodehouse to offer a critique on him otherwise it’s just a dabble in the superficial.


    1. Yes, I agree. I had written my response piece based on my recollections of the book, and some thumbing through. I have since started reading it again, and am enjoying it thoroughly. As I said at the finish, I’d be happy with another 20 works of this quality. Wodehouse never fails to please me.


  2. Agree with all that you wrote, aside from this:

    “Wodehouse’s consistent treatment of political activists – if it tells us anything at all – suggests that he found them all equally ridiculous, and ripe for the picking as excellent sources of ‘material’”

    I agree they were all ripe for the picking, but not that they were EQUALLY ridiculous. Spode and the Communists, but especially Spode, are in a different league, as indeed they should be.


  3. I tend to find myself more in tune with your critiques than Emsworth for sure though I would like to point out here that the abbreviation’s of words was something that he used quite frequently even in his earlier works such as Joy in the morning I recently reread and having read Emsworths post I decided to count them and I came up with a minimum of 13 the only thing I can say about Aunts aren’t gentlemen is maybe they were a bit more forced and they maybe stuck out a little more and having worked the manuscript a bit he would have placed them better
    also you wrote I think it fairly improbable that Bertie Wooster is a mouthpiece for his author’s views here. Bertie made his position on Communism clear, back in 1923 in The Inimitable Jeeves, as one of genial self-preservation. While Wodehouse certainly made Comrade Bingo’s Heralds of the Red Dawn appear ridiculous, he was a great egalitarian who created the equally ludicrous fascists (ala Roderick Spode), crooked Conservatives (Sir Gregory Parsloe Parsloe), along with loathsome Lords and grotesque Captains of Industry. I could not agree more Don’t forget Pilbeam and the efficient Baxter was a great quasi bad guy


    1. Thanks for the well-considered reply. It’s a while since I first wrote this and I think I’d revise some of my ideas if I were to write it again. Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen is still a fine read.


  4. ‘J.K Rowling’s work might make an interesting study in this regard; the first Harry Potter is great, tight writing, but the same cannot be said of the later instalments.’

    I completely agree with you. The last one in particular is deeply annoying: every I read the part where Harry kills Voldemort and then the dawn streams symbolically through the windows, for example, I’m shouting ‘you should have started a new paragraph, not a new sentence!! You’ve switched tone mid-paragraph!’ The epilogue, written at the same time as the first book, really highlights the differences in style.

    You mentioned wanting a career change in another post – have you thought of becoming a reader for a publishing house? It would certainly fit in with your skills.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Victoria, I would love it! Love it! Love it! Not sure how to make the shift. But you are speaking my language .

      I wonder if Rowling was as tightly edited in her later books. She was a big name by then and perhaps the task of refining her stuff was too daunting? Or perhaps there was too much haste to hurry the next book out?


      1. A bit of both I think. I seem to remember her commenting on an error I’d noticed, where the spirits of the people Voldemort had killed came out of the wand in the wrong order, that neither she nor her editor had noticed the mistake in the rush to get it out.

        I googled ‘how to become a publisher’s reader’ for you and some useful-ish sites came up. Random House (who’ve just bought Penguin) lets you register your details on spec (I think).

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I googled ‘careers in publishing’ and it came up with more useful information. The Guardian’s ‘top ten tips’ was particularly good.

        The trade paper is called The Bookseller and lists a huge amount of jobs – you can sign up for email alerts if nothing is suitable.


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