Category Archives: Finding Plumtopia

My personal quest.

Wodehouse and Plumtopia

Taking a short break from shameless self promotion here at Plumtopia because, I am gratified to report, an outstanding chap by the name of Phil Chapman has said all manner of nice things about Plumtopia at his Ukebloke blog.

The credit is all Wodehouse’s of course, but I still get a warm inner glow knowing people enjoy the curated highlights here at Plumtopia.

HP

Ukebloke's Ukeblog

Once again, I’ve taken my eye off the Ukeblog ball for five minutes and more than two years have elapsed.

After this most recent Ukeblog hiatus, I felt moved to post something, having just stumbled upon a rather splendid blog, dedicated to all things P. G. Wodehouse. I discovered Honoria Plum‘s A Centenary of My Man Jeeves post via Twitter and soon found myself diverted from whatever it was I was supposed to be doing, as I enjoyed a pleasant stroll around Plumtopia.

I now realise:

a) I’ve neglected P.G. Wodehouse for far too long; I must revisit old favourites and discover new gems I never got round to reading.

b) The person expecting an email from me by 5pm is now disappointed and will become even more disappointed, as I’ve barely started putting it together.

c) My tea’s gone cold.

All signs of a very welcome distraction.

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Six reasons why P.G. Wodehouse is Stephen Fry’s hero

If I were to construct a Plumtopian society according to my own specifications (which, regrettably, nobody has asked me to do) BBC Radio 4 would be one of the first things I’d bung into the package.

In addition to producing high quality radio, the Radio 4 website is also well worth exploring. It contains, among other things, this little gem:

Six reasons why P.G. Wodehouse is Stephen Fry’s hero

Fry and Wodehouse are always an irresistible combination. For a second helping try the 2017 broadcast (currently available on repeat) of Stephen Fry on PG Wodehouse, as part of the BBC Radio 4 Great Lives series.

That’s enough from me.

Happy listening.

HP

How to pronounce Wodehouse

A kindly soul once corrected my pronunciation of P.G. Wodehouse, and I’m profoundly grateful to him for saving me from making a complete ass of myself when I began mixing in Wodehouse Society circles (if only he’d taught me how to use cutlery as well).

I had been pronouncing Wodehouse as if it rhymed with road-house and toad-house. Whereas the ‘wode’ in P.G. Wodehouse should rhyme with good. Here’s a little mnemonic to help you remember.

Every good house has some Wodehouse.

Not only natty, but true. Every good house really should have some P.G. Wodehouse to help the inmates from sinking too deeply into despair.  So it was only natural that, having recently returned to Australia, I set out to compile an ‘emergency’ Wodehouse kit to keep me going until I’m reunited with my books.

This simple task has proved more difficult than you might expect. Adelaide was once a city with so many bookshops that my friends and I designed pub-and-bookshop-crawls around them. But when I recently attempted a nostalgic pub-and-bookshop tour, I discovered Something Fishy. Adelaide has fewer bookshops than it used to, and most of them have little or no Wodehouse.

One of the reasons for the lack of P.G. Wodehouse in Adelaide’s bookstores is, I suspect, a tendency on the part of local readers to take our Literature seriously. Too seriously perhaps, but we’re a serious-minded lot. We take great pride in our Writer’s Week, which The Adelaide Review describes as ‘deep and worldly‘ (although it’s much better than that).

It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.

From: The Girl in Blue (1970)

For budding Wodehouse readers in Adelaide, and other places suffering a Wodehouse shortage, there are several ways to get hold of his books.

  1. Ask your nearest bookstore to order a specific Wodehouse title for you.
  2. Haunt second-hand bookshops and swoop on any Wodehouse you find.
  3. Explore your local library (if you are lucky enough to have one).
  4. Order your Wodehouse books online.

adelaidelibrary
Adelaide Library’s small (but pleasantly surprising) P.G. Wodehouse selection includes some hidden gems

Browsing the shelves in a bookshop or library, not knowing what you’re going to find, is one of life’s great pleasures. Ordering a book, online or in person, reduces this experience to a commercial transaction, but if you are looking for a specific title it’s sometimes the only way.

I’ll be placing my future orders in person because it’s an opportunity to discuss Wodehouse with booksellers, and hopefully persuade them to stock more of his stuff. If I’m successful, perhaps one day some lucky person will find a Wodehouse book while browsing, take it home, and discover the unmitigated pleasures of the world he created — a world Evelyn Waugh once compared to Eden, and that I call Plumtopia.

Happy book hunting!

HP

The Adventures of Honoria Plum

He was sorry, he wrote, that he would be unable to see Miss Petherick-Soames on the morrow, as they had planned, owing to his unfortunately being called away to Australia. He added that he was pleased to have made her acquaintance and that if, as seemed probable, they never saw each other again, he would always watch her future career with interest.

‘The Ordeal of Osbert Mulliner’ (Mr Mulliner Speaking)

Like Osbert Mulliner, I was recently compelled to compose a similar communication to friends and well-wishers in the United Kingdom and prepare for an antipodean journey of indefinite duration.

But wait…. I’m getting ahead of myself.

The adventure started, you may recall, in the March of 2012, with some harmless musing on the Plumtopian dream. Later that year my family and I left Australia for the UK, and I’ve enjoyed some wonderfully Wodehousian experiences in the years that followed.

We were welcomed to England with warmth and generosity by three distinct Aunts (not a cloven hoof in sight) and a cast of relations to whom I’m greatly indebted. We lived in a Berkshire country vicarage, an Oxfordshire town, and Georgian Bath — where a young Wodehouse once loafed. I experienced English life through the seasons, rambled in Somerset, met Gudgeons in Wiltshire, conversed with Mulliners in country pubs, and drank at Ukridge’s Coal Hole — in the footsteps of P.G. Wodehouse and his characters.

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Emsworth, Hampshire (image by Honoria Plum)

I was fortunate enough to visit Wodehouse’s birthplace in Guildford (Surrey) and his former home in Emsworth (Hampshire). We saw adaptations of his work on stage – in Perfect Nonsense and A Damsel in Distress — and attended a musical celebration of his career as a lyricist.

Best of all, I had the opportunity to meet other Wodehouse lovers in London, Amsterdam, and PSeattle U.S.A. I went on one of Norman Murphy’s famous Wodehouse walks, and had the honour of visiting P.G. Wodehouse’s step-grandson, Sir Edward Cazalet and seeing his family’s impressive Wodehouse archive collection.

The friendship and generosity I’ve encountered among fellow Wodehousians has been incredible, and so it was with heavy heart that I informed friends of my impending return to Australia. The reasons for my return are complex – ‘wheels within wheels’ — but my Wodehouse chums rose to the occasion. We were treated to wonderful farewells by Tony and Elaine Ring, Hilary Bruce (P G Wodehouse Society Chair), and Elin Woodger Murphy, who also saw us off to Heathrow in great style.

All of these wonderful new friends and experiences I owe to Wodehouse.

Building a new life in Australia will be challenging, but I’m returning with renewed determination to find fellow Wodehouse lovers, and introduce his work to new readers. Once the dust has settled, I’ll continuing writing on the subject of Wodehouse — here at Plumtopia.

I hope you’ll continue to follow my adventures.

HP

PHOTO CREDIT

The enduring appeal of PG Wodehouse: If you think it’s just farcical butlers and upper-class twits, think again!   

In 2015, BBC radio presenter Kirsty Lang interviewed director Rob Ashford and writer Jeremy Sams about their stage musical adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress. It’s one of Wodehouse’s many transatlantic tales, and delves into the world of musical theatre. The central character is an American composer of musical show tunes, and he manages to navigate life efficiently enough without the assistance of a manservant.

KIRSTY: Now Jeremy, it’s a very engaging production, but the story’ is very much of its time. How confident were you that it would work for a 21st Century audience?

JEREMY: Well you say it’s of its time. What I love about it is, the things that attracted me and my co-writer Robbie Hudson, are absolutely how we feel now about America and England, and actually about theatre and high art, if you like. And the ideas that musicals, which I happen to love, can be thought of as beautiful deep stuff, and not just fluff. It’s a conversation I have weekly to be honest. And the idea that America and England – we need each other – they need our history and class, if you like…. We certainly need their energy and commitment. And again, those ideas don’t seem dated to me.

BBC Frontrow, 10 June 2015

This thoughtful reply, the notion that Wodehouse might have something of relevance or deeper interest beyond the usual assessment that it’s all fluff and nonsense, is so out of sync with the established patter about Wodehouse, that the presenter perhaps felt obliged to add:

KIRSTY:  And I suppose there are aspects of, you know, Downton Abbey and Upstairs and Downstairs that we always love to watch, aren’t there?

American director Rob Ashford agrees politely. Neither he nor Sams take up the invitation to expand on this suggestion.

Kirsty Lang asked a similar question (again with reference to Downton Abbey) of Matthew Macfadyen and Stephen Mangan, in a 2013 interview about their roles as Jeeves and Bertie Wooster in the original stage production Perfect Nonsense.

These are just a few examples. And, like Kirsty’s guests, I too have been subjected to questioning since arriving in Britain from my native Australia several years ago. It seems many Britons (those who haven’t read much Wodehouse) seem to have difficulty understanding his appeal to a youngish, leftish-leaning, Australian female. I’m not an anglophile, I don’t care much for Downton Abbey, and I’m not at all interested (as Ben MacIntyre suggests in the Sunday Times) in ‘a golden, admiring fantasy of upper-class life’ (in ‘Code of the Woosters has saved the upper class’).

Wodehouse’s appeal to Americans has been attributed to Anglophilia, and some have gone so far as to suggest that Wodehouse’s popularity in India stems from nostalgia for the British Empire, a view deftly handled by Shashi Tharoor.

I confess I’m slightly bothered by all the questioning and analysis, for behind this lies an assumption that Wodehouse’s appeal requires explanation. And this leads me in turn to ask why. Or more specifically:

Why is P.G. Wodehouse not more popular in his own country?

The question is not a slur on British readers. Wodehouse has a strong, intelligent and enthusiastic following here. Indeed, I’m meeting a bunch of them later this week at a gathering of the PG Wodehouse Society. They’re witty, generous people, frothing with conviviality. There just aren’t enough of them. Why?

I suspect it’s because the nation’s relationship with Wodehouse is more complex. Wodehouse’s wartime blunder, now rightly regarded as an innocent misjudgement, did incredible damage to his reputation at the time, and mud sticks. There is also a misguided but popular notion that Wodehouse’s stuff is silly, outdated nonsense written by, for and about upper-class twits. This assessment is of course grossly unfair, but we colonials (as Wodehouse expert Norman Murphy affectionately called us) should also acknowledge that it’s much easier to laugh at the British ruling class from a distance — it’s not our pay and conditions they might be cutting in the morning.

Our British friends deserve better, and I feel it would be a great service to help them rediscover one of their own national treasures. So I offer these genuine answers, from Wodehouse readers, to their oft-asked question.

Why do people love P.G. Wodehouse?

I asked members of the Fans of PG Wodehouse Facebook group and received over 100 comments from readers in the USA, India, Norway, France, Austria, Hungary, Indonesia, Iceland, Britain and Ireland. None of them mentioned butlers, upper class twits, or Downton Abbey. Here’s a taste of what they had to say:

NIRMALA: The pure, poetic and passionate language mixed with innocent, genuine and it’s-going-to-be-ok-in-the-end-else-it-isn’t-the-end humour. Peace and happiness even amidst struggles.

DAVID: It is escapist literature without creating some sort of weird alternative universe. Tolkien had to create a whole world; Wodehouse just tweaked an existing one. I’ve never known anyone I could begin to compare with Bilbo Baggins, but I knew a man who could compare with Galahad Threepwood.

MISKIL: Plum’s books are my happy place. They transport me into an idyllic world where everything is sunny and light hearted. On a bad day I read a story and I feel uplifted with every page.

NANCY: It’s a timeless world. A bubble. Things will always work out. Plum’s words weave a web of joy. Because really, who doesn’t like to laugh?

LATA: Heart breaks are bearable to those who have read PG Wodehouse.

FRANK: The sheer fun in the words that often have access to quite deep thoughts. ‘You can’t be a successful dictator and design women’s underwear. One or the other. Not both.’

SHOBHANA: Everybody loves a fairy tale, pieces of happy inconsequential everyday happenings that lead to the “happily ever after” ending where all the various deviations from the main story line have been successfully gathered up by a master story teller who fills our world with laughter, sunshine and the ability to even guffaw at ourselves.

ASHOK: Think of idle pursuits, of romantic escapades, of life lessons couched in delectable humour…

UMA: His eye for detail…the characters are presented in such a way that they materialise right in front of you. His ability to stay neutral in the story…not creating a bias which most authors fail at…

JOHN The way he uses words to conjure up descriptions of people, events and thoughts. And the dialogue interplay between characters. It had me laughing out loud when I first discovered it aged 13/14 in my Grandparents front room when it was too wet to go outside. 46 years later and the works have lost none of their lustre.

ABIR: Above all…the wonderful language and descriptions which make you break out into uncontrollable laughter…even in awkward places.

DEBORAH: I delight in his mastery of English grammar.

KERRY: He insults people from lords to the lowest (or should that be from politicians to the highest) and in such a gentle way that no one could take offence.

SHRAVASTI: The good clean humour, the word play, the references to the Classics (I read Marcus Aurelius because of Plum), and the terrific anti- depressant effect.

MARGARET: There’s an underlying kindness, or ethic, to Plums characters. He may have a sharp eye for human frailty and even evil, but he’s never less than charming… Wodehouse takes issues seriously, but doesn’t take himself so seriously that the issues become secondary.

DAN: Command of the language, not just a big vocabulary but every word the right word. Also always funny.

MILIND: His impeccable sense of the ridiculous, his felicity with language, his perfect sense of timing……and the gentleness of his sarcasm and satire. After all, Wodehouse did more than all the Leftist ideologues put together, to gently and humorously underline the foppishness and idiosyncratic foibles of the British aristocracy……without a trace of bitterness.

SUKANYA: I love the humour in even the most inane situation, accepting people with their foibles, there’s a silver lining in every dark cloud, …and the meta message of core values.

SUZANNE: I love Wodehouse’s writing because of his fabulous vocabulary and his unusual brand of humor. Bertie is especially funny because his humor is usually at his own expense. He puts everyone else ahead of himself, always trying to make people happy…

RANJANA: Plum is, actually, a way of life now, for some. One which believes in gentle humor, incandescent wit which glows but does not burn, core values delivered without sermons, and a magic world where despite insane events and impossibly convoluted plots, things always come right at the end. I would always trust someone who loves Plum. He is a way of life, a stamp of approval that you are, after all, a good egg.

RAJ: Because he makes you believe that all’s well with the world.

ARNAB: He makes one feel that life’s good after all

KAUSHIK: For me, he helps restores faith in humanity!

DRAISE: Wodehouse eases pain.

INDRANI: The faith that there will be Joy in the morning.

Perhaps what Wodehouse has to offer isn’t quite so irrelevant after all.

Next question?

HP

For the full (and idyllic troll-free) discussion, please join us in the Fans of PG Wodehouse Facebook Group.

For UK fans, PG Wodehouse Society Annual Pub Quiz is on July 12, 2017 at The Savoy Tup

PG Wodehouse goes to Washington  

PWCmkyoNThe next convention of The Wodehouse Society (US) is being held in Washington D.C on the 19th-22nd of October 2017.

It is difficult to imagine a more genial occasion than one which brings together fans of an author once described by Stephen Fry (in his introduction to the anthology What Ho!) as:

‘…the finest and funniest writer the past century ever knew’

Stephen Fry

 In 2015, some of you may recall, I had great pleasure in attending my first convention, Psmith in PSeattle. These fabulous binges occur just once every two years, and in 2017 the event is being held in Washington D.C. on 19-22 October.

Regular convention goers enjoy these events as an opportunity to connect with old friends and make new ones through a shared love of Wodehouse.

Young Tuppy had the unmistakable air of a man who has recently been round to the Jug and Bottle. A few cheery cries of welcome, presumably from some of his backgammon-playing pals who felt that blood was thicker than water , had the effect of causing the genial smile on his face to widen till it nearly met at the back. He was plainly feeling about as good as a man can feel and still remain on his feet.

(from ‘Jeeves and the Song of Songs’ in Very Good Jeeves)

The 2017 convention, arranged by The Wodehouse Society’s Washington Chapter, offers an array of Wodehouse-related entertainments –from ‘serious-minded’ talks to music and theatrical performances. The keynote speaker is Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Michael Dirda and the programme will include music performed by Maria Jette & Dan Chouinard. Maria and Dan have performed at previous conventions, featuring songs with lyrics by Wodehouse, as well as songs referenced in Wodehouse’s writing.

The Wodehouse Society conventions attract attendees from all over the world, and offer a welcoming haven for like-minded souls to meet and forge friendships.

As Stephen Fry goes on to say: 

Without Wodehouse I am not sure that I would be a tenth of what I am today – whatever that may be. In my teenage years the writings of P.G. Wodehouse awoke me to the possibilities of language. His rhythms, tropes, tricks and mannerisms are deep within me. But more than that he taught me something about good nature. It is enough to be benign, to be gentle, to be funny, to be kind. He mocked himself sometimes because he knew that a great proportion of his readers came from prisons and hospitals. At the risk of being sententious, isn’t it true that we are all of us, for a great part of our lives, sick or imprisoned, all of us in need of this remarkable healing spirit, this balm for hurt minds?

Many of us have been similarly restored and improved by reading Wodehouse –and if you are thinking of attending your first convention this year, you are assured of a warm welcome.

Visit the Wodehouse Society website for more details, including a programme and registration form.

And if you see me, say hello! I’ll be in the lobby of the Crown Plaza Hamilton Hotel, wearing their best armchair fashionably tight about the hips. If you approach with a pink chrysanthemum in your buttonhole and start rambling about rain in Northumberland, I shall know what to do about it.

HP

Utopia 500 years (Plumtopia 5)

You may not have noticed, in the hullabaloo of 2016, that this year marked the 500th anniversary of Sir Thomas Moore’s Utopia. As the year draws to a close (and good riddance to it) I wanted to spend a few moments reflecting on Plumtopia, which celebrates a more humble fifth anniversary this year.

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Utopia woodcut

Sir Thomas Moore invented the word Utopia as a name for the fictional world he created in 1516. The word is derived ‘from the Greek ou-topos meaning ‘no place‘*. Few people today have read Moore’s original work, but the term he created has evolved to acquire meaning of its own.

Oxford Dictionaries Online give as their definition:

…an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect: The opposite of dystopia.

It’s not a definition I’m happy with. It expresses the thoroughness with which any form of ideal or idealism is dismissed in the modern age. It insists that Utopia can only be imagined. As few people would argue that perfection is possible, it discredits ‘Utopian’ thinkers before they’ve even opened their mouths.

This is not so ‘off topic’ as you might think. Returning to my first piece in August 2011, I began this blog in Search of Plumtopia:

Wodehouse, affectionately known as Plum, sets such pleasingly lofty standards for humanity that perhaps what I’m really seeking is Plumtopia.

The decision to blend Utopia with Wodehouse’s ‘Plum’ (the name by which he was known throughout his life) was a conscious decision that reflected my purpose exactly. I was disgruntled with the world, and felt the world Wodehouse created would make a better one. Five years later, I’ve seen more of the world, but I’m no more gruntled with it than I was in 2011. And I continue to hold the unfashionable notion that ideals are worth striving for.

Plumtopia has not fulfilled the serious-minded promise of this first post, but the 500th anniversary of Utopia provides a fitting occasion to revisit my original idea of Wodehouse’s world as a Utopian ideal. This may cause some of you to click your tongues.

He then said something about modern enlightened thought which I cannot repeat.

Joy in the Morning (1946)

Rest assured I shall resume my usual hearty ‘what ho-ing’ in due course, but in the meantime I hope you’ll indulge me.

The world Wodehouse created doesn’t quite fit the given definition of Utopia. As fiction, it is a part-imagined, part Edwardian. Wodehouse expert Norman Murphy has made countless connections between the characters and locations in Wodehouse’s fiction and real-life examples. And Wodehouse himself, in a 1946 preface to Joy in the Morning, said:

The world of which I have been writing every since I was so high, the world of the Drones Club and the lads who congregate there was always a small world –one of the smallest I ever met, as Bertie Wooster would say. It was bounded on the east by St. James’s Street. on the west by Hyde park Corner, by Oxford Street on the north and by Piccadilly on the south. And now it is not even small, it is non-existent.

Although the world Wodehouse depicted is recognisably of its time (and beyond the Drones stories, takes in much wider territory than London SW1), many people believe it never existed at all.  Perhaps this is due to the things he left out – war, violence, poverty, injustice, death and disease are, with rare exceptions, absent from his writing.

It’s not my place to speculate on Wodehouse’s reasons, but none of these subjects are intrinsically funny and it’s not unreasonable that a writer of humour should give them a wide berth. The result is a world that feels slightly unreal, but it’s not a perfect world.

Wodehouse’s world is filled with human imperfection — snobbery, pride, duplicity and greed are ‘necessary’ evils for an author who needs something unpleasant for his heroes and heroines to overcome.  There is wealth inequality too, though not poverty. Many of Wodehouse’s stories feature impecunious heroes, heroines, and a few minor villains,  looking to improve their situation. And they usually succeed (Wodehouse was a great redistributor of wealth).

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Wodehouse’s Blandings: his most idyllic setting

While falling short of perfection, Wodehouse’s world undoubtedly improves upon reality. His characters employed in menial positions are respected in their roles, treated fairly, and live comfortably free from want. At the upper end of the spectrum, his aristocrats and wealthy business magnates are ‘mostly harmless’ (to borrow from Douglas Adams). While they may not demonstrate the high moral standards we like to see in persons of stature, they do not abuse their servants, or take yachting tours of favourite tax havens with friends from the arms-trade.

The opportunities for women in Wodehouse’s world are least as good as Wodehouse’s contemporaries, often better. Women from different social backgrounds take part and succeed in a broad range of careers and activities. They need not be young or beautiful, and finding love is not their only purpose. There isn’t a single preferred model of man or womanhood that must be conformed to.

The sun is almost always shining. And the ideal ratio of village pubs per inhabitant is 1:1.

Put simply, there’s a lot to like!

Wodehouse’s idyllic creation has its critics, who object, as far as I can understand the argument, on the grounds that he presents an idealised view of Britain that brushes socio-economic issues under the carpet, and romanticises the aristocracy. As George Orwell put it:

…Wodehouse’s real sin has been to present the English upper classes as much nicer people than they are.

George Orwell In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse (1946)

There’s some truth in the assertion, but it’s a blinkered sort of truth because Wodehouse presents people from all walks of life as our better, brighter selves. He avoids difficult and unpleasant truths, and softens the edges of human folly so that we may laugh at them together. He doesn’t just idealise the aristocracy, as so often claimed. Wodehouse idealises us all.

It has long been my view that the messages we take from Wodehouse’s work are the ones we bring to it ourselves. P.G. Wodehouse didn’t set out to create a Utopian ideal. This is something I’ve divined from the world he created which, free from the worst excesses of human behaviour, seems a great improvement on our own.

To give Wodehouse the penultimate word:

JoyInTheMorningI suppose one thing that makes these drones of mine seem creatures of a dead past is that with the exception of Oofy Prosser, the club millionaire, they are genial and good tempered friends of all the world. In these days when everybody hates everybody else, anyone who is not snarling at something – or at everything – is an anachronism.

Preface to Joy in the Morning

I may be silly (although in 2016, who could tell) but I think Wodehouse’s world is one worth striving for.

Cheers and best wishes to you all for a happy, hearty new year, and much Joy in the Morning !

HP

Footnotes & Further Reading

* Source: Notes on Utopia from the British Library online

** Thomas Moore’s dissatisfaction with English society, 500 years ago, still strike a chord in 2016:

…for what justice is there in this: that a nobleman, a goldsmith, a banker, or any other man, that either does nothing at all, or, at best, is employed in things that are of no use to the public, should live in great luxury and splendour upon what is so ill acquired, and a mean man, a carter, a smith, or a ploughman, that works harder even than the beasts themselves, and is employed in labours so necessary, that no commonwealth could hold out a year without them, can only earn so poor a livelihood and must lead so miserable a life, that the condition of the beasts is much better than theirs?  For as the beasts do not work so constantly, so they feed almost as well, and with more pleasure, and have no anxiety about what is to come, whilst these men are depressed by a barren and fruitless employment, and tormented with the apprehensions of want in their old age; since that which they get by their daily labour does but maintain them at present, and is consumed as fast as it comes in, there is no overplus left to lay up for old age.

from Utopia (1516)

 

A Visit to the Wodehouse family archives

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Home of Sir Edward Cazalet and his wife Camilla, Lady Cazalet

On a beautiful autumn day, I left London’s Victoria Station for the glorious Sussex countryside to visit the home of Sir Edward Cazalet, P.G. Wodehouse’s step-grandson. I had met Edward and his wife Camilla, Lady Cazalet, in London during the summer, and they generously invited me to visit their home to view the family’s archive of Wodehouse materials.

The train journey was a pleasant, uneventful affair, which did not seem, to me, to be in quite the proper Wodehouse spirit. I ought to have been playing ‘Persian Monarchs’ with a genial stranger, or thumbing through a volume of poems by Ralston McTodd. But the closest approximation I could muster was an affinity for Lord Emsworth.

Lord Emsworth, in a train moving in the direction of home, was behaving like a horse heading for his stable. He snorted eagerly, and spoke at length and with emotion of roses and herbaceous borders.

Leave it to Psmith (1923)

It did seem a pity to be traveling merely as myself, and not an imposter. There is a lot to be said for adopting an alias, particularly when your own persona is as dull as my own. Polly Pott managed to pass herself off at Blandings as Gwendolyne Glossop, daughter of the eminent nerve specialist Sir Roderick Glossop (in Uncle Fred in the Springtime). With a bit of forethought, I might have presented myself as his other daughter. But forethought was never my strong suit, and I arrived with a sheepish sense of having let the side down.

I needn’t have worried. Edward Cazalet’s deep affection for his grandfather and enthusiasm for his work ensured a mutual understanding from the start. I spent the day giddy with joy as we looked through Edward’s impressive archive of Plum’s letters and personal materials, including notes for stories and draft manuscripts in various stages of devolvement.

volumes
Much Obliged Jeeves manuscript and volumes of Wodehouse’s letters

Wodehouse’s letters include correspondence with well-known figures of the day, including Agatha Christie, Evelyn Waugh, and Richard Burton. Reading his personal correspondence with family and friends (a tremendous privilege) left a lingering impression of Plum, the man. The impression is a good one. His private letters (many of them published in Sophie Ratcliffe’s P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters) are imbued with the same qualities as his fictional work, displaying sharp wit tempered by a generous spirit.

 

The other night, having run out of ‘Murine’, Ethel squirted some stuff into her eyes which the vet prescribed for Wonder, and a quarter of an hour later complained of violent pains in the head and said that the room was all dark and she couldn’t read the print of her Saturday Evening Post. Instead of regarding this as a bit of luck, as anyone who knows the present Saturday Evening Post, she got very alarmed and remained so till next morning, when all was clear again. It just shows what a dog has to endure. Though, as a matter of fact, I believe dogs’ eyes are absolutely insensitive. I don’t think dogs bother about their eyes at all, relying mostly on their noses.

      Letter to Denis Mackail (March 28, 1946)

P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

There is also a good deal of love in them.

My darling Angel Bunny.

Gosh, how I am missing my loved one! The house is a morgue without you. Do you realise that – except for two nights I spent in NY and the time you were in the hospital – we haven’t been separated for a night for twenty years!! This morning Jed waddled into my room at about nine, and I said to myself ‘My Bunny’s awake early’ and was just starting for your room when I remembered. It’s too awful being separated like this.

Letter to Ethel Wodehouse (July 6, 1967)

P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

lawn-in-sunshineIn the afternoon, Edward took me on a walking tour of the family farm and shared memories of afternoon walks with Plum, during visits to his grandfather’s home in Remsenburg (Long Island, New York). Nature had pulled up her socks and ordered us an exceptionally fine day to compliment the rolling farmland views, and I found myself pondering as Rogers, or possibly Hammerstein, once pondered, whether somewhere in my youth or childhood I had done something good.

Edward and horse by Elizabeth Frink.JPG
Edward Cazalet (with horse sculpture by Elisabeth Frink)

plums-chair
Plum’s library and chair

This joyous feeling reached a crescendo shortly before the cocktail hour, when I visited the cosy attic in which Plum’s treasured possessions have been lovingly preserved by Edward and his family. It contains Plum’s reading chair, his hat and pipe, golf clubs — even his personal statue of the infant Samuel at Prayer. The room is lined with bookshelves containing books from Wodehouse’s own library. The remaining walls are adorned with family photographs and sporting memorabilia.

 

Never a brilliant conversationalist, I was unequal to expressing this pleasure to my hosts at the time. I simply alternated between gaping and grinning for the remainder of my visit.

infant-samuel
Plum’s personal statue of the Infant Samuel at Prayer

I don’t recall doing ‘something good’ in my youth or childhood. Or since, for that matter. But I did spend five years in Van Diemen’s Land without the usual preliminaries of having committed a crime. Perhaps my visit to the Cazalets was Fate’s way of evening out the ledger.

 

Thoroughly gruntled!

HP

I have dyspepsia!

18053Yesterday I received the Doctor’s diagnosis of an ailment that has been troubling me for some time. I have dyspepsia!

I don’t suppose a doctor ever received such a joyous response to this news as mine did. I practically whooped around the surgery. For now, I can read my favourite poem, by Lancelot Mulliner in ‘Came the Dawn’, with the added poignancy of personal suffering.

DARKLING (A Threnody)
By L. BASSINGTON MULLINER
(Copyright in all languages, including the Scandinavian)

Black branches,
Like a corpse’s withered hands,
Waving against the blacker sky:
Chill winds,
Bitter like the tang of half-remembered sins;
Bats wheeling mournfully through the air,
And on the ground
Worms,
Toads,
Frogs,
And nameless creeping things;
And all around
Desolation,
Doom,
Dyspepsia,
And Despair.
I am a bat that wheels through the air of Fate;
I am a worm that wriggles in a swamp of Disillusionment ;
I am a despairing toad;
I have got dyspepsia.

from: Came the Dawn (Meet Mr Mulliner )

The physician stopped short of prescribing Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo, but I suppose one can’t have everything.

HP

Wodehouse to the rescue again

Plumtopia has been a selfish venture from the beginning. It was born from my own dissatisfaction with life, and the search for a better kind of world – that I called Plumtopia. Having never met a fellow Wodehouse fan I presumed I’d have no audience, and consequently wrote entirely to please myself. I do love the sound of my own keyboard. But then something wonderful happened. People started to read, to comment, and even identify with some of the thoughts and feelings I expressed. I may be no closer to finding Plumtopia, but there is comfort in knowing that I’m in dashed good company.

That dashed good company includes Noel Bushnell. Many of the blogs I read are rousing social and political commentaries that cause the blood pressure to rise and the soul to despair (not that I blame writers for reflecting a troubled world). So reading Noel’s aptly titled Wodehouse to the rescue felt like an application of soothing balm. I loved it!

Today, I’m sharing his terrific follow up piece, commemorating the Centenary of P.G. Wodehouse’s collaboration with Guy Bolton, and Jerome Kern. It’s a must for Wodehouse fans.

Enjoy!

HP

The Traveller

I presented the following talk to the Ferkytoodlers group of serious thinkers over lunch at the Melbourne Savage Club on Wednesday, 11 November 2015. I intended to post it here with suitable modifications and credits the following weekend but, when I awoke that Saturday morning to news of the dreadful events in Paris overnight, somehow the works of a long dead author and the peaceful world of his imagination seemed less important. It seemed in bad taste to be prattling on about trivial entertainment when people were being murdered.

Of course, the Paris massacre is by no means unique in our world – alas! – and as I brooded on this bleak topic I was reminded of a remark Wodehouse blogger Honoria Plum made in a comment on my first Wodehouse to the rescue piece. She referred to the sentiment behind her blog, Plumtopia, as “looking for snippets of…

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