Category Archives: World of Wodehouse

The works of P.G. Wodehouse

“Jill the Reckless” at 100

Life In Topseyturveydom

According to Wikipedia, today (8 October 2020) is the 100th anniversary of the book publication in the United States of P.G. Wodehouse’s novel The Little Warrior, subsequently published in the UK as Jill the Reckless. As the Wikipedia entry quotes the definitive Wodehouse bibliography in support of its claim, I assume it is correct.

I’m going to refer to the book as Jill the Reckless, because that’s the title I have always known it by, and I also think it a much better, and less patronising, title than The Little Warrior (which is the description repeatedly used to describe Jill Mariner throughout the text because of her refusal to admit defeat in life).

My edition of Jill the Reckless (Vintage, 1993)

It isn’t a “classic” Wodehouse title – I doubt if it is anyone’s absolute favourite – but it’s a lovely book in its own right…

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Joy in the Morning: Jonathan Cecil audiobook review

A review of the Joy in the Morning audiobook read by Jonathan Cecil (one of my favourites) from Fiction Fan:

“Forget the pasta and toilet roll – stockpile these in preparation for your social distancing. What better company could you possibly have?”

FICTION FAN BLOG

FictionFan's Book Reviews

Knotted locks and knitted socks…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Bertie isn’t keen on visiting Steeple Bumpleigh, home to Aunt Agatha, the most terrifying of his aunts. But Jeeves is keen to do a spot of fishing and Uncle Percy needs Jeeves’ help in finding a way to pull off a big business deal, so Bertie gives in gracefully. After all, Aunt Agatha is off elsewhere on a visit, ex-fiancée Florence Craye can be no threat to his bachelorhood now that she’s engaged to D’Arcy “Stilton” Cheesewright, and while his young cousin Edwin is always a pestilence, how much harm could one Boy Scout possibly do? But when Florence and Stilton fall out over Stilton’s insistence on being the village policeman and Edwin burns down Bertie’s cottage whilst doing his daily act of kindness, things take a sinister turn. Meantime Uncle Percy is refusing to allow his ward Nobby Hopwood…

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Wodehouse News: movie reviews, Slapstick festival & a Japanese stage adaptation

A Sunday triple-bill for Wodehouse fans.

Jeeves and The Hollywood Way

For Golden Age of Hollywood fans, the Grand Old Movies blog is well worth following, and this week they’ve added the pleasures of Wodehouse into the mix. ‘Jeeves and The Hollywood Way’ looks at the two Jeeves movies starring Arthur Treacher, Thank You, Jeeves! (1936) and Step Lively, Jeeves ! (1937). The writer is sound on Wodehouse, so there’s no need to add my 2 cents worth on the subject. Highly recommended.

Wodehouse discussion at the Slapstick Festival

Next, it’s Book Shambles Podcast: a live recording from the Bristol Old Vic panel discussion (Robin Ince, Prof Sophie Ratcliffe and Joanna Neary) at the recent Slapstick Festival. The Wodehouse discussion starts about 13 minutes in.

The discussion has had mixed reviews from Wodehouse enthusiasts, but I was pleased to hear the panelists highlight the ‘oomph’ of his female characters, and challenge the popular misconception that Wodehouse appeals mainly to men.

Takarazuka Revue production of Oh, Kay!

And finally, some exciting news from Tamaki Morimura, who is well known to Wodehouse fans for her work translating Wodehouse into Japanese (as well as being a thoroughly good egg).

The all female Takarazuka Revue company will be performing Nice Work If You Can Get It, an adaptation of the 1926 musical Oh, Kay! by George and Ira Gershwin (music and lyrics), Guy Bolton, and P.G. Wodehouse (book).

It’s a fascinating combination. Perhaps it’s time for my first trip to Japan.

Happy viewing!

HP

Love in the Time of Wodehouse: Chiefly About Chickens

For some years now, I’ve been pushing the idea, aided and abetted by a gang of like-minded eggs, that Valentine’s Day should be commemorated as the anniversary of P.G. Wodehouse’s death in 1975. I’m a persistent sort of blighter, so here we are again in 2020.

This year, I was curious to take a look at Wodehouse’s writing on the subject of love and see how it might have developed over the course of his 75-year writing career. I quickly discovered (as ever with Wodehouse) that I’d bitten off more than I could chew. So until some generous bird comes across with the necessary oof for full-time study, it’s a mere snippet.  

Unsurprisingly, love doesn’t feature in Wodehouse’s early school stories. The fact that it takes centre stage in his first grown-up novel, Love Among the Chickens (1906) is more curious. Wodehouse’s lifelong love of detective fiction is evident in his early writing–the genre would seem a logical next step and I’m dashed if I can see how he suddenly branched out into romances. Unless…

It would be interesting to know to what extent the work of authors is influenced by their private affairs. If life is flowing smoothly for them, are the novels they write in that period of content coloured with optimism? And if things are running crosswise, do they work off the resultant gloom on their faithful public? If, for instance, Mr. W. W. Jacobs had toothache, would he write like Mr. Hall Caine? If Maxim Gorky were invited to lunch by the Czar, would he sit down and dash off a trifle in the vein of Mr. Dooley? Probably great authors have the power of detaching their writing self from their living, workaday self. For my own part, the frame of mind in which I now found myself completely altered the scheme of my novel. I had designed it as a light-comedy effort. Here and there a page or two to steady the reader, and show him what I could do in the way of pathos if I cared to try; but in the main a thing of sunshine and laughter. But now great slabs of gloom began to work themselves into the scheme of it. Characters whom I had hitherto looked upon as altogether robust developed fatal illnesses. A magnificent despondency became the keynote of the book. Instead of marrying, my hero and heroine had a big scene in the last chapter, at the end of which she informed him that she was already secretly wedded to another, a man with whom she had not even a sporting chance of being happy. I could see myself correcting proofs made pulpy by the tears of emotional printers.

Love Among the Chickens (1906)

The passage appears at a point in the novel when our hero, the author Jeremy Garnet, is thwarted in his wooing of Phyllis Derrick. Wodehouse frequently draws from personal experience in his early works and there are autobiographical touches to Garnet’s character. It’s not unreasonable (however impertinent) to wonder whether Wodehouse might have been in love.

My love had grown with the days. Mr. J. Holt Schooling, or somebody else with a taste for juggling with figures, might write a very readable page or so of statistics in connection with the growth of love in the heart of a man. In some cases it is, I believe, slow. In my own I can only say that Jack’s beanstalk was a backward plant in comparison.

Love Among The Chickens (1906)

If Wodehouse was in love in 1906 — or somewhere on the spectrum — no business resulted. The chief suspect, for my money, is Ella King-Hall. The King-Hall family believed Wodehouse was ‘half in love with her’* and he dedicated books to her in 1907 and 1908. The 1907 dedication appeared in a book called Not George Washington, which Wodehouse had written with a chap called Herbert Westbrook (or at least Westbrook’s name appears on the title).

Wodehouse dedicated books to him too.

To That Prince of Slackers, Herbert Westbrook

The Gold Bat (1904)

And

To Herbert Westbrook, without whose never-failing advice, help, and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time

A Gentleman of Leisure (1910)

Sophie Ratcliffe describes Westbrook as ‘handsome, charismatic, and permanently broke’* and Wodehouse credited him as an inspiration for the character of Ukridge, Jeremy Garnet’s scoundrel friend and chief trouble maker in Love Among the Chickens.

Ukridge was the sort of man who asks you out to dinner, borrows the money from you to pay the bill, and winds up the evening by embroiling you in a fight with a cabman. I have gone to Covent Garden balls with Ukridge, and found myself legging it down Henrietta Street in the grey dawn, pursued by infuriated costermongers.

Love Among the Chickens (1920 edition)

Ella King-Hall and Herbert Westbrook were married in 1912.

There is no love rivalry between Garnet and Ukridge in Love Among the Chickens. Ukridge is recently married to the long-suffering Millie (the long-suffering being ahead of her). Ella King-Hall, who was older than Wodehouse and Westbrook by fifteen years, and worked with them on various plays, doesn’t seem to have much in common with either of them.

Nor are there any ‘great slabs of gloom’ in the book, although readers are left wondering about poor Mrs Ukridge’s future

Looking back at the affair after the lapse of years, Garnet was accustomed to come to the conclusion that she was the one pathetic figure in the farce. Under what circumstances she had married Ukridge he did not learn till later. He was also uncertain whether at any moment in her career she regretted it. But it was certainly pathetic to witness her growing bewilderment during the weeks that followed, as the working of Ukridge’s giant mind was unfolded to her little by little. Life, as Ukridge understood the word, must have struck her as a shade too full of incident to be really comfortable. Garnet was wont to console himself by the hope that her very genuine love for her husband, and his equally genuine love for her, was sufficient to smooth out the rough places of life.

Love Among The Chickens (1906)

This passage was omitted from a revised 1920 edition if Love Among the Chickens, by which time any real-life concerns about Mrs Westbrook had been partially smoothed by Wodehouse himself. 

He [Wodehouse] continued to play a role in Westbrook’s life as the unacknowledged breadwinner. After her marriage, Ella King-Hall became his literary agent for all his British contracts and remained so until her retirement through ill-health in 1935.

Robert McCrum: Wodehouse: A Life (2005)

Wodehouse was thoroughly business-like when it came to this sort of thing and there is no reason to doubt Ella Westbook’s capacity for managing the task, but he might easily have placed his affairs with somebody else.

In quality terms, the period following Love Among the Chickens (1906) is arguably the least impressive in Wodehouse’s otherwise brilliant career. With the exception of a superb finale in the school story genre (Mike and Psmith), most of the works from this period (The Luck Stone, The Swoop , The Prince and Betty, Death at the Excelsior) have been forgotten, and are of interest only to Wodehouse enthusiasts.

“Jimmy, we were practically boys together. Tell me about this girl–the girl you loved, and were idiot enough to lose.”

Jimmy drew a deep breath.

“Very well,” said Mifflin complacently, “sigh if you like; it’s better than nothing.”

A Gentleman of Leisure (1910)

It would be fanciful to suggest that Wodehouse’s art had suffered from a disappointment in love – and there’s no hint of it in his published letters. Rather, it was a period of creative experimentation with voice, style and genre. Wodehouse had left the school story genre behind him, but was yet to find his place in adult fiction.** Unlike his fictional Drones, Wodehouse did not have the luxury of a private income to sustain him, which meant writing for a living, dashing off whatever the magazines would take until he found his niche.  

But love may well have contributed to Wodehouse’s breakthrough. In 1914, he met and married Ethel Wayman in New York. The first Jeeves and Blandings stories appeared in print the following year (My Man Jeeves and Something Fresh). The real-life romance between Wodehouse and his wife is incredibly touching, and readers owe her a debt of gratitude for smoothing away the troubles of life so that he could write.  

We may never know more about Wodehouse’s early experiences of love and romance, but we don’t really need to know. Wodehouse never wasted good material – so I feel sure we’ve read about them.  

Have you ever been turned down by a girl who afterwards married and then been introduced to her husband? If so you’ll understand how I felt when Clarence burst on me. You know the feeling. First of all, when you hear about the marriage, you say to yourself, “I wonder what he’s like.” Then you meet him, and think, “There must be some mistake. She can’t have preferred this to me!” That’s what I thought, when I set eyes on Clarence.

Doing Clarence A Bit Of Good in My Man Jeeves (1915)

Better to have loved and lost, and bunged the thing down on paper, than never to have loved at all.

Happy Wodehouse Day!

HP

REFERENCES

*From: Sophie Ratcliffe, P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters.

**Read Paul Kent’s Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, Volume 1: “This is jolly old Fame” for more on this subject.

Image of Emsworth, Hampshire (where Wodehouse, Herbert Westbrook and Ella King-Hall all lived for a time) taken on a visit by Honoria Plum

A Centenary of A Damsel in Distress

damsel montage

‘I’ve a headache.’
‘I thought you would have, laddie, when I saw you getting away with the liquid last night. An X-ray photograph of your liver would show something that looked like a crumpled oak-leaf studded with hob-nails. You ought to take more exercise, dear heart. Except for sloshing that policeman, you haven’t done anything athletic for years.’

A Damsel in Distress

A Damsel in Distress by P.G. Wodehouse was first published in the USA on 4 October 1919, having previously been serialised in the Saturday Evening Post in May-June of the same year. The first UK edition was published on 15 October 2019.

The story is set in England, featuring scenes in London and the fictional village of Belpher, based on the pretty coastal town of Emsworth, Hampshire, where Wodehouse once lived — a connection celebrated today by the local Emsworth Museum.

The bally Englishness of it all is rounded off with historic Belpher Castle and its inmates – the aristocratic Marshmoretons upstairs, and a below-stairs cast headed by Keggs the Butler. There’s little to like about the Marshmoretons, who are one of the scaliest gangs of invertebrates and inveritable snobs Wodehouse ever assembled. Even Lady Maud Marshmoreton, the Damsel in Distress of the title, is one of Wodehouse’s least likeable heroines (in my view).

These Marshmoretons need a good shake-up and Wodehouse gives it to them in the form of romantic entanglements with unsuitable Americans — Broadway composer George Bevan and chorus girl Billie Dore. The Americans inject much needed life and Broadway sparkle into the story. They steal all their scenes and render their stuffy English counterparts even more colourless.

‘You aren’t George Bevan!’


‘I am!’

‘But’ – Miss Plummer’s voice almost failed her – ‘But I’ve been dancing to your music for years! I’ve got about fifty of your records on the Victrola at home.’
George blushed. However successful a man may be he can never get used to Fame at close range.
‘Why, that trickly thing – you know, in the second act – is the darlingest thing I ever heard. I’m mad about it.’
‘Do you mean the one that goes lumty-lumty-tum, tumty-tumty-tum?’
‘No the one that goes ta-rumty-tum-tum, ta-rumty-tum. You know! The one about Granny dancing the shimmy.’
‘I’m not responsible for the words, you know,’ urged George hastily. ‘These are wished on me by the lyricist.’
‘I think the words are splendid. Although poor popper thinks it’s improper, Granny’s always doing it and nobody can stop her! …’

Perhaps this reflects Wodehouse’s own experience as an Englishman in New York. He had been living and working there for around five years when A Damsel in Distress was written, following previous visits in 1904 and 1909. It may also reflect good commercial sense. Upstairs-downstairs dramas and stories transplanting Americans into the British aristocracy may have already become clichéd by Wodehouse’s day (I’m guessing here), but even in 2019 they remain unaccountably popular. Or at least this popularity is unaccountable to me — when it comes to Downton Abbey, I’m with David Mitchell.

But I digress…

1919 Damsel in Distress ITALIAN
Una Damigella In Pericolo

A Damsel in Distress is a popular favourite among Wodehouse readers – it has a 4 and half star rating on Goodreads and has been translated into multiple languages, including five Italian translations.

The plot has also been adapted for film and stage several times, including a silent film released in October 1919 — when the ink on Wodehouse’s Saturday Evening Post original was barely dry.

Wodehouse himself was involved in developing the script for a 1937 film musical adaptation starring Fred Astaire, Joan Fontaine, George Burns and Gracie Allen – with a fabulous score by George Gershwin. Brain Taves has written about this film’s fascinating history for Plum Lines (Journal of the US Wodehouse Society):

“On the advice of George Ger­shwin, RKO producer Pandro Ber­man bought the screen rights to A Damsel in Distress in November 1936. Gershwin had collaborated in the theater with Wodehouse before he wrote the novel, and Gershwin believed that the character of the music writer named George Bevan in A Damsel in Distress was based on him. Gershwin’s nine songs for the film were composed before the script was written, and he died during production of the movie.”

Brian Taves: A Damsel in Distress: Novel, to Play, to Film
Plum Lines Vol. 2 2 No.3 Autumn 2001

Stage performances of A Damsel in Distress include a 1928 adaptation written by Wodehouse and Ian Hay, which ran at the New Theatre in London –with a young Joan Hickson among the cast. And in 2015, I was fortunate enough to see a wonderful adaptation by Rob Ashford at the Chichester Festival.

While A Damsel in Distress is not one of my own favourite Wodehouse novels, I give it a solid 3 stars (if I rated everything Wodehouse wrote as equally excellent, I’d have no credibility). I suspect I’m in a minority among Wodehouse fans on this one, however, and I have no wish to detract from the pleasure this work brings to others. It remains a ‘must-read’ for Wodehouse fans, particularly for Wodehouse’s Broadway insights.

And the glimmer of his genius is present, as always.

‘A cat, on its way back from lunch, paused beside him in order to use his leg as a serviette.’

And

‘The furniture had been constructed by somebody who would probably have done very well if he had taken up some other line of industry…’

And

His pause was more eloquent than his speech and nearly as eloquent as his eye.

So don’t take my word for it — if you haven’t read A Damsel in Distress, grab a copy and decide for yourself. The 1937 musical is also available on DVD — here’s a snippet to whet your whistle.

Pip pip to old man trouble
And a toodly-oo too

HP

Further reading

Madam Eulalie: Source of the original Saturday Evening Post header image (above). You’ll also find the original Saturday Evening Post text, illustrations, and annotations.

Reviews of A Damsel in Distress

Never mind the Aunts: P.G. Wodehouse’s fictional fathers are stinkers too

Aunts aren't gentlemen by P.G. Wodehouse

P.G. Wodehouse is well known as the author of some of the most ghastly and terrifying aunts ever committed to paper. For this particular gift to literature, he is beloved by some and despised by others as an apparent misogynist. Both attitudes are ridiculous. Wodehouse was wonderfully egalitarian in his comedy — anyone can be a stinker in his fictional world. One might even argue that his fictional fathers are a good deal worse than the aunts.

One of the foulest examples of the species is J. Washburn Stoker.

He was a cove who always reminded me of a pirate of the Spanish Main – a massive blighter and piercing-eyed, to boot. So far from laughing at the sight of him, I had never yet failed to feel absolutely spineless in his presence.

Thank You, Jeeves

In Thank You, Jeeves he keeps his daughter Pauline a prisoner on his yacht, and kidnaps Bertie Wooster with the intention of forcing them to marry.

My circle of friends is crammed with fellows who would consider it dashed diverting to bung you into a room and lock the door. But on the present occasion I could not see this being the solution. There was nothing roguish about old Stoker. Whatever view you might take of this fishy-eyed man, you would never call him playful. If Pop Stoker put his guests in cold storage, his motive in so doing was sinister.

Bertie Wooster compares this Stoker menace — in a conversation with his daughter Emerald — with another foul specimen of fatherhood, Sir Watkyn Bassett.

We now come to Sir Watkyn Bassett, Madeline’s father.’

‘Yes, she mentioned her father.’

‘And well she might.’

‘What’s he like?’

‘One of those horrors from outer space. It may seem a hard thing to say of any man, but I would rank Sir Watkyn Bassett as an even bigger stinker than your father.’

‘Would you call Father a stinker?’

‘Not to his face, perhaps.’

‘He thinks you’re crazy.’

‘Bless his old heart.’

‘And you can’t say he’s wrong. Anyway, he’s not so bad, if you rub him the right way.’

‘Very possibly, but if you think a busy man like myself has time to go rubbing your father, either with or against the grain, you are greatly mistaken.

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves

Pop Bassett is a recurring source of unpleasantness in Bertie’s life, as one might expect from the sort of man who keeps willing company with an amateur dictator like Roderick Spode. As a father he’s far from ideal — objecting to both Gussie Fink-Nottle and Bertram Wooster (who have their faults, but are essentially harmless) as potential son-in-laws, but pleased at the prospect of Madeline marrying Spode.

While some Wodehouse characters are hampered by an unpleasant father, others are regrettably inclined to follow in their footsteps. Like Sir Jaklyn Warner, Baronet in Bachelors Anonymous.

Bachelors Anonymous by P.G. WodehouseWith those who had known them both it was a constant source of debate as to whether Jaklyn was or was not a more slippery character than his late father. Some said Yes, some said No, but it was agreed that it was a close thing, and the opinion of those who had suffered at their hands that the crookedness of each was such as to enable him to hide at will behind a spiral staircase was universally held.

Bachelors Anonymous

Lady Florence Craye also takes after her father, Lord Worplesdon. Local constabulary Stilton Cheesewright describes him as ‘..a menace to the community and would be directly responsible if half the population of Steeple Bumpleigh were murdered in their beds’ (Joy in the Morning).

Bertie Wooster is similarly scathing about him.

This Lord Worplesdon was Florence’s father. He was the old buster who, a few years later, came down to breakfast one morning, lifted the first cover he saw, said ‘Eggs! Eggs! Damn all eggs!’ in an overwrought sort of voice, and instantly legged it for France, never to return to the bosom of the family. This, mind you, being a bit of luck for the bosom of the family, for old Worplesdon had the worst temper in the county.

 Carry On, Jeeves

The Worplesdon case provides us with an example to test my original premise that Wodehouse was even-handed in his treatment of the sexes, because Worplesdon later marries the most famous of all Wodehouse Aunts — Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha. Bertie weighs the merits of both stinkers, and is inclined to call the thing a tie.

When, about eighteen months before, news had reached me through well-informed channels that my Aunt Agatha, for many years a widow, or derelict, as I believe it is called, was about to take another pop at matrimony, my first emotion, as was natural in the circumstances, had been a gentle pity for the unfortunate goop slated to step up the aisle with her – she, as you are aware, being my tough aunt, the one who eats broken bottles and conducts human sacrifices by the light of the full moon.

But when details began to come in, and I discovered that the bimbo who had drawn the short straw was Lord Worplesdon, the shipping magnate, this tender commiseration became sensibly diminished. The thing, I felt, would be no walkover. Even if in the fullness of time she wore him down and at length succeeded in making him jump through hoops, she would know she had been in a fight.

Joy in the Morning

All this might lead you to think that Wodehouse had some sort of grudge against fathers, but, just as he gave Bertie a ‘good and deserving’ Aunt Dahlia, he created plenty of fine father figures too. No fathers, daughters, aunts or nephews were harmed in the creation of his comic art. They exist purely to delight us. Thank you, Wodehouse.

The last word for today, I leave to Monty Bodkin.

‘Must stop now. Getting late. All my love. Remember me to your father and tell him I hope he chokes.’

Pearls, Girls And Monty Bodkin

HP

P.S. Happy Fathers Day to my own Dad, who is neither a blighter, nor a stinker.

A Centenary of My Man Jeeves

100 Banners (1)My Man Jeeves was published 100 years ago in May 1919.

Jeeves–my man, you know–is really a most extraordinary chap. So capable. Honestly, I shouldn’t know what to do without him. On broader lines he’s like those chappies who sit peering sadly over the marble battlements at the Pennsylvania Station in the place marked “Inquiries.” You know the Johnnies I mean. You go up to them and say: “When’s the next train for Melonsquashville, Tennessee?” and they reply, without stopping to think, “Two-forty-three, track ten, change at San Francisco.” And they’re right every time. Well, Jeeves gives you just the same impression of omniscience.

My Man Jeeves

May 2019 marks 100 years since the publication of My Man Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse’s first Jeeves story collection.

Well, sort of. It’s complicated.

Wodehouse chronology always is, because many of his works were published in magazine format on both sides of the Atlantic before appearing in book form — sometimes under different titles, and sometimes with significant revisions to the text.

My Man Jeeves is a classic example. Published only in the UK, the earliest story in the collection is Absent Treatment, which was first published in March 1911 in The Strand Magazine (UK). This story, along with several others included in My Man Jeeves, had previously been included in a 1917 short story collection, The Man With Two Left Feet.

Some of the stories from My Man Jeeves were later reworked by Wodehouse and included in the short story collection Carry On, Jeeves, published in 1925 in the UK and 1927 in the US. For fans reading their way through the Jeeves and Wooster saga, I usually suggest starting saving My Man Jeeves last, for this reason.

On the other hand, no great harm will befall you by starting your Wodehouse reading journey with My Man Jeeves –and it’s packed full of classic Wodehouse.

The first story, Leave it to Jeeves, picks up from where Extricating Young Gussie (also included in The Man with Two Left Feet) left off. Bertie and Jeeves are having an extended stay in America, giving Aunt Agatha time to cool off over Bertie’s failure to keep cousin Gussie from a career on the stage.  Jeeves dutifully performs his consultant-in-residence act for a string of Bertie’s New York pals.

In Leave it to Jeeves, he assists Bruce ‘Corky’ Corcoran to butter up (and eventually gain financial independence from) a difficult, but oofy, uncle.

It was great stuff. The more I read, the more I admired the chap who had written it and Jeeves’s genius in putting us on to the wheeze. I didn’t see how the uncle could fail to drop. You can’t call a chap the world’s greatest authority on the yellow-billed cuckoo without rousing a certain disposition towards chumminess in him.

The volume is also littered with some of Wodehouse’s best-known quotations – of the variety often flung about the internet. Like these treats from Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest.

Lady Malvern was a hearty, happy, healthy, overpowering sort of dashed female, not so very tall but making up for it by measuring about six feet from the O.P. to the Prompt Side. She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season.

And

“What ho!” I said.

“What ho!” said Motty.

“What ho! What ho!”

“What ho! What ho! What ho!”

After that it seemed rather difficult to go on with the conversation.

I appreciate that, as someone who flings a fair amount of Wodehouse quotation about the internet myself, I’m hardly in a position to criticise others. But I do feel Wodehouse’s stuff is always better in its natural habitat of his original work.

If you’ve never read My Man Jeeves, or haven’t re-read it in a while, do pick it up for a commemorative thumb through. You won’t be disappointed.

A word on sources and a debt of gratitude 

Fortunately for us, a number of people (brainy coves) have devoted long hours to researching and sharing their encyclopaedic Wodehouse knowledge, including the complex publication histories of his work.

I’m indebted, whenever I write anything on the subject, to exceptional online bibliographies compiled by Neil Midkiff and the late Terry Mordue.  The entire gang of geniuses responsible for the Madame Eulalie website are heroes of mine –I’ll bet they know all about that next train to Melonsquashville.

“How does he do it, Bertie?” he said. “I’ll tell you what I think it is. I believe it’s something to do with the shape of his head. Have you ever noticed his head, Bertie, old man? It sort of sticks out at the back!”

Jeeves And The Hard-Boiled Egg in My Man Jeeves

I am also grateful, beyond anything mere words can  express, for my copy of Eileen McIlvaine’s P G Wodehouse: A Comprehensive Bibliography and Checklist — a cherished gift from US Wodehouse Society friends David and Katy McGrann.

While I’m on the subject of gratitude, I must also mention the personal kindness and support of friends in the UK and Dutch Wodehouse societies (during my time in the Northern h.). I miss you very much.

Reading Wodehouse is not only a joy and a privilege, it brings wonderful people together.

That includes YOU! Thank you for reading Plumtopia.

HP

And now, I’ll be taking My Man Jeeves on a centenary binge about town, which you can follow on Twitter — please join in with your own images if you’re so inclined. #MyManJeeves100

mmjmontage.png

Tales from the Junior Lipstick: the F. of the S. — Part III

…when an impressionable young girl saves a chap from drowning, she naturally takes a proprietorial interest in his progress.

Our story continues, narrated by Hilda Gudgeon from her comfortable chair in the smoking room of the Junior Lipstick: Eustacia Bellows is in love after a chance encounter with her childhood chum Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow (and his near encounter with a No. 37 bus). Unfortunately for Eustacia (Stacey to her friends) Cyril is currently under the spell of  Angelica Blake – a poet.

Start at the beginning or read on for the latest installment in my P.G. Wodehouse homage (everyone else is doing it…)

* * *

The Wimbledon Ladies Literary Society are a formidable gang of females who take their literature seriously. At the last meeting I attended, they were panning Thomas Hardy for being too frivolous. If Angelica Blake had got her name on the programme it was either because she wrote dashed good poetry, or the inquisitors hadn’t eaten a poet in weeks. Stacey’s money was on the latter and she wanted to be in at the kill.

She also wanted a first-hand look at this Blake exhibit. If Angelica turned out to be a hearty, sensible sort of girl, Stacey was resolved not to interfere. She’d buzz off and become an African explorer or join the Canadian Mounties, or whatever it is that robust young female half-props do when their hearts are broken.

A weaker rival might have dashed off to the Ogoouė River on first sight of Angelica Blake, for in supposing her to be a mere pippin Stacey had underestimated her rival’s charms. Angelia was long, lean and extraordinarily elegant in a doeful sort of way. The impression she gave on entering the room was that the Wimbledon Ladies Literary Society had not gained a poet, so much as a giraffe.

The effect she had on the gathered assembly was remarkable. Lorgnettes returned to their holsters, lips unpursed, steely-eyed expressions softened. Angelica’s first poem about a timid mouse, arguably the second most astonishing new work since The Tay Bridge Disaster, sent them into raptures.

When Angelica had finished her recital, the chairwoman thanked her in gushing terms and invited her to join the ladies for tea in the drawing room. Stacey waited patiently among the throng of admirers who surrounded Angelica, pawing her like a zoological exhibit and offering her lumps of sugar.

Angelica may have impressed the crowd, but as the future mate of a feeble poet incapable of crossing the street without close supervision, Stacey found her unsuitable. It would be an act of sisterly kindness, she felt, to warn her off. The only problem was how to broach the subject. Stacey had the mind of a great general, and like all great generals she lacked subtlety. She preferred to charge.

“Hello, hello,” Stacey said at last, advancing into a gap at Angelica’s left elbow, vacated by an octogenarian in mauve. “The future Mrs Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow, I presume?”

The poet winced. The prospect of answering to the name Mrs Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow was a definite blow for a girl accustomed to signing herself ‘Angelica Blake’ inside attractively bound volumes of poetry.

“Our engagement has not been announced,” said Angelica, a little stiffly.

“Never mind about that,” said Stacey, giving the poet a friendly slap on the back. “I won’t tell a soul. Pompy and I are childhood pals, you know. He tells me everything.”

“I see. Who are you?”

“Didn’t I say? I’m Eustacia Bellows. I expect Cyril’s always mentioning me.”

“Not that I recall.”

“Well that’s gratitude!” said Stacey, cheerfully. “You save a man’s life, the least you’d expect is an honorable mention.”

“You saved his life?”

“Twice. The poor chump can’t take a step without me. I expect I shall always be popping in when you are married. A delicate creature with a poetic soul like yours can’t be expected to be wading in and out of ponds all the time.”

“Cyril is not a chump,” said Angelica, rising to her full magnificence. She looked like a female giraffe, patiently demonstrating the en pointe maneuver to a remedial elephant.

“Why of course he’s a chump!” said Stacey. “What other sort of fellow would stuff himself with sweets until he was fit to burst and then jump in a pond? Or walk in front of an omnibus in Piccadilly Circus. As chumps go, he’s one of the best, but he’s a chump just the same.”

Angelica was too stately to recoil in horror. She merely widened her eyes and blinked.

“Cyril walked in front of an omnibus?”

“This very AM. If I hadn’t been there, they’d be sweeping up the remains now.”

The giraffe wilted slightly, looked thoughtful for a moment, and then reached for Stacey’s hand.

“My dear Miss Bellows, I am so grateful to you. There must be some way for Cyril and I to thank you properly. Cyril will be joining us this weekend at Grateley Towers. The honeysuckle is so beautiful at this time of year, and…”

“Cyril’s allergic to bees, you know.”

“Won’t you join us? I would love to show you the gardens, and the lake.”

“Lake, you say?” Stacey grinned. It was the sort of grin Napoleon might have grinned before a big day out in Austerlitz. “How splendid!”

The whole thing couldn’t have been chummier, Stacey tells me, and she was feeling rather rotten about having to deprive this gentle soul of her mate. But still, the thing had to be done.

To be continued…

HP

The Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse

Tales from the Junior Lipstick: the F. of the S.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again–girls are rummy. Old Pop Kipling never said a truer word than when he made that crack about the f. of the s. being more d. than the m.

P.G. Wodehouse ~ Right Ho, Jeeves

With Ben Schott‘s recent homage to Wodehouse, Jeeves and the King of Clubs, so well received by the critics, the time seems right to tell you about a little homage of my own invention, which I’ve been threatening to share for some time. Unlike most Wodehouse fan-fiction, it does not feature Jeeves or Bertie Wooster. I’ve chosen to set my homage within the inner sanctum of one of Wodehouse’s lesser known fictional clubs — The Junior Lipstick.

As a women’s club, Wodehouse could never comfortably enter this world (in life, or in fiction), but he provides a fleeting glimpse in ‘Came the Dawn’ (Meet Mr Mulliner) when Angela Biddlecombe is fetched ‘from the billiard-room, where she was refereeing the finals of the Debutantes’ Shove-Ha-penny Tournament…. She was smoking a cigarette in a long holder, and as she approached she inserted a monocle inquiringly in her right eye.’  

I thought it might be fun to take a closer look into this world in a series of short stories, while also having a pop at the Wodehouse style (the tricky bit). I won’t thrust the whole bally lot upon my poor blameless readers here, just my introduction to the first story. It’s not perfect, but it was terrific fun to write.

THE F. OF THE S.

Into the atmospheric pea-souper of the Junior Lipstick Club smoking room, Daphne Dinmont made an appearance.

“What beasts men are,” she said, attacking a blameless armchair. “They toy with our hearts, and flit and sip like butterflies on a toot.”

“Does this mean all bets are off on an early union between yourself and Jerry Noble?” asked Trixie Steggles, who liked to keep abreast of the form.

“You bet it does!” said Daphne.

“For three weeks, he gave me the rush of a lifetime. Dinner at the Carlton, dancing at Mario’s, boating on the Serpentine. Then last Tuesday, he cancelled our lunch to visit a dying aunt in Aberdeen and I haven’t heard from him since, but Mavis Stubbs saw him at the Scarlet Centipede, dancing like a gigolo on shore leave. And now I’ve just seen him lunching at the Berkeley with Felicia Koops and that idiotic Pekingese of hers — staring lovingly into her eyes.”

“The peke’s?”

“No, the Koops’.”

“Look on the bright side,” said Lettice Albright, who, unlike the poet Blake, could happily see another’s woe and not be in sorrow too. “Perhaps the Peke will bite him.”

“Do you suppose it’s possible to bribe a Peke?” asked Daphne.

“Too unreliable,” said Trixie. “I remember at school, Veronica Turbington persuaded Miss Whemper’s Basset Hound to eat her Thucydides paper. It gorged itself on the best bits, refused to touch the worst passages, and regurgitated the remains on Miss Whemper’s mauve slippers.”

“Quite right,” said Jane Hubbard, puffing on a congenial pipe. “Nothing beats a snake. Slip one into his bedroom after dinner, let the snake do the rest.”

“Don’t be an ass,” said Trixie. “How does she get the snake into his bedroom?”

“That depends on what floor he sleeps on,” said Jane. “I met a man at Aswan who shimmied up the Old Cataract Hotel with a live cobra stuffed down his trousers.”

“That’s just the sort of low trick I’d expect from a man,” said Daphne. “Men can do whatever they like. They flit and sip, and scale walls with their trousers full of snakes. And what can we women do about it? Nothing!”

The shapely eyebrows of the smoking room rose in unison.

Jane Hubbard snorted. Hilda Gudgeon looked up from the letter she’d been writing to the MCC on proposed changes to the Leg-Before-Wicket rule. Ordinarily content to let girls be girls, she knew when a firm hand was needed.

“What rot!” said Hilda. “That sort of talk will get you struck from the club register.” The girls in the smoking room nodded in approval, eyebrows restored to normal service.

“But, what can I do about Jerry?” said Daphne, looking slightly ashamed.

“Plenty,” said Hilda. “I’d have created a scene at the Berkeley if I were you. If you can break windows, break ’em! You could try and get him back if you really want to, but he sounds like a bit of a worm to me.”

“I… I suppose he is a worm, but I thought he was my worm.”

Daphne’s lower lip trembled like an infant violinist, and Hilda gave her a commiserating wink. As one of the Junior Lipstick’s less junior members, she’d seen this sort of thing before.

“Women are just as capable as men,” said Hilda. “Remember what Kipling says about the female of the species?”

“That’s just poetry.”

“Not just poetry. I can think of at least a dozen real examples without trying.” Hilda paused thoughtfully for a while before continuing.

“Did you ever meet Eustacia Bellows? Stacey to her friends and admirers. She was always popping into the club at one time, before her troubles with Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow.”

“Is that a person?”

“Certainly. The Shropshire Pomfrey-Waddelows are an old family. Cyril is currently making a name for himself as a poet.”

“Good for him.”

“And if you stop interrupting me, I will tell you about them.”

“Oh, go on then,” said Daphne.  

***

Fancy more f. of the s.?

Read Part II of the story here

***

I’d love to know what you think of it.

HP

 

 

 

P.G. Wodehouse: P.I. Writer

‘The effect on her of a dark, keen-eyed man like Adrian Mulliner, who spoke well and easily of footprints, psychology and the underworld, must have been stupendous.’

‘The Smile That Wins’ (Mulliner Nights)

Great piece on Private Investigators in P.G. Wodehouse’s writing from The New Thrilling Detective blog.

The New Thrilling Detective Web Site

By Rudyard Kennedy

“Consider the case of Henry Pifield Rice… I must explain Henry early, to avoid disappointment. If I simply said he was a detective, and let it go at that, I should be obtaining the reader’s interest under false pretences. He was really only a sort of detective, a species of sleuth. At Stafford’s International Investigation Bureau, in the Strand, where he was employed, they did not require him to solve mysteries which had baffled the police. He had never measured a footprint in his life, and what he did not know about bloodstains would have filled a library.”
— a typical Wodehouse sleuth, in “Bill the Bloodhound”

 

P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) wrote nearly 100 books, almost all of them comic novels. He’s best known, of course, for creating Jeeves, the ultimate valet (or as he would have it, the ultimate “gentleman’s gentleman”), as well as other memorable figures…

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