Category Archives: Hidden Gems

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

Top 50 P.G Wodehouse romances (voted by readers)

This February, I asked readers to nominate their favourite romances from the world of P.G. Wodehouse and to cast their votes in numerous polls on Twitter and Facebook. It’s an admittedly frivolous exercise, but we Wodehouse fans need not be steeped to the gills with serious purpose all the time. If our comments and discussion over the past month have led anyone to pick up a Wodehouse book, we have done our little bit to help spread sweetness and light in the world.

And there’s a lot of sweetness and light to spread — over 80 couples nominated from 58 different novels and story collections published between 1909 (The Gem Collector) and 1974 (Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen). Fans applied a liberal interpretation of ‘romance’ to include favourite couples Dolly and Soapy Molloy, Dahlia and Tom Travers, Bertie and Jeeves, and even Lord Emsworth and The Empress of Blandings –not romantic plots within the strict meaning of the act perhaps, but too beloved to leave out.

Over 660 votes and 130 comments were calculated, crunched and analysed to produce the ‘Top 50’ list below – a wonderful source of reading suggestions if you’re working your way through Wodehouse’s work.

While it would be a mistake to place too much importance on their order of appearance, a few clear favourites emerged. The central romance of Psmith & Eve Halliday in Leave it to Psmith was the stand-out favourite, 22 votes ahead of the second placed romance between Madeline Bassett and Gussie Fink-Nottle (and 38 votes ahead of third). As the leading lovers in Wodehouse’s best-known series, the inclusion of La Bassett and Spink-Bottle makes sense, despite the deplorable drippiness of these characters.

TOP 50 WODEHOUSE ROMANCES
Couple (First) Appear in
1 Psmith & Eve Halliday Leave it to Psmith (1923)
2 Madeline Bassett & Gussie Fink Nottle Right Ho, Jeeves (1934)
3 Bingo Little & Rosie M. Banks The Inimitable Jeeves (1923)
4 Ashe Marson & Joan Valentine Something Fresh (1915)
5 Ronnie Fish & Sue Brown Summer Lightning (1929)
6 George ‘Piggy’ Wooster & Maudie Wilberforce Indian Summer of an Uncle in Very Good, Jeeves (1930)
7 Jimmy Crocker & Ann Chester Piccadilly Jim (1918)
8 George Bevan & Lady Maud Marshmoreton A Damsel in Distress (1919)
9 Cuthbert Banks & Adeline Smethurst The Clicking of Cuthbert (1922)
10 Agnes Flack & Sidney McMurdo Those in Peril on the Tee in Mr Mulliner Speaking (1929)
11 Esmond Haddock & Corky Pirbright The Mating Season (1949)
12 Maudie Stubbs & Sir Gregory ‘Tubby’ Parsloe-Parsloe Pigs Have Wings (1952)
13 Archibald Mulliner & Aurelia Cammarleigh The Reverent Wooing of Archibald in Mr Mulliner Speaking (1929)
14 Sally Fairmile & Joss Weatherby Quick Service (1940)
15 Hugo Carmody & Millicent Threepwood Summer Lightning (1929)
16 Sally Nicholas & Ginger Kemp The Adventures of Sally (1922)
17 William Bates & Jane Packard Rodney Fails to Qualify in The Heart of a Goof (1926)
18 Dolly & Soapy Molloy Sam the Sudden (1925)
19 Mordred Mulliner & Annabelle Sprockett-Sprockett The Fiery Wooing of Mordred in Young Men in Spats (1936)
20 Jeff Miller & Anne Benedick Money in the Bank (1942)
21 Beatrice Chavender & J.B. Duff Quick Service (1940)
22 “Nobby” Hopwood & Boko Fittleworth Joy in the Morning (1947)
23 Madeline Bassett & Spode Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (engaged) (1963)
24 Pauline Stoker & Chuffy Chuffnell Thank You, Jeeves (1934)
25 Sacheverell Mulliner & Muriel Branksome The Voice from the Past in Mulliner Nights (1933)
26 Jill Mariner & Wally Mason Jill the Reckless (1921)
27 Tipton Plimsoll & Veronica Wedge Full Moon (1947)
28 Sam Shotter & Kay Derrick Sam the Sudden (1925)
29 Monty Bodkin & Sandy Miller Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin (1972)
30 Lord Emsworth & The Empress of Blandings Pig-Hoo-o-o-o-ey in Blandings Castle (1935)
31 Jerry Vail & Penny Donaldson Pigs Have Wings (1952)
32 Billie Dore & Lord Marshmoreton A Damsel in Distress (1919)
33 Bill Chalmers & Elizabeth Boyd Uneasy Money (1917)
34 George Mulliner & Susan Blake The Truth About George in Meet Mr Mulliner (1927)
35 Stiffy Byng & Stinker Pinker The Code of the Woosters (1938)
36 Ramsden Waters & Eunice Bray The Rough Stuff in The Clicking of Cuthbert (1922)
37 Bill Lister & Prue Garland Full Moon (1947)
38 Aunt Dahlia & Tom Travers Clustering Round Young Bingo in Carry On, Jeeves (1925)
39 Berry Conway & Ann Moon Big Money (1931)
40 Joe J. Vanringham & Jane Abbott Summer Moonshine (1937)
41 Adrian Mulliner & Lady Millicent Shipton-Bellinger The Smile that Wins in Mulliner Nights (1933)
42 Annabel Purvis & Freddie Fitch-Fitch Romance at Droitgate Spa in Eggs, Beans and Crumpets (1940)
43 Horace Appleby & Ada Cootes Do Butlers Burgle Banks? (1968)
44 Bobbie Wickhham & Reggie ‘Kipper’ Herring Jeeves in the Offing (1960)
45 Bertie & Jeeves The Inimitable Jeeves (1923)
46 Pat Wyvern & John Carroll Money for Nothing (1928)
47 Jane Hunnicut & Jerry West The Girl in Blue (1970)
48 Galahad Threepwood & Dolly Henderson Summer Lightning (mention only – Dolly never appears) (1929)
49 Captain Brabazon-Biggar & Mrs Spottsworth Ring for Jeeves (1953)
50 Freddie Widgeon & Sally Foster Ice in the Bedroom (1961)

That’s just the top 50 — there’s another 30 nominated romances where they came from!

Thanks to everyone who participated. It has been a real pleasure for me to revisit old favourites, and be reminded of some wonderful characters I’d forgotten. I hope you find this list whets your appetite to read or re-read a Wodehouse romance again soon.

HP

A Centenary of Piccadilly Jim

The residence of Mr. Peter Pett, the well-known financier, on Riverside Drive, is one of the leading eyesores of that breezy and expensive boulevard. As you pass by in your limousine, or while enjoying ten cents’ worth of fresh air on top of a green omnibus, it jumps out and bites at you. Architects confronted with it reel and throw up their hands defensively, and even the lay observer has a sense of shock. The place resembles in almost equal proportions a cathedral, a suburban villa, a hotel and a Chinese pagoda. Many of its windows are of stained glass, and above the porch stand two terra-cotta lions, considerably more repulsive even than the complacent animals that guard New York’s Public Library.

P.G. Wodehouse: Piccadilly Jim (1916)

So begins Piccadilly Jim, with some of my favourite Wodehouse opening lines. If you’ve never ventured beyond Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Blandings stories, Piccadilly Jim is an excellent place to start. It’s still in print and widely available from reputable bookshops and online sellers.

2018 marks 100 years since Piccadilly Jim’s UK publication, making this year a centenary of sorts for one of Wodehouse’s most loved novels. I say ‘of sorts’ because Piccadilly Jim was serialised in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916, and published in book form the following year in the US. A centennial celebration at Plumtopia is long overdue.

In a nutshell, Piccadilly Jim is the story of American rascal Jimmy Crocker. Having started out as a journalist in New York, he moves to London after his actor father marries into money. Jim’s excesses in London make good copy in the New York papers, who dub him ‘Piccadilly Jim’. The stories are an embarrassment to his new aunt-by-marriage, Nesta Ford Pett, who wants Jimmy to return to New York and work in her husband’s business. Jimmy has little interest in reforming his character, but a chance meeting with a beautiful American redhead called Ann Chester changes his mind.

To this relatively straightforward plot, we add the Wodehouse treatment. The aforementioned household in Riverside Drive also contains Mrs Pett’s odious son Ogden, a literary salon, an undercover detective and multiple imposters.

There was a strong literary virus in Mrs. Pett’s system. She not only wrote voluminously herself–the name Nesta Ford Pett is familiar to all lovers of sensational fiction–but aimed at maintaining a salon. Starting, in pursuance of this aim, with a single specimen,–her nephew, Willie Partridge, who was working on a new explosive which would eventually revolutionise war–she had gradually added to her collections, until now she gave shelter beneath her terra-cotta roof to no fewer than six young and unrecognised geniuses. Six brilliant youths, mostly novelists who had not yet started and poets who were about to begin, cluttered up Mr. Pett’s rooms on this fair June morning, while he, clutching his Sunday paper, wandered about, finding, like the dove in Genesis, no rest.

Ann Chester stands out as another sparkling Wodehouse heroine. She’s a reformed poet with enterprising ideas about kidnapping young Ogden (previously kidnapped in The Little Nugget) and sending him to a dog-hospital for fresh air and exercise. Like Wodehouse’s other infamous redhead Bobby Wickham, Ann has a fiery nature to match her hair colour.

“It’s your red hair!” said Mr. Pett at length, with the air of a man who has been solving a problem. “It’s your red hair that makes you like this, Ann. Your father has red hair, too.”

Ann laughed.

“It’s not my fault that I have red hair, uncle Peter. It’s my misfortune.”

Mr. Pett shook his head.

“Other people’s misfortune, too!” he said.

Of the wider cast, the intimidating Miss Trimble deserves mention as the International Detective Agency’s top operative, who joins the Pett household in the guise of a parlour-maid. Miss Trimble is a martial arts expert, a crack-shot with a revolver, and an outstanding creation from the first.

At this close range she more than fulfilled the promise of that distant view which Mrs. Pett had had of her from the window. Her face was not only shrewd and determined: it was menacing. She had thick eyebrows, from beneath which small, glittering eyes looked out like dangerous beasts in undergrowth: and the impressive effect of these was accentuated by the fact that, while the left eye looked straight out at its object, the right eye had a sort of roving commission and was now, while its colleague fixed Mrs. Pett with a gimlet stare, examining the ceiling.

Miss Trimble is also a socialist, whose assignment in the Pett household gives her an opportunity to sneer at vulgar excess up close.

She frowned disapprovingly at a Canaletto.

“You–ah–appear to dislike the rich,” said Mrs. Pett, as nearly in her grand manner as she could contrive.

Miss Trimble bowled over the grand manner as if it had been a small fowl and she an automobile. She rolled over it and squashed it flat.

Piccadilly Jim has been translated into multiple languages and adapted for film three times, in 1919, 1936, and 2005. The 1919 adaptation by Wodehouse’s friend Guy Bolton is reputedly the most faithful to the book.

The 2005 adaption received some poor reviews from Wodehouse fans, despite an all-star cast including Sam Rockwell as Jimmy Crocker, Frances O’Connor as Ann Chester, and Tom Wilkinson, Brenda Blethyn, Allison Janney, Austin Pendleton, Hugh Bonneville, Tom Hollander, Geoffrey Palmer and Pam Ferris. Too much of Wodehouse’s original material is wasted for this adaptation to be a fan favourite, and the filmmakers seem to have abandoned period authenticity in their choice of costumes, sets, and soundtrack (Sia and Emilíana Torrini make brief musical cameos singing Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Tainted Love’ respectively). I don’t have a strong view about this adaptation, so I’d love to know what you think of it.

And if you are yet to discover the joys of the original, I heartily recommend popping out and picking up a copy — it’s certainly one of my favourites.

Happy reading!

HP

References and further reading

The serialised version of Piccadilly Jim is available online from Madame Eulalie’s inimitable website, complete with the original illustrations by May Wilson Preston.

 

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

Wodehouse Pick-Me-Ups – which stories would be in your collection?

P.G. Wodehouse Pick Me UpsThe P G Wodehouse Society (UK) wants to know which three short stories you would include in a Wodehouse Pick-Me-Up edition. 

In the latest edition of Wooster Sauce, Quarterly Journal of The P G Wodehouse Society (UK), the Society is offering members who answer this question the chance to win copies of Random House’s new ‘Pick-Me-Up’ editions. For anyone not already ‘in the know’, the article describes this collection as follows:

Punningly termed ‘pick-me-up’s’ to reflect both their expected sales position near the tills and the expressed belief that Wodehouse writing offers a pick-me-up for any reader, no matter what their problems may be, they each contain three of his best stories.

Members are invited to submit their response and explain, ‘in not more than 50 words why you believe they would have the desired effect on the reader.’

How would you attempt such a selection?

Would you stick to indisputable classics like Uncle Fred Flits By? Would you aim for a representative sample from three different series? Or a ‘best of’ selection featuring a particular character? What about three stories on a common theme? The possibilities and permutations are mind-boggling.

I set my mind boggling to the challenge, and this is what I came up with.

Honoria’s Wodehouse Pick-Me-Up

As the challenge set by the Society is a personal one (they ask which stories you would choose to boost the well-being of the reader), I have selected three stories that meet the following criteria:

– I laughed out loud the first time I read them, uncontrollably and from the belly, until I was in tears.

– I attempted to read each of them aloud to someone else, but failed, because I couldn’t control my laughter.

–  The joy of each story remains undiminished after multiple readings – the belly laughs may be controlled, but the stories still induce beaming and general contentment.

I offer my personal Pick-Me Up collection as follows.

1. The Reverent Wooing of Archibald

From: Mr Mulliner Speaking

Mr Mulliner SpeakingThe speech to which he had been listening was unusually lucid and simple for a Baconian, yet Archibald, his eye catching a battle-axe that hung on the wall, could not but stifle a wistful sigh. How simple it would have been, had he not been a Mulliner and a gentleman, to remove the weapon from its hook, spit on his hands, and haul off and dot this doddering old ruin one just above the imitation pearl necklace.

Herein lies one of the problems with quoting Wodehouse. It’s good stuff to be sure, but a quotation can never do justice to the joys of coming across such lines in their proper context. When I first encountered them, I laughed for fully ten minutes. Unable to compose myself sufficiently to read the story aloud, I played an audio recording by Jonathan Cecil to my family instead.

This proved to be the stuff to give the troops. My 11 year-old daughter has since played the recording over 50 times – it is daily bedtime listening in our house. She knows it better than I do and frequently drops quotes into conversation.  ‘The Reverent Wooing of Archibald’ will always hold a special place in my heart as the story that converted her from the child of a Wodehouse reader, to a budding enthusiast in her own right.

The ramblings of Aurelia Cammarleigh’s Baconian aunt, and Archibald’s imitation of a hen laying an egg are priceless.

2. The Clicking of Cuthbert 

From: The Clicking of Cuthbert and Other Stories

The Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. WodehouseHis first glance at the novelist surprised Cuthbert. Doubtless with the best of motives, Vladimir Brusiloff had permitted his face to become almost entirely concealed behind a dense zareba of hair, but his eyes were visible through the undergrowth, and it seemed to Cuthbert that there was an expression in them not unlike that of a cat in a strange backyard surrounded by small boys.  

So good it has already given its name to a collection of golf stories, The Clicking of Cuthbert is indisputably among Wodehouse’s best. As a mere golfer, Cuthbert Banks is an outside chance in the race for Adeline Smethurst’s affections – all the smart money is on aspiring novelist Raymond Parsloe Devine. Wodehouse expertly manoeuvres the odds in Cuthbert’s favour, while poking terrific fun at the snobs of the Wood Hills Literary and Debating Society.

But it’s the great Russian novelist Vladimir Brusiloff who really steals the show.

It is too much to say that there was a dead silence. There could never be that in any room in which Vladimir Brusiloff was eating cake.

3. Tried in the Furnace

From: Young Men in Spats 

The human cargo, as I say, had started out in a spirit of demureness and docility. But it was amazing what a difference a mere fifty yards of the high road made to these Mothers. No sooner were they out of sight of the Vicarage than they began to effervesce to an almost unbelievable extent. The first intimation Barmy had that the binge was going to be run on lines other than those which he had anticipated was when a very stout mother in a pink bonnet and a dress covered with bugles suddenly picked off a passing cyclist with a well directed tomato, causing him to skid into a ditch. Upon which, all sixteen Mothers laughed like fiends in hell, and it was plain that they considered that the proceedings had now been formally opened.

Honoria reads Young Men in Spats

Tried in the Furnace would be the title for my collection – it neatly encapsulates the feeling that so often prompts readers to select a Wodehouse book from the shelf and apply it to their soul like a healing balm.

This story, set in in Maiden Eggesford, recounts the trials of Cyril (‘Barmy’) Fotheringay-Phipps and Reginald (‘Pongo’) Twistleton- Twistleton, who each undertake some act of good works in the parish, in an effort to impress Angelica Briscoe, daughter of the Rev P.P. Briscoe. Pongo oversees the School Treat, while Barmy is entrusted with the village Mothers’ Annual Outing.

Wodehouse also touches briefly on the trials of these village mother’s.

When you are shut up all the year round in a place like Maiden Eggesford, with nothing to do but wash underclothing and attend Divine Service, you naturally let yourself go a bit at times of festival and holidays.  

Much like Pongo’s Uncle Fred, when permitted to roam at large in the metropolis, Wodehouse gives these Maiden Eggesford mothers the toot of a lifetime – and as a hard-working mother myself, I appreciate it. For a brief moment, I am that stout mother in a pink bonnet, picking off cyclists with tomatoes, and my burdens seem a little lighter when I’m done. 

How to enter

The competition ends 15 January and is open to all members of The P G Wodehouse Society (UK). See page 3 of the December Wooster Sauce for details on how to enter.

To become a Society member, simply complete the membership application form (available from their website www.pgwodehousesociety.org.uk) and follow the instructions.

Toodle-pip!

HP

Three Unconventional Roads To Wodehouse

Mr Mulliner SpeakingThe Blog ‘Classically Educated’, which offers itself as ‘A Place for Global Citizens and Polymaths’, recently recommended ‘Three Unconventional Roads to Wodehouse’ – a welcome addition to this subject.

One of my great regrets in life is not having put in the necessary mental spadework to develop my potential as a polymath. My mental faculties are sound – perhaps not genius material, but my mother (like Bertie Wooster’s) thought me bright. And I’m genuinely interested in knowing, well… everything! It’s not a question of prestige, or being good at quiz nights — I just hate to be ignorant.

But life is stern and life is earnest. The necessary toil which consumes one’s fertile thinking hours, also has a tendency to sap ambition. This, along with the inevitable distractions of everyday life, have kept me from developing the old bean to any laudable extent. At this late stage, the best I can reasonably hope for is to become a unimath (if that’s a word, Jeeves), although my areas of current expertise are deplorably limited.

Even on the subject of P.G. Wodehouse, his life and work, I am an enthusiast rather than an expert. I have read (and re-read) his published works, as well as biographies and other works written about him — well over 100 volumes in total. This puts me in the excellent company of hundreds of genial souls around the globe — I am honoured and delighted to be among them. But the experts in our community take their devotion to another level, dedicating long hours to scholarly research to uncover new information (including undiscovered works) for our benefit. I tip my hat to them!

But for the Polymath – or indeed anyone else — looking to extend their reading into the realm of Wodehouse, I feel sufficiently qualified to offer informed advice without making an ass of myself. Indeed, I have already done so.

It always interests me to read others’ recommendations, and I’ve revised my own ideas on the subject many times. There is no wrong way to read Wodehouse, expect perhaps upside-down.

I’m now following this polymath blog in a last-ditch attempt to attain wisdom. Wish me luck!

Happy reading!

HP

Classically Educated

Mention PG Wodehouse in a conversation and most people will immediately think of Jeeves and Wooster.  That’s partly due to the success of the books and stories, but, I suspect, mostly because of the various film and TV adaptations.  Of course, the one with Hugh Laurie as Wooster utterly deserves to have that notoriety.

But there is more to Wodehouse than the butler and his hapless gentleman.  No less a writer (and polymath) than Isaac Asimov said that Wodehouse, on a sentence level, is one of the three greatest writers in the English language (the other two, if memory serves, being Austen and Dickens).

People often scoff at that, of course.  A mere humorist upstaging countless numbers of earnest, serious writers, some of whom are even politically committed?  Blasphemy.  My answer to that is simple: pick up any of Wodehouse’s books, turn to a random page, and read any sentence…

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5 books by P.G. Wodehouse for Father’s Day

Unlike the male codfish which, suddenly finding itself the parent of three million five hundred thousand little codfish, cheerfully resolves to love them all, the British aristocracy is apt to look with a somewhat jaundiced eye on its younger sons.

from: Blandings Castle and Elsewhere (1935)

So too, my own father has looked with a somewhat jaundiced eye on my enthusiasm for Wodehouse. For I made the mistake, many years ago, of introducing him to Wodehouse without first taking the time to consider what Jeeves refers to as the ‘Psychology of the individual’. I simply grabbed a book from my shelf at random and shoved it at him with hearty confidence.

The book in question was The Little Nugget (1913). It’s one of Wodehouse’s earlier novels and few people would rank it among his best, but I’m fond of it and had no inkling that it would fail to grip dear old Pa. But grip it didn’t. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t touched Wodehouse again, but with this experience now in the distant past, I feel the time is ripe to try again.

With well over 100 books by or about Wodehouse to choose from, if you’re looking for a Father’s Day gift for your Dad,  whether he’s new to Wodehouse or already a fan, there’s plenty to choose from.

Here are five suggestions to get you started.

Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse

1. The Clicking of Cuthbert

Sporting gifts for Dad is one of the commercialised world’s biggest clichés, but if your sports-loving Dad has a sense of humour, this collection of golf stories is a terrific choice. Wodehouse enjoyed golf and his affection for the game shines through in these stories, which are among the best he ever wrote. No understanding of golf is required.

George Perkins, as he addressed the ball for the vital stroke, manifestly wobbled. He was scared to the depths of his craven soul. He tried to pray, but all he could remember was the hymn for those in peril on the deep, into which category, he feared, his ball would shortly fall. Breathing a few bars of this, he swung.

From: The Rough Stuff in The Clicking of Cuthbert (1922)

2. The Inimitable Jeeves

The Inimitable Jeeves makes a great introduction to Wodehouse and the Jeeves and Wooster stories. It’s a collection of connected stories rather than a traditional novel, making it a good choice for busy Dads, or those with a short attention span. I particularly recommend the short stories to commuters – they’re an ideal length and will put a spring your step for the rest of the day.

I’m not much of a ladies’ man, but on this particular morning it seemed to me that what I really wanted was some charming girl to buzz up and ask me to save her from assassins or something. So that it was a bit of an anti-climax when I merely ran into young Bingo Little, looking perfectly foul in a crimson satin tie decorated with horseshoes.

 From: The Inimitable Jeeves (1923)

cover3. Uncle Fred in the Springtime

If your Dad is a genial old soul who enjoys reminiscing about his youth with a twinkle in his eye, try a dash of Uncle Fred. But be warned, Pongo Twistleton’s Uncle Fred doesn’t just reminisce. He acts on his impulses, especially when Pongo’s Aunt Jane isn’t looking. In Uncle Fred in the Springtime, he and his long-suffering nephew visit Blandings Castle as imposters (there are wheels within wheels).  And while being Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton, 5th Earl of Ickenham, might save our hero from prosecution if his identity is revealed, it won’t save him from Aunt Jane.

‘Don’t blame me, Pongo,’ said Lord Ickenham, ‘if Lady Constance takes her lorgnette to you. God bless my soul, though, you can’t compare the lorgnettes of to-day with the ones I used to know as a boy. I remember walking one day in Grosvenor Square with my aunt Brenda and her pug dog Jabberwocky, and a policeman came up and said the latter ought to be wearing a muzzle. My aunt made no verbal reply. She merely whipped her lorgnette from its holster and looked at the man, who gave one choking gasp and fell back against the railings, without a mark on him but with an awful look of horror in his staring eyes, as if he had seen some dreadful sight. A doctor was sent for, and they managed to bring him round, but he was never the same again. He had to leave the Force, and eventually drifted into the grocery business. And that is how Sir Thomas Lipton got his start.

From: Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939)

Bring on the Girls by P.G. Wodehouse

4. Bring on the Girls

If your Dad enjoys Wodehouse’s fiction, I strongly recommend this biographical volume by Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, Bring on the Girls: The Improbable Story of Our Life in Musical Comedy, with Pictures to Prove it. The Broadway musicals of Wodehouse, Bolton and Jerome Kern were enormously successful (2017 marks the centenary of Wodehouse having five original productions on Broadway) and Wodehouse and Bolton became lifelong friends. Bring on the Girls is a highly entertaining account of their career, written with the same panache you’d expect of any Wodehouse work.

At the outset it would have seemed that conditions for an early meeting were just right. Wodehouse was born in Guildford, Surrey, England, and almost simultaneously Bolton was added to the strength of Broxbourne, Herts. As the crow flies, Guildford and Broxbourne are not much more than twenty miles apart, and it is quite possible that the two infants, destined to collaborate for forty years, may often have seen the same crow engaged in checking the distance.

From: Bring On The Girls (1953)

Ukridge by P.G. Wodehouse5. Ukridge

For my own Dad, I’ve selected Ukridge. It’s a controversial choice perhaps, as Ukridge is one of Wodehouse’s most divisive characters. He is certainly a scoundrel who abuses the bonds of family and friendship, but he goes about his business with a hearty, almost infectious optimism – the big, broad, flexible outlook, he calls it. And Wodehouse’s joyous narration may appeal to anyone who has been repeatedly ‘touched for a fiver’ by an acquaintance lacking in both shame and moral compass. Wodehouse knew the feeling I suspect (Ukridge was inspired by a real person). He presumably made good on his ‘investment’ in the creation of Ukridge.

If the leading incidents of S.F. Ukridge’s disreputable career are to be given to the public – and not, as some might suggest, decently hushed up – I suppose I am the man to write them.

Ukridge (1924)

Finally, for the Wodehouse-loving Father who has almost everything, the Wodehouse expert and collector Tony Ring has recently parted with some rare gems from his collection, and these are available for sale from Noel Pearson’s Rare Books.

These are a few of my suggestions. What about yours?

Dads — please tell us what’s on your Wodehouse wish-list.   

Happy reading and cheers to all Fathers, including my own!

Honoria

Money in the Bank (review by John Lagrue)

John Lagrue’s timely review of P.G. Wodehouse’s Money in the Bank (1942) touches on another great Wodehouse romance –that of Anne Benedick and Jeff Miller.

John also proposes Anne Benedick as Wodehouse’s finest heroine. It’s a proposal worth taking seriously from a Wodehouse lover of John’s calibre. I certainly recall Anne being a good egg, but I’ve never ranked her among my own favourites. Have I missed something? It has been a while since I’ve read Money in the Bank, but it’s one of Wodehouse’s hidden gem and I look forward to re-reading and pondering John’s suggestion.

As I said in my post last year announcing this project of reading a book a week for a year, some of the books involved would be ones I’d read before. Money In the Bank by PG Wodehouse is such a volume. Wodehouse is probably best known for the Jeeves and Wooster stories and the […]

via Book 7 – Money in the Bank — John Lagrue’s Blogt

Mostly Sally (The Adventures of Sally)

Sally stopped and drew a deep breath. Ginger Kemp did not reply for a moment. He seemed greatly impressed.

“When you talk quick,” he said at length, in a serious meditative voice, “your nose sort of goes all squiggly. Ripping, it looks!”

Sally uttered an indignant cry.

“Do you mean to say you haven’t been listening to a word I’ve been saying,” she demanded.

“Oh, rather! Oh, by Jove, yes.”

“Well, what did I say?”

“You… er… And your eyes sort of shine, too.”

“Never mind my eyes. What did I say?”

“You told me,” said Ginger, on reflection, “to get a job.”

“Well, yes. I put it much better than that, but that’s what it amounted to, I suppose…”

The Adventures of Sally (1921; US Title Mostly Sally)

TheAdventuresOfSallyToday’s post concludes Jon Brierley’s look at The Adventures of Sally –you can catch up from the beginning here. I am incredibly grateful to Jon for taking on this commission for Plumtopia and doing such a sterling job of it. Here’s hoping that bookstores are soon filled with his novels, and we can smugly tell our friends we ‘discovered’ him first. Please do take a peep at his blog (he is also looking for beta-readers if you can spare some of your time for the cause).

The Adventures of Sally

A Romance (continued…)

Nobody ever accused P. G. Wodehouse of being a feminist*, but it strikes me that Sally Nicholas is quite a liberated and modern (for 1921) young woman – no doormat, she. Single, footloose and unchaperoned, she engages freely and on equal terms with all the menfolk she encounters, giving every bit as good as she gets and always (except for when kicked into the slough of despond by the shenanigans of Foster and Fillmore) standing up for herself and on her own two feet, taking no guff from anybody. Wodehouse has been accused of writing in an Edwardian timewarp, but Sally (and the whole book generally) is very clearly a woman of the 1920s, revelling in the newly won post-war freedom for women to work, travel and express themselves independently. Carmyle disapproves of this, but Carmyle is, as Ginger so rightly observes, a blighter.

One wonders if, perhaps, Sally owes something to Wodehouse’s wife of sixty-one years, Ethel. Ethel is described as ‘gregarious, decisive and well organised’, which is Sally to the letter. Furthermore, Ethel is said to have taken the ‘shy and impractical’ Plum and arranged his life for him, which again is a thing Sally does (or tries to do) with everyone she meets.

If Sally was, at least in part, a portrait of Ethel, one hopes Mrs. Wodehouse took it as the great compliment it undoubtedly was. Sally is an engaging and sympathetic heroine, fun to be with and admirable in every respect. If the book is a little more serious than most Wodehouse novels, and correspondingly less funny than the bulk of his output, perhaps, just perhaps, it was because the protagonist was a little closer to Wodehouse than usual – and as we have seen, the story incorporated a number of elements from Wodehouse’s real life. Plum himself, of course, was very far from being a chump, so there isn’t much of him in Ginger, I don’t think, but nevertheless the personal connections between the story and the author, while speculative, are, I feel, attractive. Seen in this light, what seems a fairly insubstantial work at first glance becomes more interesting, and perhaps worthy of a higher rank in the Wodehouse canon.

Of course, I could be wrong. But I’d like to think I’m not.

Jon Brierley

*Postscript from Honoria Plum

Readers may be surprised to learn Wodehouse has been accused of being a feminist. ‘P.G. Wodehouse, Feminist’ was the title of Elin Woodger Murphy’s memorably convincing talk at the 2015 Seattle convention of The Wodehouse Society (US). Elin in turn, took her title from an excellent 2005 article by Marilee Scott. And I have argued in support of Wodehouse’s feminist credentials myself (try Wodehouse’s women: in the eye of the beholder).

HP

When Ginger met Sally

Today’s post continues the Great Wodehouse Romances series, exploring The Adventures of Sally , courtesy of guest author Jon Brierley. If you missed the first instalment, you can catch up here.

The Adventures of Sally

A Romance (continued…)

adventures-of-sally2All caught up? Spiffing. Let us consider our principals. Here comes Sally now – if we take up an unobtrusive position behind a newspaper we shall be able to observe her closely. Sally Nicholas is a young, cheerful, intelligent, attractive and sparky all-American girl of twenty-one, and feeling especially cheerful just now as she has just had a substantial inheritance. She will be able to wave farewell to the rather down at heel environs of Mrs. Meecher’s boarding house and get her own apartment, and with even more relief wave farewell to her dispiriting job as a taxi dancer at the Flower Garden dance hall.

Ah, I see a hand up. You doubtless wish to know what a taxi dancer is. No, it is not someone who dances in or on cabs, but a person employed by a dance hall to act as a partner to patrons of the hall who have neglected to bring a partner of their own. Mr. Wodehouse is at pains to tell us how nice an establishment the Flower Garden is, but I am sorry to have to relate that in real life such dance halls were usually covers for speakeasies – this being the reason why the patrons often didn’t take a partner, as they were principally there to neck the booze rather than dance. Furthermore, young ladies who acted as taxi dancers were often, um, well, let’s just say they didn’t make all their money from dancing.

But no such taint attaches itself to Sally; she is entirely clean and wholesome, and if she has a fault it is that she is too gallant. Sally is a naturally kind person, disposed to be friendly and helpful to everyone, and now that she has the wherewithal she is keen to spread a little happiness as she goes by. She is by no means an ingénue, however; she is capable and level-headed, and adept at managing the lives of those around her, when she gets the chance.

Alas, the ones best placed to benefit from her largesse and her management are the two men currently in her life, and neither of them really deserve it. Firstly, there is her older brother Fillmore; that’s him, lurking about over there, the portly chap with a rather self-satisfied expression. Fillmore is not an idiot, but he will get carried away. He can take a perfectly sound idea and build so many castles in the air on it that the thing collapses under its own weight. As, indeed, does Fillmore himself; when in funds, his food consumption increases prodigiously, and he is apt to wax not only fat but pompous. Sally encourages him to take up with the simple, but good-hearted, bit-part actress Gladys Winch, in the hopes she will provide a steadying influence on him. As she points out;

“And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”

The other man in Sally’s life is her fiancé, Gerald Foster, a playwright. Observe him carefully; he’s very good-looking, isn’t he? And I trust we all know that a handsome chap in a Wodehouse novel will, almost certainly, turn out to be a frightful rotter. Perspicacious Plumtopians will have also universally acknowledged the truth that whoever a Wodehouse protagonist is initially engaged to is hardly ever the spouse they end up with.

Which brings us to the two other men who will complicate Sally’s life during the course of this book. They are both English (as, indeed, is Gerald Foster) … our Sally seems to be irresistibly attractive to Englishmen. One wonders if Wodehouse was thinking of the fashion, prevalent in his youth, of hard-up members of the aristocracy making a bee-line for the nearest American heiress. The first son of Albion to consider goes by the name of Bruce Carmyle.

Mr. Carmyle (one could never call him Bruce) is stiff, and forever standing upon his dignity. Almost the first time we see him he is being haughty, not to say rude, with the waiter on a train. This is always a sign of somebody far too self-important for their own good, a fact Sally at once recognises. In consequence, despite being disposed to be friendly to one and all, she does not much like Mr. Carmyle. Alas, much to Sally’s chagrin, he likes her, and is prepared to go to some lengths to show it. It’s never quite clear why he feels like this, apart from Sally being exceedingly pretty; one feels that a stuffed shirt like Mr. Carmyle would want somebody altogether more meek and submissive as a love-interest.

Our third and final runner in the Sally Stakes is a cousin of the above, a red-head, and (of course) a chump. Lancelot Kemp doesn’t really follow the usual Wodehouse naming conventions; he really ought to be called Bill, or Jim, but he makes up for his dubious forename by being rather unimaginatively known as Ginger. He is of a type well-known to Wodehouse readers; athletic, kind-hearted, tongue-tied and not overly blessed with grey matter. His conversation is punctuated by interjections such as ‘I say,’ and ‘You know,’ and I’m not at all certain he doesn’t let fly a ‘What Ho!’ or two.

In life so far, Ginger has not been a success, and the Family (including Mr. Carmyle) despair of him. He had to forgo going up to Oxford due to a shortfall in the family finances, and every position the Family have found for him he has made a muff of, usually by speaking his mind to entirely the wrong person.

Ginger does have some talents, though – we first see him breaking up a dog-fight, very efficiently. This counts as a sort of Chekhov’s Pug, as it is as a dog breeder and trainer that he finally manages to shine. And, yes, it is Ginger who eventually wins Sally’s hand. But whilst he realises at once that Sally is his True Soul-mate, it takes Sally the whole book to come to the same conclusion. There wouldn’t be much of a story if she had been quicker off the mark, of course, but besides the exigencies of Plot and Narrative Convention it is interesting to examine the reasons why she eventually sees Ginger as her true life’s partner.

adventures-of-sallyWhen Sally and Ginger first meet in Roville-sur-Mer, Ginger gets ‘friend-zoned’  (to use the modern parlance). Sally sees him not as a possible romantic interest but as a project, although her attempts to find him a steady job are no more successful than those of his Family. What eventually gets him out of the friend-zone and into Sally’s arms is the contrast between his behaviour toward Sally, and that of Messrs. Foster and Carmyle. Ginger is loyal, and faithful, willingly humps furniture around her new flat, and lends a sympathetic ear to her woes, but above all he is not pushy. He does not force his attentions on Sally (although he does pinch a photograph of her to moon over in private).

Carmyle, by contrast, is pushy, assertive, and inclined to treat Sally as his by divine right. He does not help Sally, or listen kindly to her troubles, and he certainly doesn’t lower himself to humping furniture about. Gerald Foster, meanwhile, is disloyal. He deserts Sally and marries actress Elsa Doland, and what is even more caddish, doesn’t even tell Sally – she finds out at second hand, after the fact. It is Ginger who conveys the news, and his tactful behaviour after discovering he has dropped a bombshell (he had no idea Sally was engaged to Gerald) earns him several Brownie points.

Ginger’s gentlemanly mien is further highlighted by the antics of brother Fillmore, who (despite the steadying hand of Gladys Winch) manages to lose all Sally’s money pursuing wild theatrical dreams. What little she has left she uses to fund Ginger (who does not know she has lost her fortune) in his dog breeding scheme. Dashed twice against the rocks of fate by unreliable men, Sally returns despondently to her old job in the dance hall, where she is sought out by the importunate and over-assertive Carmyle. Sally is at such a low ebb by this point that she dully accepts his proposal of marriage, believing it to be the only option left open to her.

But no sooner has she done so than Ginger suddenly hoves into view again. His kennels have proved to be a success, and, on finding out that Sally has used the last of her money to set him up, and now having the means to support her himself (always an important point for any male romantic lead in Wodehouse) he declares his love. The scales finally fall from Sally’s eyes (this is the habitual fate of scales in the last reel of a Wodehouse novel … he must have used up several snakes’ worth). But she believes it to be too late – she has already promised herself to Carmyle.

All seems lost, but then Gerald Foster, having been off-stage for most of the story, re-appears. The bounder had, it seems, only married Elsa Doland to further his play-writing career, and she had only married him to enhance her acting career. When neither career prospers, the shaky marriage breaks up. Foster now surfaces back at his flat, across the hall from Sally’s, full of self-pity and bootleg whisky.

I digress here to wax a little about one of the lesser perils of being a writer, even an amateur writer like your humble scribe. It does spoil your reading rather. One can’t just lie back and enjoy a good yarn; your inner editor is forever twitching aside the curtain that conceals the author, and poking at the machinery behind the scenes. This matter of Foster’s flat is just such a bit of business that makes the editor-writer long to reach into the book and correct things. The in-story (or Watsonian) reason given for Foster having a flat so conveniently close to Sally’s is that Elsa Doland, being a great friend of Sally, wanted to be as close to her as possible. This is a weak attempt to paper over an otherwise astonishing co-incidence, and isn’t convincing at all. Elsa Doland spends hardly any on-screen time with Sally, and is never actually seen at said flat. The real (or Doylist) reason, of course, is so that Wodehouse could get Foster on the spot for the penultimate scene in the book. It would be interesting to know if the weaksauce Watsonian excuse was actually present in the original serial episode in Collier’s, or whether it was a retcon when the story was worked up into a novel.

But as I said, I digress. We now return to our scheduled deconstruction.

Foster, drunk and maudlin, takes to smashing up his flat. Sally, despite feeling nothing but contempt for him, is habitually helpful to those in need and decides to clear up the mess. While she does this, she packs him off to her own flat, as she cannot stand the sight of him. Befuddled by drink, Foster goes to sleep there, and this sets up the final denouement. The following morning, Carmyle turns up at his fiancée’s flat, encounters a newly awoken Foster there, and jumps to the wrong conclusion. He had only discovered that Sally was working as a dancer (after proposing to her) the night before, and the idea that Sally might not be respectable enough for the Family has been eating away at him. The pompous ass. The compromising presence of Gerald Foster confirms these suspicions, and relieved to have an out, he promptly takes it.

Sally, suddenly freed, at once gets on the phone to Ginger. Ginger doesn’t care what his Family thinks, or whether Sally is ‘respectable’ or not. Ginger may be a chump, but in Wodehouse, chumps often come out on top.

Cut to final scene, a year later, somewhere out in the boondocks of Long Island. Sally and Ginger are ensconced in (presumably) wedded bliss, running an increasingly successful dog breeding and training business. Ginger is still a chump, but it doesn’t matter, because:

Sally got up and ruffled his red hair.

A Wodehouse hero can get no greater compliment from a girl than to have his hair ruffled. 

Up next: Jon Brierley’s third and final instalment on The Adventures of Sally.