5 Books Published by P.G. Wodehouse on his Birthday

PG Wodehouse was born on this day, 15 October 1881, in Guildford England. I make no apology for mentioning it each year as an occasion to celebrate, because, as Wodehouse expert Paul Kent puts it:

…his 100 or so books must represent one of the largest-ever bequests to human happiness by one man, at least in literature.

in Pelham Grenville Wodehouse Volume 1: ‘This is jolly old fame’

Five of these gifts to humanity were, like Wodehouse himself, also published on 15 October – in four different decades.

1925 Sam the Sudden montage1925 – Sam the Sudden

Published on P.G. Wodehouse’s 44th birthday, this hidden gem is much loved by Wodehouse fans.

For a moment Kay stared speechlessly; then, throwing her head back, she gave out a short, sharp scream of laughter which made a luncher at the next table stab himself in the cheek with an oyster fork. The luncher looked at her reproachfully. So did Sam.

Sam the Sudden

1954 – Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit

Published on Wodehouse’s 73rd birthday, it features a moustached Bertie Wooster, Aunts A and D, Florence Craye, Stilton Cheesewright, Jeeves (of course) and a cast of extras that includes the memorably named Lemuel Gengulphus Trotter.

‘Well, there it is,’ I said, and went into the silence.  And as he, too, seemed disinclined for chit-chat, we stood for some moments like a couple of Trappist monks who have run into each other by chance at the dog races.

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit

1961 – Service With A Smile

Published on Wodehouse’s 80th birthday, this was a particularly special gift to humankind – a Blandings novel featuring Uncle Fred.

I suppose if the scruples I’ve overcome in my time were laid end to end, they would reach from London to Glasgow.

Service with a Smile

Service With A Smile montage.JPG

1971 – Much Obliged, Jeeves

Published on Wodehouse’s 90th birthday, this was Jeeves and Bertie’s  penultimate outing. I’d be sad, if it wasn’t so good.

By what I have always thought an odd coincidence he paused at this point and asked me why I was looking like something the cat brought in, precisely as the aged relative had asked me after my interview with Ma McCorkadale. I don’t know what cats bring into houses, but one assumes that it is something not very jaunty, and apparently, when in the grip of any strong emotion, I resemble their treasure trove.

Much Obliged, Jeeves

1973 Bachelors Anonymous

Published on Wodehouse’s 92nd birthday.  It’s damned good stuff for a nonagenarian.

…he saw now that Mr Llewellyn was simply one of those lovable characters who readily explode but whose explosions, owing to their hearts being in the right place, are sound and fury signifying nothing. He had met them before, and he knew the type. They huffed and they puffed, but you just sat tight and waited till they blew over. As for throwing porridge at the breakfast table, that was a mere mannerism, easily overlooked by anyone broad-minded. He anticipated a happy association with his future employer.

Bachelors Anonymous

I like to imagine each of these 15 October publication days added a dash of joy to Wodehouse’s birthday. He deserved it!

HP

PG Wodehouse was born on this day, 15 October 1881, in Guildford England. I make no apology for mentioning it each year as an occasion to celebrate, because, as Wodehouse expert Paul Kent puts it:

…his 100 or so books must represent one of the largest-ever bequests to human happiness by one man, at least in literature.

in Pelham Grenville Wodehouse Volume 1: ‘This is jolly old fame’

Five of these gifts to humanity were, like Wodehouse himself, also published on 15 October – in four different decades.

1925 Sam the Sudden montage1925 – Sam the Sudden

Published on P.G. Wodehouse’s 44th birthday, this hidden gem is much loved by Wodehouse fans.

For a moment Kay stared speechlessly; then, throwing her head back, she gave out a short, sharp scream of laughter which made a luncher at the next table stab himself in the cheek with an oyster fork. The luncher looked at her reproachfully. So did Sam.

Sam the Sudden

1954 – Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit

Published on Wodehouse’s 73rd birthday, it features a moustached Bertie Wooster, Aunts A and D, Florence Craye, Stilton Cheesewright, Jeeves (of course) and a cast of extras that includes the memorably named Lemuel Gengulphus Trotter.

‘Well, there it is,’ I said, and went into the silence.  And as he, too, seemed disinclined for chit-chat, we stood for some moments like a couple of Trappist monks who have run into each other by chance at the dog races.

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit

1961 – Service With A Smile

Published on Wodehouse’s 80th birthday, this was a particularly special gift to humankind – a Blandings novel featuring Uncle Fred.

I suppose if the scruples I’ve overcome in my time were laid end to end, they would reach from London to Glasgow.

Service with a Smile

Service With A Smile montage.JPG

1971 – Much Obliged, Jeeves

Published on Wodehouse’s 90th birthday, this was Jeeves and Bertie’s  penultimate outing. I’d be sad, if it wasn’t so good.

By what I have always thought an odd coincidence he paused at this point and asked me why I was looking like something the cat brought in, precisely as the aged relative had asked me after my interview with Ma McCorkadale. I don’t know what cats bring into houses, but one assumes that it is something not very jaunty, and apparently, when in the grip of any strong emotion, I resemble their treasure trove.

Much Obliged, Jeeves

1973 Bachelors Anonymous

Published on Wodehouse’s 92nd birthday.  It’s damned good stuff for a nonagenarian.

…he saw now that Mr Llewellyn was simply one of those lovable characters who readily explode but whose explosions, owing to their hearts being in the right place, are sound and fury signifying nothing. He had met them before, and he knew the type. They huffed and they puffed, but you just sat tight and waited till they blew over. As for throwing porridge at the breakfast table, that was a mere mannerism, easily overlooked by anyone broad-minded. He anticipated a happy association with his future employer.

Bachelors Anonymous

I like to imagine each of these 15 October publication days added a dash of joy to Wodehouse’s birthday. He deserved it!

HP

Volume 1 of Paul Kent’s Wodehouse is available to order now.

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

P.G. Wodehouse in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey

71383825_10213337985117769_6106473459368329216_n
Wodehouse memorial stone:  Photo by Elin Woodger Murphy

P.G. Wodehouse fans are celebrating the wonderful news from Westminster Abbey,  where a memorial stone in Poet’s Corner has been dedicated to the beloved author.

You can read more about it here:

Congratulations to everyone involved in making this tribute to Wodehouse possible.  I’d love to hear your news and reports of the day.

In the meantime, it seems fitting to close with a dash of Wodehouse.

Living in the country had given Augustine Mulliner the excellent habit of going early to bed. He had a sermon to compose on the morrow, and in order to be fresh and at his best in the morning he retired shortly before eleven. And, as he had anticipated an unbroken eight hours of refreshing sleep, it was with no little annoyance that he became aware, towards midnight, of a hand on his shoulder, shaking him. Opening his eyes, he found that the light had been switched on and that the Bishop of Stortford was standing at his bedside.

‘Hullo!’ said Augustine. Anything wrong?’

The Bishop smiled genially, and hummed a bar or two of the hymn for those of riper years at sea. He was plainly in excellent spirits.

‘Nothing, my dear fellow,’ he replied. ‘In fact, very much the reverse. How are you, Mulliner?’

‘I feel fine, Bish.’

‘I’ll bet you two chasubles to a hassock you don’t feel as fine as I do,’ said the Bishop. ‘It must be something in the air of this place. I haven’t felt like this since Boat Race Night of the year 1893. Wow!’ he continued. ‘Whoopee! How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! Numbers, 44, 5.’

And, gripping the rail of the bed, he endeavoured to balance himself on his hands with his feet in the air.

‘Gala Night’ in Mulliner Nights

HP

Pigs Have Wings: PG Wodehouse in Cincinnati (2019 Convention)

cincinnati

The US Wodehouse Society’s biennial convention is the big event for Wodehouse fans in the USA. It also attracts a devoted international crowd and is well worth including on your Wodehouse Bucketlist.

With the next convention in Cincinnati, Ohio just a few months away, it’s time to get excited — and start planning. See the Wodehouse Society’s website for registration and further details. EARLY REGISTRATION ends August 10th. 

I can thoroughly recommend the experience to newcomers. Attending my first convention (Psmith in Pseattle) remains one of the highlights of my life as a Wodehouse fan, and I plan to attend many more conventions in the years ahead. It’s a great chance to meet other fans and Wodehouse experts from around the world, and take home some unique Wodehouse merch.

For convention updates and conversation with other convention-goers, the Pigs Have Wings- PGW in Cincinnati: The Wodehouse Society’s 2019 Convention Facebook group is the place to be — they’ll be able to answer all your convention related questions (and most of your Wodehouse questions as well).

Meeting other Wodehouse lovers in person is always a pleasure (you’ll soon become friends) and Cincinnati looks like a fabulous city.

 

Happy travels!

HP

 

Wodehouse’s Anti-Semitism in Context by Elliott Milstein

This article was originally published in the March 2019 edition of Wooster Sauce, the journal of The P G Wodehouse Society (UK) and is reproduced here with kind permission of the author.

* * *

Wodehouse’s Anti-Semitism in Context

by Elliott Milstein

In searching the internet for reactions to the recent news regarding Westminster Abbey’s plans to dedicate a memorial to P. G. Wodehouse, one of the netizens of PGWNet uncovered an article by Benjamin Ivry in the October 18, 2018, edition of Forward whose title really says it all: “How Lovely P.G. Wodehouse Was – Such a Shame About the Anti-Semitism.”

To put this publication in context, the online journal Forward began life in 1897 as the Yiddish language daily paper Der Forvart, dedicated to the advent of worldwide socialism. Today it remains both Jewish and decidedly left-wing.

As we know, socialists, even in Wodehouse’s time – let alone today, as their numbers dwindle – were not particularly fond of him, partly because of his parodies of them and their cause, and partly because he was seen as advocating for the leisured class. So we should keep in mind that Mr Ivry and his ilk likely come to Wodehouse already thinking him not so “lovely”, despite his use of the word in the title. Ivry even tangentially refers to Wodehouse’s efforts to reduce his tax burden, a gratuitous comment that is clearly an attempt to prejudice his leftward-leaning readership, as such actions would be particularly repugnant to any good socialist.

That being said, there are specific accusations made in the article that deserve an objective response, regardless of its author’s prejudice. In doing so, we need to examine those arguments not only in themselves but also within the context of the extraordinarily complicated and nuanced concept of “anti-Semitism” itself.

There are those who aver that all anti-Semitism is the same. Like some of the aggrieved women of the #MeToo movement who equate any salacious remark with rape, there are many Jews who see anyone who says they’ve been “jewed” at the local greengrocer as a Nazi. I personally do not see these issues in pure black and white, but rather on a continuum. Indeed, the majority of scholars on the subject divide anti-Semitism into two categories, frequently labeled “radical” and “genteel”.

Radical anti-Semites are true Jew haters: those who see Jews as enemies, Christ killers, members of a global cabal bent on world domination, who sacrifice gentile children and drink their blood (if you are unfamiliar with the infamous “blood libel”, I assure you this is not an exaggeration). Such people see Jews as deserving not only of persecution but annihilation.

The more genteel variety are those who merely indulge in Jewish stereotypes: the hard-nosed and even corrupt businessman – greedy, grubbing, cheap, excessively uxorious, vaguely obnoxious; people who look funny, dress funny, and talk funny; what Margalit Fox, in her excellent book Conan Doyle for the Defence refers to as “the Other”. They would be abhorred at the idea of persecuting or harming Jews in any way, but they’d rather avoid them, if they can, preferring to associate with PLU (“people like us”). They are not above making a nasty crack from time to time, but more in the way of a witticism than a true expression of grievance, much as such a one may callously mock a person with a lisp or physical deformity.

Ivry makes no specific distinction on the continuum but, based on his arguments, seems to see Wodehouse in both lights, though perhaps more genteel than radical. His arguments fall into three categories: the wartime broadcasts, evidence from his writings, and his private reflections and personal letters.

I will not take the time here to rehash the broadcast arguments and counter-arguments. I will assume that the Sauce readership is fully familiar with this canard and its refutations. Suffice it to say that anyone who believes, as Ivry clearly does, that Wodehouse made these broadcasts out of sympathy with the Nazi cause would certainly believe him to be a radical anti-Semite, but he would just as certainly be wrong. Let us leave this entire subject in the dustbin of history where it belongs and look at the arguments from his writings.

To begin, we must remember that genteel anti-Semitism was so infused in Victorian and Edwardian society that it was virtually everywhere. Perhaps the most notorious example of an anti-Semitic character of the time was Dickens’s Fagin from Oliver Twist. But Dickens himself never saw it as such. When challenged by a Jewish acquaintance, Eliza Davis, for perpetrating this “great wrong” against her people, Dickens protested that he had “no feeling towards Jews but a friendly one”. When asked why he made such a point of making Fagin Jewish, his long reply could be summed up as “literary convention”. In fact, after this exchange, Dickens felt so bad about Fagin that he deliberately made the Jew Riah in his next book, Our Mutual Friend, a remarkably good and sympathetic character. Davis responded by presenting Dickens with a Hebrew-English Bible inscribed, in part, with thanks for “atoning for an injury as soon as being conscious of having inflicted it”. (Our Mutual Friend, Penguin Books, note on page 820 by editor, Adrian Poole)

When I was working on my Wodehouse thesis back in 1976, I was deeply fortunate to have as my adviser J. M. Cameron, a British professor of the old school, recently retired and transplanted from his position as Chair of Philosophy at the University of Leeds to my school, St Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. This article does not give me ample space to fully describe this wonderful man, but he was, for one of his time and upbringing, extraordinarily dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism of all kinds. He told me that after Kristallnacht (November 9–10, 1938), he vowed he would never let even the most innocent anti-Semitic comment made in his presence go unchallenged.

One day as I was discussing my research before I even began writing the paper, he asked me if I had seen any anti-Semitic references in Wodehouse’s writing. I told him I had not. He replied, “He would be quite unique for that period if there were none. Look for them. I am sure you will find them.” And, of course, put on the scent like that, I did. Because, after all, as Prof. Cameron pointed out to me later, virtually every British writer of the time did. The question for us today – post-Kristallnacht, post-Holocaust – is whether, like Henry James, George Orwell, Graham Greene, H. G. Wells, etc., they fell into the genteel category; or, like T. S. Eliot, H. Rider Haggard, Sapper, John Buchan, etc., into the more virulent radical kind; or, like Dorothy L. Sayers, Virginia Woolf, Evelyn Waugh, etc., somewhere on the continuum.

In Wodehouse’s early books and stories, there are several (no more than four or five, I believe) references to “Jews” as such. The most memorable for me was in Money for Nothing, when John Carroll, in order to distract Pat Wyvern during an especially embarrassing moment in a night club, remarks: “That man . . . looks like a Jewish black beetle.” A gratuitous remark, until one realizes that the character referred to is a “Mr A. Baerman”, the name of the Jewish literary agent who stole Wodehouse’s copyright to Love Among the Chickens. So this quick comment was really just Wodehouse getting a little of his own back at this admittedly nasty man.

But Ivry ignores all of these references (probably he is unaware of them, as they are so few and far between) and, indeed, eschews the more well-known examples of the Jewish money lenders disguised as Scotsmen in Leave It to Psmith; Ukridge’s nefarious partner, Isaac O’Brien, in ‘The Exit of Battling Billson’; or the obnoxious behaviour of the Cohen Brothers in ‘The Ordeal of Oswald Mulliner’. And truly, all of this is pretty mild stuff. I bring it up merely to point out that, as Owen Dudley Edwards states in his book P. G. Wodehouse, “Wodehouse for the most part showed himself far above the magazines where he learned his craft, and even here his shortcomings, while cheap, have nothing of the smooth venom apparent in many of his fellow-writers’ comments on ‘Hebrews’.”

Ivry instead concentrates his ire on Wodehouse’s portrayal of the Hollywood magnates Jacob Z. Schnellenhamer, Isadore Fishbein, and Ben Zizzbaum. There is no doubt that the names chosen are deliberately Jewish-sounding and the characters themselves are far from sympathetic. But it remains that there is no commentary by Wodehouse in the stories on any aspect of their Jewishness, nor are any of the stereotypical attributes played upon. Most likely, these movie executives are given Jewish names for the simple reason that movie magnates in the 1930s were, in fact, predominantly Jewish, something Wodehouse knew firsthand, and it would have been odd if he hadn’t given these characters Jewish names. This is hardly evidence of an anti-Semitic attitude.

It is also important to note that, post-Holocaust, even these mild references to Jews disappear entirely. The character of Ivor Llewelyn – introduced as “Ikey” in The Luck of the Bodkins (1935), making fun of him adopting a false Welsh name – comes back in the 1970s in two books as a much more sympathetic figure, and his Welshness is legitimized with a reference to a Welsh school marm in his childhood, removing even the tiny trace of Jewishness with which he was created. Thus, in a way it can be said that Wodehouse, too, atoned for an injury when he became conscious of having inflicted it.

When asked why the word “Jew” had been removed from later editions of Brighton Rock and Stamboul Train, Graham Greene responded that “after the Holocaust one couldn’t use the word Jew in the loose way one used it before the war. . . . [T]he casual references to Jews [are] a sign of those times when one regarded the word Jew as almost a synonym for capitalist.” In other words, seen through the magnifying lens of the Holocaust, earlier ‘genteel’ anti-Semitism grows to look more like the ‘radical’ version, when clearly that was never the author’s intent. Even the unworldly Wodehouse saw the truth of this and reacted similarly.

The final argument Ivry makes is that Wodehouse’s anti-Semitic attitudes can be gleaned by his references to Jews in his private letters. These are potentially more damning because they reflect Wodehouse the man, not the writer, as speaker and are therefore more likely to reflect his true feelings. Also, many of the examples are post-Holocaust.

The first example Ivry gives, however, is from Hollywood before the war, claiming that Brian Taves notes that “some of Wodehouse’s fellow screenwriters suspected him of being anti-Semitic”. He supports this by citing Philip Dunne, whom even Ivry notes was “left-wing”; Dunne “believed Wodehouse’s ‘hatred’ for members of the SWG [Screen Writers Guild] . . . was an anti-Semitic matter.” The truth behind this story, which is available in full in Brian Taves’s excellent book P. G. Wodehouse and Hollywood, is that Wodehouse was being heavily recruited by Dunne to leave the mainstream, extant Screen Playwrights union for the new, socialist SWG, but Wodehouse refused, even showing the other union Dunne’s recruitment letters. Dunne never forgave him and perpetrated this scandal in retaliation.

According to Taves, Dunne was the only screenwriter to accuse Wodehouse of anti-Semitism, not “some of [his] fellow screenwriters”. Here, it seems, Ivry’s prejudice takes the form of deliberate deception to perpetrate what he must have known was a falsehood.

The same is true of Ivry’s use of his later letters. Without rehashing each example, I will say that the only thing damning about the references, when one looks at them closely, is that Wodehouse refers to several Jewish people as “Jews”. Now, one can question why – when complaining, for instance, about how “repulsive” Groucho Marx had become in the 1950s (a perfectly reasonable complaint, I’m sad to say) – he had to describe him as a “middle-aged Jew” rather than a “middle-aged man”, but as Groucho’s Jewishness always was quite manifest, it is hardly significant evidence of an anti-Semitic remark, but more as a colorful descriptor.

The fact is that context is everything. In my own family, when discussing where to dine out, one family member will sometimes turn down a choice of restaurant as having “too many Jews”. Clearly an anti-Semitic remark, right? In actuality, we all know that what she means is that she prefers going somewhere where we are unlikely to run into a lot of people we know. It is a remark made in private to people who know exactly what she means, but, taken out of context and made public, it sounds awful. We must remember that the true context of Wodehouse’s letters to friends and family cannot be fully known.

Here, finally, is the most outrageous example from Ivry’s article, in which context is deliberately hidden. He quotes the following from a letter to Bill Townend dated January 15, 1949: “A curious thing about American books these days is that so many of them are Jewish propaganda. Notice in [Norman Mailer’s] ‘The Naked and the Dead’ how the only decent character is Goldstein. [Irwin Shaw’s] ‘The Young Lions’ is the same. It is a curious trend. The Jews have suddenly become terrifically vocal. Did you see that picture, ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’?”

Sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it? But then read the passage that Ivry leaves out, which immediately follows: “I am wondering if that book of yours about Jews might not do well over here. If you will send me a script, I will see what I can do with it.” (Thanks to Sophie Ratcliffe [P. G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, p.427] for making this research possible!)

So, what out of context looks like a complaint about the sudden vocalness and pushiness of Jews, is, in context, a prelude to Wodehouse’s offer to promote Townend’s book about Jews. This is hardly the action of an anti-Semite.

When I see examples of people in the early 21st century judging people over a hundred years ago by today’s standards, I always reflect that the young people of the 22nd century are just as likely to feel the same about me because I eat meat or have supported my local zoo, or committed some other future solecism I cannot even imagine. Attitudes and mores change over time, thank goodness. Context is everything.

P. G. Wodehouse was, by all accounts, a mild, kindly, and benign man, but he was a man of his time. It is natural that his attitudes toward the Jewish people were influenced by that, and such attitudes would manifest. But within context, and especially in comparison to his contemporaries, he still remains, in my estimation, a mild, kindly, and benign man, and our post-Holocaust sense of what constitutes anti-Semitism simply does not apply here.

* * *

My thanks to Elliott Milstein for his permission to share this piece at Plumtopia.

HP

Wodehouse and Plumtopia

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

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

HP

Ukebloke's Ukeblog

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

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

I now realise:

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

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

c) My tea’s gone cold.

All signs of a very welcome distraction.

View original post

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. — Part II

Back by popular demand, if a broad definition of the word popular is applied, Part II of my homage to P.G. Wodehouse, a Junior Lipstick Club story

The F. of the S.

Here’s Part I if you missed it.  

* * *

Eustacia Bellows and Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow (said Hilda Gudgeon) had been pals since childhood. When Stacey was nine she saved Cyril from drowning in the village pond, and when an impressionable young girl saves a chap from drowning, she naturally takes a proprietorial interest in his progress. When Cyril was lying-in with mumps, she read him Pickwick. In the holidays she took him for bracing walks and corrected his square cut.

They met again by chance in London last spring. Cyril had just stepped in front of an omnibus, and Stacey, who happened to be on hand, dashed into the road and pushed him aside.

When Cyril had finished gulping like a stranded goldfish, she deposited him in a neighbouring tea and bun shop and got to work on rekindling the friendship. For love had hit her, as surely as the number 37 omnibus hadn’t hit Cyril. Stacey could see the poor lamb was lost without her. It had been almost two years since they’d last met — how Cyril had managed to survive all that time in London without her was a mystery.

“Fancy running into you again, Pompy old pet,” said Stacey, opening proceedings with her trademark cheerfulness.

Cyril blinked like a bewildered rabbit. I don’t know what kind of shove she gave him, but Stacey was our school’s half-prop — Rosie Benger’s shoulder still gives her trouble after being on the receiving end of one of Stacey’s tackles. Given the choice between colliding with an omnibus or Stacey Bellows, I’m not sure I wouldn’t take my chances with the bus. I dare say Cyril, who was always on the delicate side, was feeling it.

“How’s the metrop treating you?”

“Fine, fine,” Cyril gurgled.

“You’re looking well,” said Stacey, proving the adage that love is blind, for Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow was not one of nature’s greatest hits. His closest friends might, after a good meal and some financial inducement, be persuaded to call him Byronic, but a consumptive Byron at best, with some sort of wasting sickness thrown in.

Cyril sniffed his tea.

“So, no secret troubles then?”

“Eh?”

“One merely wonders. Chaps don’t usually go about flinging themselves at omnibuses, you know. I suppose the odds are lower for poets. Some worm criticises your latest effort, and just as you’re pondering whether life is worth living, along comes the number 37. I expect it’s an occupational hazard.”

Cyril bristled –- or tried to. Weakened by his ordeal, Cyril’s bristling was on par with that of an existential hedgehog who has given up on life.

“The critics were very complimentary about my last volume.”

“Were they? That’s terrific! I’m dashed sorry I haven’t read it. The only thing of yours I’ve read is that collection you sent at Christmas. Something about butterflies, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s it. Where Doth the Moth?: Prose studies of the anthropomorphic condition.”

“And they liked it, you say?”

“One critic,” said Cyril proudly, “called it the most astonishing new work since The Tay Bridge Disaster.”

Well, love may be blind, but even love could not overlook the fact that Where Doth the Moth? contained some of the worst bilge ever flung at the poetry-loving public. To give you just one example:

Love, love, and thirst.

Fools endure like true honey.

Wishes flap!

Rotting hide.

Digestion is a torpid bride.

Hero holds the highest grape.

Bounder laps the rotting pool.

The flounder is a fool.

 

It goes on like that for another thirty-seven stanzas.

“I’m just putting the finishing touches on my next volume,” said Cyril. “I’ll send you a copy.”

“Please do.”

“And you’ll be invited to the wedding.”

“Is someone getting married?”

“I am,” said Cyril, brightening a little. “Angelica Blake has just agreed to marry me. I was on my way to speak to her father when you… err… ran into me. My mind was dwelling on Angelica’s tender face.”

“Your mind, such as it is, was very nearly dwelling all over Piccadilly Circus. I don’t like the sound of it. Are you sure this female is a good influence?”

“Angelica is my ideal,” said Cyril, filling himself with air. “She walks in beauty like the night…”

“So she’s a pippin,” said Stacey. “But is she fit to handle the business of being Mrs Pomfrey-Waddelow? The woman who marries you will need nerves of steel and the biceps of an all-in wrestler. Can she do the Australian crawl with one arm, and lug a kicking boy in the other — that’s what I want to know.”

Cyril shuddered. “I haven’t fallen in a pond in years.”

“No, you’ve moved on to omnibuses. What would this Blake female have done if she’d been the woman on the spot today?”

“Oh, Angelica,” said Cyril with feeling. “To see her beloved, as I hope I may now call myself, stricken before her eyes would haunt her delicate soul forever.”

“Sensitive girl, is she?”

“Naturally. She’s a poet too, you know. This afternoon, she’s reading her Sonnets of Sincerity to the Wimbledon Ladies Literary Society.”

Stacy was renown at school for her quick thinking, and her wits did not desert her at the crucial moment.

“I’d like to see that. A pal of mine is on the committee. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I buzzed down to Wimbledon and joined the festivities.”

“I wish I could join you,” said Cyril. “I have to catch Angelica’s father before he leaves for the country.” Cyril’s brow, by the despairing light of the tea-shop, wore an unearthly aspect. “She says she can’t marry me unless he gives his consent.”

“What? In these enlightened times?” asked Stacey, brightening.

“Her father is Sir Igneous Blake, the gravel magnate. He’s about eight feet tall and looks like Grendel on one of his bad days. He bullies poor Angelica terribly.”

“Well, don’t let him bully you, old thing. Make a good impression, and if he gives you any trouble, be firm.”

“I’m wearing my best suit,” said Cyril.

Stacey inspected Cyril’s costume. His morning coat was covered in dust and there was a hole in one trouser leg. His hat was intact, but it was a filthier, more misshapen hat than strictly fashionable. Cyril looked less like something the cat had dragged in, than something a discerning cat would give a wide berth to. It occurred to Stacey that a prospective father-in-law might feel the same way.

“On second thoughts,” said Cyril, “perhaps it can wait until I go down there on Friday.”

“Why put it off?” Said Stacey. “I’d do it now if I were you.”

“Do you really think so?”

“I do. Show old Pop Blake that an omnibus can’t keep a good Pomfrey-Waddelow down. Besides, you don’t want to keep a dear girl like Angelica waiting for an answer.”

“No. I suppose you’re right.”

“That’s settled then,” said Stacey. “Sit tight and finish your tea while I pop out and get you a taxicab.”

* * *

Continue to Part III

HP

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