Tag Archives: Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen

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

Wodehouse quotes for every occasion: Aunt and Uncle Day

“That was Pongo Twistleton. He’s all broken up about his Uncle Fred.”

“Dead?”

“No such luck. Coming up to London again tomorrow. Pongo had a wire this morning.”

P.G. Wodehouse – Uncle Fred Flits By (Young Men in Spats)

aunts gentlemen26 July is Aunt and Uncle Day apparently.

The nub of the thing, I gather, is to commemorate the wonderful aunts and uncles in our lives. A nice idea, but it’s not an occasion I’m familiar with and I have no idea how it’s celebrated. A family dinner might be fitting. You could write or call them to say hello — or even send flowers.

Or you could try the P.G. Wodehouse method. Wodehouse created a memorable cast of aunts and uncles in his works, and it’s generally believed that he drew his inspiration from life. One can only imagine how his relations felt about being immortalised in this way.

My friends at the Fans of PG Wodehouse Facebook group have helped me compile a few favourite quotations on the subject for your enjoyment. They come with a warning – be cautious before sharing them with your own aunts and uncles.

From The Inimitable Jeeves

As a rule, you see, I’m not lugged into Family Rows. On the occasions when Aunt is calling Aunt like mastodons bellowing across premieval swamps and Uncle James’s letter about Cousin Mabel’s peculiar behaviour is being shot round the family circle (‘Please read this carefully and send it on Jane’) the clan has a tendency to ignore me.

And this

It was my Uncle George who discovered alcohol was a food well in advance of modern medical thought.

From The Mating Season

On the cue ‘five aunts’ I had given at the knees a trifle, for the thought of being confronted with such a solid gaggle of aunts, even if those of another, was an unnerving one. Reminding myself that in this life it is not aunts that matter, but the courage that one brings to them, I pulled myself together.

And this

As far as the eye could reach, I found myself gazing on a surging sea of aunts. There were tall aunts, short aunts, stout aunts, thin aunts, and an aunt who was carrying on a conversation in a low voice to which nobody seemed to be paying the slightest attention.

From Uncle Fred and the Springtime

His Uncle Alaric’s eccentricities were a favourite theme of conversation with Horace Davenport, and in Pongo he had always found a sympathetic confidant, for Pongo had an eccentric uncle himself. Though hearing Horace speak of his Uncle Alaric and thinking of his own Uncle Fred, he felt like Noah listening to someone making a fuss about a drizzle.

From The Code of the Woosters

It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof. 

From Right-Ho, Jeeves

Uncle Tom, who always looked a bit like a pterodactyl with a secret sorrow.

From Extricating Young Gussie (The Man with Two Left Feet)

There are some things a chappie’s mind absolutely refuses to picture, and Aunt Julia singing ‘Rumpty-tiddley-umpty-ay’ is one of them.

From Jill the Reckless

“Barker!” [Freddie’s] voice had a ring of pain.
“Sir?”
“What’s this?”
“Poached egg, sir.”
Freddie averted his eyes with a silent shudder.
“It looks just like an old aunt of mine,” he said.

From Barmy in Wonderland

She was looking more and more like an aunt than anything human. In his boyhood he had observed platoons of his aunts with their features frozen in a similar rigidity.

From Uncle Dynamite

“And that’s not all. Who has the star bedroom? Me? No! Uncle Aylmer. Who collars the morning paper? Me? No! Uncle Aylmer. Who gets the brown egg at breakfast?”

“Don’t tell me. Let me guess. Uncle Aylmer?”

“Yes. Blast him!”

And finally, from: Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen

Aunts Arent Gentlemen by P.G. WodehouseI took a deep breath. It was some small comfort to feel that she was at the end of a telephone wire a mile and a half away. You can never be certain what aunts will do when at close quarters.

And there are plenty more where these came from.

HP

 

P.G. Wodehouse reading list: the Jeeves and Wooster stories

This second article in my reading guide for new Wodehouse readers offers a reading list for the Jeeves and Wooster stories.

Jeeves and Wooster Reading List

*The World of Jeeves is currently available in print for around £8, and includes the short stories contained in Inimitable Jeeves, Carry On, Jeeves, and Very Good Jeeves.

Notes on the series

The Right Hon. was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say `When’.

Very Good, Jeeves

Bertie Wooster and his resourceful manservant Jeeves appeared in over thirty short stories between 1915 and the publication of their first novel, Thank You, Jeeves, in 1934. Wodehouse was a master of the short story format, and the stories include some of Bertie’s most memorable adventures. They’re a terrific introduction to the series and its characters. Reading them first will avoid plot spoilers, and ensure you appreciate all the ‘in jokes’ throughout the series.

The short stories first appeared in magazine format before their publication in three volumes as The Inimitable Jeeves (1923), Carry On, Jeeves (1925) and Very Good, Jeeves (1930). Their order of appearance in these volumes differed from the original publication order, and some of the titles were changed. Wodehouse also included reworked versions of earlier stories, featuring a character called Reggie Pepper, as Bertie Wooster stories.

The three short story collections were collated in a 1967 Omnibus, The World of Jeeves, with an introduction by P.G. Wodehouse. The stories were reordered to better resemble their original publication order, and some are listed under their original titles.

The World of Jeeves also includes two later Jeeves stories, ‘Jeeves Makes an Omelette’ and ‘Jeeves and the Greasy Bird’, which appeared in A Few Quick Ones (1959) and Plum Pie (1966). The stories refer to characters and events from the later novels, so if you can exercise an iron will and leave off reading them until later, you’ll avoid spoilers. But no great harm will befall you by reading them first.

The ‘first’ Jeeves and Bertie story, ‘Extricating Young Gussie’ (1915) is not included in any of these volumes. Originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, it appeared in the 1917 short story collection The Man with Two Left Feet. There is some debate about whether the Bertie in this story should be rightfully considered Bertie Wooster, or some other Bertie of the Mannering-Phipps variety. These are the sorts of debates you may find yourself entering once you’ve become hooked on the series.

As the early collection My Man Jeeves (1919) was rewritten and incorporated into the later stories, it is recommended for enthusiasts and collectors, but not as a starting point for new readers.

The novels introduce memorable new characters to the Jeeves and Wooster cast including Augustus Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, Sir Roderick Spode, the Stoker gang, ‘Catsmeat’ Potter-Pirbright, and his sister Cora.

He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

The Code of the Woosters.

code-of-the-woostersMany people start their Wodehouse reading with The Code of the Woosters. As a highly-regarded classic, it’s a volume most booksellers tend to stock. The Code of the Woosters is also a favourite with fans, who recommend it to new readers with enthusiasm. No great harm will befall you by reading this, or any other book, out of order.

Finally, if this reading list leaves you wanting more, there’s also the 1953 novel Ring for Jeeves featuring Jeeves without Bertie Wooster.

Next in the series: A reading list for Wodehouse’s Blandings stories

Happy Reading!

HP

Jeeves & Wooster centenary: Extricating Young Gussie

PGW Man with two left feetHot on the heels of the Blandings centenary in June comes the 100th anniversary of P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster and Reginald Jeeves. The characters first appeared together in the story ‘Extricating Young Gussie’, published in September 1915 in the Saturday Evening Post.

The centenary has been commemorated with a flurry of articles (try What ho! Celebrating 100 years of Bertie, Jeeves and Blandings by Aparna Narrain). But in spite of praise for Wodehouse and his beloved duo, who made their final appearance in 1974’s Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, ‘Extricating Young Gussie’ continues to hide it’s light under a bushel. If indeed that’s what lights do.

In his introduction to the 1967 omnibus The World of Jeeves, Wodehouse laments giving Jeeves just two lines, and no important role in the story:

It was only some time later, when I was going into the strange affair which is related under the title of ‘The Artistic Career of Corky’, that the man’s qualities dawned upon me. I still blush to think of the off-hand way I treated him at our first encounter.

‘Extricating Young Gussie’ was the only story omitted from The World of Jeeves omnibus, but readers wanting to assess its merit for themselves can find it in the 1917 short story collection The Man with Two Left Feet.  The story begins:

She sprang it on me before breakfast. There in seven words you have a complete character sketch of my Aunt Agatha. I could go on indefinitely about brutality and lack of consideration. I merely say that she routed me out of bed to listen to her painful story somewhere in the small hours. It can’t have been half past eleven when Jeeves, my man, woke me out of the dreamless and broke the news:

‘Mrs Gregson to see you, sir.’

Jeeves makes one more personal appearance:

Jeeves came in with the tea.

‘Jeeves,’ I said, ‘we start for America on Saturday.’

‘Very good, sir,’ he said; ‘which suit will you wear?’

And he is referred to in another passage, when Bertie arrives in New York:

I left Jeeves to get my baggage safely past an aggregation of suspicious-minded pirates who were digging for buried treasures among my new shirts, and drove to Gussie’s hotel, where I requested the squad  of gentlemanly clerks behind the desk to produce him.

Many readers, and evidently Wodehouse himself, look back on ‘Extricating Young Gussie’ as a poor beginning for this reason. It doesn’t fit the Jeeves and Wooster formula we’ve come to know and love. Some of the centenary commentators (presumably those who’ve not read it) also find fault with it as a story. In my previous piece ‘Getting started with Bertie and Jeeves: a chronological challenge’ I too was dismissive, claiming that ‘… it’s not essential reading for the new Wodehouse reader.’

Dutifully re-reading ‘Extricating Young Gussie’ for the 100th Anniversary in the belief that this was not Wodehouse’s best, I was thrilled to find the story better than I had (mis)remembered. It’s well-crafted, enjoyable and complete without Jeeves playing a major role. If we are disappointed with it (and I wasn’t) it is only because we’ve developed high expectations of Jeeves through the later stories. But there is much to like without him, and Bertie’s narrative voice and character (developed via an earlier prototype called Reggie Pepper) are firmly established:

If I ever breakfasted at half past eight I should walk on the Embankment, trying to end it all in a watery grave.

And Bertie is in excellent form on the subject of Aunt Agatha.   

My experience is that when Aunt Agatha wants you to do a thing you do it, or else you find yourself wondering why those fellows in the olden days made such a fuss when they had trouble with the Spanish Inquisition.

The story takes Bertie from London to New York at Aunt Agatha’s insistence, to break the engagement of his cousin Gussie to a vaudeville performer.

…according to Gussie she does something which he describes as a single on the big time. What this degraded performance may be I have not the least notion.

Bertie treats us to a personal tour of New York hotels, bars and theatre. On arrival, he tells us:

New York is a large city conveniently situated on the edge of America, so that you step off the liner right on to it without an effort. You can’t lose your way. You go out of a barn and down some stairs, and there you are, right in among it.

In fact, the whole bally story is so packed with good stuff that when the conscientious blogger (that’s me) starts quoting, it becomes dashed difficult to stop. Rather than continue to cherry-pick the best bits for another twenty seven pages, I urge you to read them in situ, especially if it’s been some years since you encountered it. The older Wodehouse might have found fault with it, but we don’t have to agree with him.

It was rotten. The poor nut had got stage fright so badly that it practically eliminated his voice. He sounded like some far-off echo of the past ‘yodelling’ through a woollen blanket.

Happy Jeeves & Wooster centenary, everyone!

HP

Watching the Birds

After my recent piece in defence of Aunt’s Aren’t Gentlemen (aka The Cat Nappers) I was compelled to read it again – and found it ripe with good stuff.

 

… his idea of a good time was to go off with a pair of binoculars and watch birds, a thing that never appealed to me. I can’t see any percentage in it. If I meet a bird, I wave a friendly hand at it, to let it know that I wish it well, but I don’t want to crouch behind a bush observing its habits.

 Aunt’s Aren’t Gentlemen

This little bit on Birdwatching struck an instant chord with me, as someone whose childhood was spent being lugged about by a conscientious parent from one bit of dismal scrub to another, watching birds. Birthdays were marked with the excitement (not mine) of new binoculars, sturdy walking boots, and the latest compendium of Australian Birds. If Muriel Singer’s work The Children’s Book of American Birds existed outside the realms of Wodehouse (‘The Artistic Career of Corky’) it would undoubtedly have been presented to me. When I was older, I progressed to the joys of learning the Latin names for local species.

Sadly, like Bertie Wooster‘s chum Corky, I never had any enthusiasm for the subject: “  …birds, except when broiled and in the society of a cold  bottle, bored him stiff.”

Nor was there any respite at home, where my happiness was thwarted by the presence of a Budgerigar. I cannot abide Budgerigars! Ours flapped about the house with carefree insolence, landing on whatever took its fancy – including me. When I took refuge under a bed, the blighter followed. Subsequent encounters with chickens, pigeons, seagulls and magpies have turned my distaste for the fowl species into a phobia.

My phobia has presented me with a few difficulties as a cat owner, because I am incapable of removing feathers and carcass from the premises. But preventing domestic cats from catching birds is not difficult, and I have no sympathy with bird lovers who advocate the destruction of cats (as if birds hold some kind of moral high ground when everyone knows Cats are the superior beings). And I believe Wodehouse would agree with me. As discussed in Cats will be Cats, Wodehouse was ruthless with any character he caught flinging cats – or worse.

Despite my phobia I am content, like Bertie Wooster, to wish birds well from a respectful distance. It is only when the plumed party-of-the-second-part attempts a closer relationship that I object. Pigeons are completely lacking in this courtesy and the use of Hawks to manage the feral pigeon population in London was a stroke of genius. I have great respect for birds of prey and I like to see them encouraged. Perhaps I shall become an anti-Pigeon campaigner – it’s a stance which I fear would not meet with Wodehouse’s approval. But these are desperate times.

HP

Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen

A response to the critic Emsworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen

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

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

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

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

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

FretfulPorpentine

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

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

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

Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen

HP