Tag Archives: Bachelors Anonymous

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.

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.

Honeysuckle Cottage by Wodehouse: an antidote to Valentine slush and nonsense

He held rigid views on the art of the novel, and always maintained that an artist with a true reverence for his craft should not descend to goo-ey love stories, but should stick austerely to revolvers, cries in the night, missing papers, mysterious Chinamen, and dead bodies — with or without gash in throat.

From ‘Honeysuckle Cottage’

1927 Meet Mr. Mulliner mycopyThis firm opinion belongs to mystery writer James Rodman, a cousin of Mr Mulliner. But then he inherits Honeysuckle Cottage from his Aunt, the romance novelist Leila J. Pinckney , and her house begins to exert a sinister romantic influence over him.

First, he inserts an unwelcome female into the novel he is writing:  ‘…the most beautiful girl he had ever beheld. A veritable child of Faerie.’

James stared at the paper dumbly. He was utterly perplexed. He had not had the slightest intention of writing anything like this. To begin with, it was a rule with him, and one which he never broke, to allow no girls to appear in his stories. Sinister landladies, yes, and naturally any amount of adventuresses with foreign accents, but never under any pretext what may be broadly described as girls. A detective story, he maintained, should have no heroine. Heroines only held up the action and tried to flirt with the hero when he should have been busy looking for clues, and then went and let the villain kidnap them by some childishly simple trick.

It’s important (as always) not to attribute the views of the character to his creator — P. G. Wodehouse allowed plenty of girls in his stories, often as the central character.

The situation at Honeysuckle Cottage deteriorates further when a girl arrives:

She was an extraordinarily pretty girl. Very sweet and fragile she looked as she stood there under the honeysuckle with the breeze ruffling a tendril of golden hair that strayed from beneath her coquettish little hat. Her eyes were very big and very blue, her rose-tinted face becmingly flushed. All wasted on James though. He disliked all girls, and particularly the sweet, droopy type.

This sickly-sweet specimen of femininity is struck by a passing car and must be nursed back to health at Honeysuckle Cottage.

In some of his stories (Bachelors Anonymous being a notable example) Wodehouse often shows avowed bachelors the error of their ways — converting them to the kind of fellows who slap other fellows’ backs and urge them to marry. James Rodman is made of stern stuff, but he is sorely tested.

Now that the girl was well enough to leave her bed, she spent her time sitting in a chair on the sun-sprinkled porch, and James had to read to her — and poetry, at that; and not the jolly, wholesome sort of poetry the boys are turning out nowadays, either — good, honest stuff about sin and decaying corpses — but the old-fashioned kind with rhymes in it, dealing almost exclusively with love.

Tempted though I am to tell you what happens, this story’s too good to spoil for those of you who might not have read it. All I will say is that it makes excellent Valentine’s reading for anyone who shares James Rodman’s distaste for romantic slush.

One of the curses of being female is the assumption, made by almost everyone, that we are inherently wired to enjoy romance novels (and what passes for romantic comedy at the movies). Weak female characters, in need of a decent meal and a shot of gumption abound. Heroines are painfully self conscious or smugly self-reliant, always beautiful, with a tendency to take themselves far too seriously.

Happily, Wodehouse offers us a third way — where the romance can coexist with intelligence and humour.

HP

Wodehouse on women: Bachelors Anonymous

Bachelors Anonymous by P.G. Wodehouse

Last week, I began a series exploring ‘Wodehouse on Women’ in response to criticism of Indian Summer of an Uncle by Janet Cameron. In Part 1, I opened the case for the defence by demonstrating that Wodehouse did not specifically exclude women as complex characters in his work. One Wodehouse expert has added further evidence, noting that several Wodehouse novels featured well-developed female central characters. The Adventures of Sally (1922) is a good example.

Today, I address the next item on the charge sheet.

‘Men are portrayed as being in league against women’

Cameron writes: ‘the male characters (are shown as) victims who support each other as if repelling an unwelcome, alien force’ and that the ‘need to exclude women even overcomes class-consciousness.’ In order to respond to this, a short summary of Indian Summer of an Uncle (1930) is required.

The storyline

Bertie Wooster‘s Uncle George is ‘a prominent London clubman’ of advanced years and even more advanced waistline: ‘tailors measure him just for the sake of the exercise.’  He spends his life gorging at table and boring anyone who’ll listen with complaints about the lining of his stomach or (especially after a few drinks) a barmaid he once loved. At the beginning of the story, Uncle George announces his intention of marrying a young waitress, Miss Rhoda Platt.

Bertie thinks Uncle George is behaving like an ‘old fathead’ over a young girl, but he has no particular objection to the girl’s social position. Bertie’s only thought is to escape London before his Aunt Agatha – a notorious snob – hears of it and attempts to involve him in breaking off the affair . He is too late however, and Agatha sends him off, most unwillingly, to offer the girl money to ‘release’ Uncle George.

When this scheme fails, Bertie consents to a more subtle plan proposed by Jeeves (whose friend is also in love with the young girl) to introduce Uncle George to the young woman’s Aunt Maudie. Mrs Wilberforce is a large, jovial woman who plans to live with her niece when she is married. Jeeves suggests that Uncle George’s resolve might weaken when he meets this woman, who is definitely ‘of the people’. However, when Bertie orchestrates the meeting, he learns that Aunt Maudie is the barmaid who Uncle George loved and lost in his youth – a fact already known to Jeeves (but withheld from Bertie).

An affecting reunion takes place.

‘Maudie, you don’t look a day older, dash it!’

‘Nor do you, Piggy.’

‘How have you been all these years?’

‘Pretty well. The lining of my stomach isn’t all it should be.’

‘Good Gad! You don’t say so? I have trouble with the lining of my stomach.’

‘It’s a sort of heavy feeling after meals.’

I get a sort of heavy feeling after meals. What are you trying for it?’

When Uncle George and Aunt Maudie become engaged, Bertie is (rightly) annoyed to discover that this was Jeeves’ plan all along. But for the reader, the union between Uncle George and Aunt Maudie is a satisfying end. Far from brooding on the engagement, Bertie’s primary concern is to escape the metropolis before his Aunt Agatha finds out.

Treasons, stratagems, and spoils.

Indian Summer of an Uncle, like most Wodehouse stories, is tangled with plots and sub-plots. The complexity of his plots is one reason why he needed to sketch his characters so lightly and make use of stereotypes. His characters are frequently drawn into league with other characters, not always willingly, with an ambitious and eclectic array of personal motives.

In this story, the following characters work ‘in league’ at some point:

  • Bertie reluctantly colludes with Aunt Agatha to undermine Uncle George – Aunt Agatha’s plan to bribe Rhoda Platt to ‘release’ Uncle George (without his knowledge) parodies popular romantic fiction of the era. It would have been unpleasant for Miss Platt, but she would at least have some choice in the matter -unlike Uncle George.
  • Bertie and Jeeves work in league to end Uncle George’s engagement – While they collude to end Uncle George’s attachment, theirs is not an open and honest partnership. Jeeves hides critical facts from Bertie when he proposes the scheme that will reunite Uncle George with his old flame, Mrs Wilberforce.
  • Bertie and Jeeves unite to escape Aunt Agatha – They conspire to leave town as quickly as possible, before Bertie is asked to intervene in Uncle George’s new engagement.

The charge of men ‘working in league’ is therefore partly correct, but most of the collusion in this story occurs at the expense of besotted Uncle George. But there is never a suggestion that Bertie and Jeeves are acting to save George from the clutches of a female or the state of marriage on principle. For that particular storyline, we must turn to Bachelors Anonymous.

‘…for many years I have belonged to a little circle whose members have decided that the celibate life is best. We call ourselves Bachelors Anonymous… When one of us feels the urge to take a woman out to dinner becoming too strong for him, he seeks the other members of the circle and tells them of his craving, and they reason with him. He pleads that just one dinner cannot do him any harm, but they know what one dinner can lead to. They point out the inevitable results of that first downward step. Once yield to temptation, they say, and dinner will be followed by further dinners, lunches for two and tete-a-tetes in dimly lit boudoirs, until in morning-coat and sponge-bag trousers he stands cowering beside his bride at the alter rails, racked with regret and remorse when it is too late.”

Bachelors Anonymous (1973)

If you’re looking for male characters who plot against women purely on misogynistic principle, the book you want is Bachelors Anonymous; it’s stuffed to the gills with male ‘victims’ banding together to thwart the romantic attachments of their comrades. But it would take a stern and humourless critic to object to Bachelors Anonymous on these grounds, when Wodehouse is clearly poking fun at these men and their sentiments. Later, one of the Bachelors complains:

‘Have you ever considered what marriage means? I do not refer to the ghastly ordeal of the actual service, with its bishops and assistant clergy, its bridesmaids and the influx of all the relations you have been trying to avoid for years, but to what comes after… From what you were saying about the dimple on this girl’s left cheek I gather that she is not without physical allure, but can she drive a car? Somebody has got to drive the car and do the shopping while you are playing golf. Somebody has got to be able to fix a flat tyre… Like so many young men… you have allowed yourself to be ensnared by a pretty face, never asking yourself if the person you are hoping to marry is capable of making out your income tax return and can be relied on to shovel snow while you are curled up beside the fire with a novel of suspense.’

Wodehouse’s misogynist-bachelors are just as ridiculous as the other extremists in his wide cast of characters that includes amateur dictators, snobbish peers, communists, business executives, golfers, Bishop, serious poets – not forgetting the gang of Aunts. By the end of Bachelors Anonymous, his chief Bachelor has seen the light, and espouses just as fanatically on the joys of marriage.

Elsewhere in the world of Wodehouse, men and women can frequently be found plotting and scheming together in harmony, thwarting the machinations of appalling villains of both sexes.   In Piccadilly Jim (1917),  Jimmy Crocker and Ann Chester conspire to kidnap the revolting Ogden Ford. In Leave it Psmith (1923) Psmith unites with Eve Halliday to outwit Rupert Baxter (and a cunning male-female crime duo) to steal Lady Constance’s necklace.

It is true that Wodehouse’s men often collude against women, but the reasons are usually complex and plot driven. There are men who are portrayed as victims of women, and in the Jeeves stories the need to ‘save’ chums from marriage (to particular females) is a recurring plot device. But Bertie also helps friends – male and female – towards marriage – and is supportive of his female friends and relatives. As someone who has read Wodehouse widely, I feel qualified to say there is no pattern of male characters specifically excluding and working against females.

I feel satisfied that we can dismiss this second charge.

HP