Tag Archives: British Library

P.G. Wodehouse in the news

Having apprised regular readers of certain facts about an upcoming Wodehouse exhibition at the British Library, the keen observer may have detected an absence of new material here at Plumtopia. But the world of Wodehouse has not suffered. Indeed, it has been buzzing along quite nicely.

The P G Wodehouse Society dinner

On 11 October, the P G Wodehouse Society (UK) held its biennial dinner. This is always a special occasion, and in 2018 included readings from Neil Pearson, Katy Reece, and Robert Daws. Daws is well known to Wodehouse fans for playing Tuppy Glossop in the Jeeves and Wooster television series. He also gave a performed reading of ‘Wodehouse in Wonderland’ — a play by William Humble — at the recent Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature Film & Music.

The biggest news item of the year was also announced at the dinner.

P.G. Wodehouse memorial for Westminster Abbey

The momentous news — that a memorial stone for Wodehouse is planned for Westminster Abbey — has been widely reported (see Patrick Kidd in The Times, Alison Flood in The Guardian).

This announcement signifies:

“… a recognition of Plum’s place in the literary pantheon. His stone will deservedly lie among those of some of the greatest writers in this country’s history and his own literary heroes.”
(P G Wodehouse Society Chairman, Hilary Bruce
)

Empress Michiko sparks enthusiasm for Wodehouse in Japan

The Empress of Japan recently announced that she will spend her upcoming retirement reading as much as possible – and P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster books are at the top of her reading pile. This has sparked a rise in demand for Wodehouse’s work in Japan – with sales increasing from around 100 books per anum to 100 per day, according to publishers.  Hopefully this will lead to renewed demand for Wodehouse translator Tamaki Morimura to translate more of Wodehouse’s work.

Jeeves and the King of Clubs  

schottWhat makes this new Wodehouse homage by Ben Schott different from all the other Wodehouse homages that have been written over the years? Well, like Sebastian Faulks’ ‘Jeeves and the Wedding Bells’, this one has been blessed with the approval of the Wodehouse estate. Released in November, it has received kind reviews from Patrick Kidd (The Times) and Sophie Ratcliffe (known to Wodehouse fans as the editor of P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters).

A Plum Assignment plumassignment

Another new release of particular interest this year is ‘A Plum Assignment: Discourses on P. G. Wodehouse and His World’ by Curtis Armstrong (film and television actor) and Wodehouse expert Elliott Milstein.

What Ho! At the British Library

The British Library’s Wodehouse exhibition opened in November and will continue through to February 2019. They’ve also hosted several Wodehouse related events, with the next one planned for 21 February 2019 — an evening of Wodehouse stories and song, including Wodehouse biographer Robert McCrum. Tickets for the previous event sold out, so don’t wait too long for this one (tickets here).

Perfect Nonsense in North America

Wodehouse fans in the USA will finally be able to enjoy the delights of Perfect Nonsense, the Goodale brothers’ delightful stage adaptation of The Code of the Woosters. Its first US performance will run March 21 to April 14 2019 in Hartford, Connecticut (tickets here).

Keeping up to date with all the latest Wodehouse news  

Personal demands (wheels within wheels) over the last few months have made it difficult to write at length, but you can find me on Twitter @HonoriaPlum for a daily dose of Wodehouse, including any Wodehouse news that comes to hand.

I have grand plans for Plumtopia in 2019, and trust this brief absence has not caused any significant loss to the world of blogging, Wodehouse, or indeed literature.

To give Wodehouse the last word:

There was once a millionaire who, having devoted a long life to an unceasing struggle to amass his millions, looked up from his death-bed and said plaintively, ‘And now, perhaps, someone will kindly tell me what’s it’s all been about.’ I get that feeling sometimes, looking back. Couldn’t I, I ask myself, have skipped one or two of those works of mine and gone off and played golf without doing English literature any irreparable harm? Take, for instance, that book The Swoop, which was one of the paper-covered shilling books so prevalent around 1909. I wrote the whole 25,000 words of it in five days, and the people who read it, if placed end to end, would have reached from Hyde Park Corner to about the top of Arlington Street. Was it worth the trouble?

Yes, I think so, for I had a great deal of fun writing it. I have had a great deal of fun — one-sided possibly — writing all my books.

P.G. Wodehouse (Over Seventy)

I love writing Plumtopia — thanks for reading again this year.

HP

P.G. Wodehouse exhibition at The British Library

In 2016, I had the great privilege of visiting the home of P.G. Wodehouse’s grandson to see his extensive family collection of Wodehouse treasures, including drafts, completed manuscripts, letters, and Wodehouse’s own reading library.

As you might imagine, I was giddy with excitement throughout the visit. Highlights included Wodehouse’s edition of Shakespeare’s complete works (which he took with him when captured by the Nazis in France in 1940), letters from Agatha Christie and Richard Burton (among others), Wodehouse’s own reading library and comfy chair, and a 1961 Christmas gift from Evelyn Waugh inscribed to: ‘The head of my profession’ . Other treasures included Wodehouse’s own statue of the Infant Samuel at Prayer and a Cow Creamer, both significant artifacts for anyone familiar with his work.

In the space of a short visit, it was not possible to read many documents or examine every treasure, but much of this priceless collection has been on loan to the British Library since late 2016. They’ve had time to go over their haul, and are now ready to present it to the public in a new exhibition: P G Wodehouse: The Man and His Work.

This is a ‘must-see’ event for any Wodehouse fan who can get themselves to London, from 27 November 2018. The exhibition itself is free. The material on display will be entirely new for most fans — as we have no Wodehouse museum. If you’re in town on December 6th, Wodehouse expert Tony Ring will also be giving a talk on The Wit and Wisdom of P G Wodehouse.

I’m likely to miss this, due to being in the bally wrong hemisphere, but I look forward to the reports from other visitors.

Enjoy!

HP

Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party for P.G. Wodehouse

HPartyAgatha Christie’s novel Hallowe’en Party, the 39th outing for Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, was first published In November 1969.

Christie dedicated it:

To P. G. Wodehouse — whose books and stories have brightened my life for many years. Also, to show my pleasure in his having been kind enough to tell me he enjoyed my books.

In February 2015, many of Agatha Christie’s letters were published to mark the 125th anniversary of her birth. They included a letter from P.G.Wodehouse, thanking Christie for the dedication.

Wodehouse and Christie were mutual admirers of each other’s work, and had begun corresponding fifteen years earlier, although a 1955 letter from Wodehouse to his friend Denis Mackail shows their relationship got off to a rocky start.

…I’m seething with fury. Sir Allen Lane of Penguin was over here not long ago and told me that Agatha Christie simply loved my stuff and I must write to her and tell her how much I liked hers. So with infinite sweat I wrote her a long gushing letter, and what comes back? About three lines, the sort of thing you write to an unknown fan. ‘So glad you have enjoyed my criminal adventures’ – that sort of thing.

The really bitter part was that she said the book of mine she liked best was The Little Nugget –1908 production. And the maddening thing is that one has got to go on reading her, because she is about the only writer today who is readable.

(Sophie Ratcliffe’s ‘P.G.Wodehouse: A Life in Letters’)

But as Wodehouse himself wrote, in ‘Strychnine in the Soup’ (Mulliner Nights): “There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.” Despite this inauspicious beginning, Wodehouse and Christie continued corresponding until the early 1970s (Wodehouse died in 1975). As prolific and popular writers, they had much in common. They discussed their methods, their work, and in later years, their ailments.

In one letter, Wodehouse wrote to Christie:

I often wonder how you write, — I mean do you sit upright at a desk? I ask because I find these days I can’t get out of an arm chair and face my desk, and when I write in an arm chair I have the greatest difficulty in reading what I have written. This may be because I have a deckchair, a Boxer and one of our seven cats sitting on me. But oh, how I have slowed up. It’s terrible.

(Sophie Ratcliffe’s ‘P.G.Wodehouse: A Life in Letters’)

Agatha Christie’s letters to P.G. Wodehouse are contained in the Wodehouse archives, which I was privileged to view in 2016. Among the treasures I discovered during my visit, was a letter from Agatha Christie dated 15 October 1969, telling Wodehouse of her dedication of Halowe’en Party to him.

Other letters from Christie recount her pleasure on finishing a novel, frustrations with proof readers’ corrections, and her delight that their waxworks were ‘…sitting side by side in Madam Tussauds’ in 1974. These letters, many of them handwritten, were among the Wodehouse archives acquired by the British Library last year.

This will be welcome news for Wodehouse readers who are also fans of Agatha Christie – of whom there are many. A 2014 poll in the Fans of P.G. Wodehouse Facebook group suggests Agatha Christie is the Number 1 author Wodehouse lovers read when not reading Wodehouse.

I am happy to count myself among them. I started reading Agatha Christie in my early teens — a natural progression from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series, which I had collected and read many times over as a child. By the time I encountered my first Wodehouse story, in my 21st year, I had a solid grounding in the culture and era in which he wrote, and the crime genre he so admired (which he often incorporated into his work). Having also read my allotted share of Shakespeare and Chaucer by this time, I was not frightened by the complexity of Wodehouse’s style, or his extensive literary, classical and biblical references.

Agatha Christie needs no endorsement from me — she is the top selling novelist of all time. But I particularly recommend her books to people wanting to prepare younger readers for enjoying Wodehouse at a later age.

Of course, I shall take it as read that some of you were child geniuses, devouring Wodehouse novels from the age of five, and that your own child began (under your expert tutelage) to read Wodehouse — and possibly Shakespeare — in the womb. Top stuff, old Bean! However, the average modern child is likely to be thoroughly put off Wodehouse, whose writing is more complex than he’s given credit for, if it’s thrust upon them too soon. I suggest these wilderness years can be productively spent reading Agatha Christie instead.

Murders are not as uncommon as you might think in the often gruesome world of Young Adult fiction. Unless your prospective younger reader is particularly sensitive, they may well appreciate the central murder in Hallowe’en Party — of a boastful thirteen year old called Joyce, during a children’s party.

Christie also created some terrific young heroines, try Cat Among the Pigeons, and The Secret Adversary.  When the time comes to move on to Wodehouse, the adventures of Joan Valentine in Something Fresh, and Eve Halliday in Leave it to Psmith, will make great places to start.

In fact, I think I’ll finish with a dash of Joan Valentine and Ashe Marson now.

To set the scene for you, Ashe is struggling to come up with a plot for his new mystery story, which he has decided to call ‘The Wand of Death’, when he is interrupted by a girl (Joan Valentine).

‘I am sorry for your troubles,’ said Ashe firmly, ‘but we are wandering from the point. What is a wand of death?’

A wand of death?’

‘A wand of death.’

The girl paused reflectively.

‘Why, of course it’s the sacred ebony stick stolen from the Indian temple which is supposed to bring death to whoever possesses it. The hero gets hold of it, and the priests dog him and send him threatening messages. What else could it be?’

Ashe could not restrain his admiration.

‘This is genius. I see it all. The hero calls in Gridley Quayle, and that patronizing ass, by the aid of a series of wicked coincidences, solves the mystery, and there I am with another month’s work done.’

She looked at him with interest.

‘Are you the author of “Gridley Quayle”?’

‘Don’t tell me you read him?’

‘I do not read him. But he is published by the same firm that publishes “Home Gossip”, and I can’t help seeing his cover sometimes while I am waiting to see the editress.’

Ashe felt like one who meets a boyhood’s chum on a desert island. Here was a real bond between them.

‘Do the Mammoth publish you too? Why we are comrades in misfortune — fellow-serfs. We should be friends. Shall we be friends?’

‘I should be delighted.’

(From: Something Fresh, 1915)

May all your pumpkins be prize-winners this Halloween.

HP

 

The Wodehouse Effect: Why India Loves Jeeves (21 May at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, London)

What Ho!

Another treat for Wodehouse lovers is taking place at the British Library, this time as part of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival. A panel, involving MP and Author Shashi Tharoor, MP and journalist Swapan Dasgupta, business writer Mihir S. Sharma, and Wodehouse expert Tony Ring will be discussing:

The Wodehouse Effect : Why India Loves Jeeves: – JLF at The British Library

It’s an intriguing subject, and one that provokes a good deal of discussion amongst the chaps and chapettes in our little Wodehouse community. (Yes, chapettes! Don’t let the all-male panel or misguided notions about Wodehouse appealing mainly to men mislead you — he has a large and enthusiastic following among Indian women).

Many people have tried to explain the reasons for Wodehouse’s popularity in India, including Shashi Tharoor in a 2012 article How the Woosters Captured Delhi. In particular, he highlights Wodehouse’s wonderful use of English language.

English was undoubtedly Britain’s most valuable and abiding legacy to India, and educated Indians, a famously polyglot people, rapidly learned and delighted in it – both for itself, and as a means to various ends. These ends were both political (for Indians turned the language of the imperialists into the language of nationalism) and pleasureable (for the language granted access to a wider world of ideas and entertainments). It was only natural that Indians would enjoy a writer who used language as Wodehouse did – playing with its rich storehouse of classical precedents, mockingly subverting the very canons colonialism had taught Indians they were supposed to venerate.

There’s something in this theory, which might also help to explain why Wodehouse is popular in countries like the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium and Norway, whose inhabitants are often gifted bi-linguists (if that’s the word I want, Jeeves).

As an outsider looking in, I feel ill-qualified to comment, but I’m looking forward to hearing the panel’s theories on the subject. Yours too! Please do share your thoughts in the comments below.

Follow the link below for more details about the event, and to register.

The Wodehouse Effect : Why India Loves Jeeves: – JLF at The British Library

Post script 13 June 2017:

This event was recorded and has now been shared via You Tube.

P.G. Wodehouse: A musical celebration at the British Library — Report

BL event.JPG
Reading from L to R: Hal Cazalet, Edward Cazalet, Lara Cazalet, (Robert McCrum seated behind Lara), Sophie Ratcliffe and Tony Ring

On 28 January, the British Library celebrated their recent acquisition of the Wodehouse archives with P.G. Wodehouse: A musical celebration. As the title suggests, the event celebrated Wodehouse’s lesser known but important contribution as a musical theatre lyricist, working in collaboration with Guy Bolton, Jerome Kern and others (including George and Ira Gershwin). 

I felt privileged to be among those present as singer Hal Cazalet and actress Lara Cazalet (Wodehouse’s great grandchildren) and pianist Stephen Higgins performed songs from the Wodehouse songbook, including: ‘Put Me in My Little Cell’, ‘You Never Knew About Me’, ‘The Enchanted Train’, ‘Oh Gee Oh Joy’, ‘Bill’, and ‘Anything Goes’.

Hal Cazalet also provided a rapt audience with some professional insights into his grandfather’s methods as a lyricist, and his influence on later developments in musical theatre. Hal put forward a convincing argument that Wodehouse’s work as a lyricist not only influenced, but improved Wodehouse’s writing.

A highlight of the day was listening to Sir Edward Cazalet, one of the few people living today who knew ‘Plum’ and Ethel Wodehouse well. Edward’s reminiscences about his grandfather were affectionate and deeply moving – and fans will be touched to learn that Edward still has the pencil his grandfather was holding when he died.

The proceedings were further enhanced by observations from assembled experts, including Wodehouse’s biographer Robert McCrum (Wodehouse: A Life), Sophie Ratcliffe (who edited PG Wodehouse: A Life in Letters) and Tony Ring, whose extensive research and numerous works on Wodehouse include the multi-volume Wodehouse Concordances.

After the formal proceedings, came the infinite pleasures of meeting other Wodehouse lovers – both old friends and new ones. It was wonderful to meet members of the Dutch P.G. Wodehouse Society, who had travelled to London especially for the event, online friends from the Facebook Fans of P.G. Wodehouse group, U.K. Society members, and even a few celebrities. A socially inclined gaggle of us, reluctant for the festivities to end, moved on to a local hostelry where the feast of reason and flow of soul continued long into a splendid Winter evening.

I recommend that you also read Mike Swaddling’s account of the event at the UK Wodehouse Society website (with pictures by Dutch Wodehouse Society President Peter Nieuwenhuizen) via British Library Celebrates Plum the Lyricist (Wodehouse Society report)

HP

 

P G Wodehouse: A Musical Celebration at The British Library

P G Wodehouse: A Musical Celebration – The British Library

On Saturday 28 January 2017, the British Library will be hosting an event, celebrating P.G. Wodehouse’s life and work, including his lesser known contribution to musical theatre.

If you’re in London, this is an opportunity to hear Sir Edward Cazalet share memories of his Grandfather ‘Plum’, and listen to an expert panel (including biographer Robert McCrum). Wodehouse’s grandchildren, the musician Hal Cazalet and actress Lara Cazalet, will also be performing some of Wodehouse’s songs.

Tickets are available from £10-£15 –I’ve got mine!

See the British Library’s event page to register:  P G Wodehouse: A Musical Celebration – The British Library

If London’s too far away, there are some excellent recordings of Wodehouse’s songs available. Try The Land Where the Good Songs Go – The Lyrics of P.G. Wodehouse performed by Hal Cazalet and Sylvia McNair, and The Siren’s Song: Wodehouse & Kern on Broadway by Maria Jette and Dan Chouinard.

Happy Christmas, all!

HP