Tag Archives: Evelyn Waugh

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.



P.G. Wodehouse reading guide

So you’d like to give P.G. Wodehouse a try, but don’t know where to start? Or perhaps you’ve read the Jeeves stories and want to discover the wider world of Wodehouse.  

You’ve come to the right place.

There is no correct approach to reading Wodehouse. If you ask a dozen Wodehouse fans, you’ll get at least a dozen different suggestions — and picking up the first book you come across can be as good a starting point as any.  But if you want more practical advice, this guide will help you discover the joys of Wodehouse — from Jeeves and Wooster to Blandings, and the ‘hidden gems‘ beyond. 


Bertie Wooster & Jeeves 

Bertie Wooster and his manservant Jeeves are P.G. Wodehouse’s most celebrated characters. They appear in a series of short stories and novels, all masterfully crafted for optimum joy. Bertie Wooster’s narrative voice is one of the greatest delights in all literature.

Get started with The Inimitable Jeeves (1923) short stories arranged as an episodic novel from the start of the saga. Or leap ahead to Right Ho, Jeeves (1934; US title Brinkley Manor).

See the Jeeves and Wooster reading list for a full guide to the series.

Even Comrade Butt cast off his gloom for a space and immersed his whole being in scrambled eggs, only coming to the surface at intervals to grab another cup of tea.

The Inimitable Jeeves



Evelyn Waugh put it best when he said: ‘the gardens of Blandings Castle are the original gardens of Eden from which we are all exiled.’

Lord Emsworth wants only to be left alone to enjoy his garden and tend to his prize winning pig, the Empress of Blandings, without interference from his relations, neighbours, guests and imposters. So many imposters. 

Get started with Something Fresh (1915; US title Something New), or the classic short story collection Blandings Castle and Elsewhere (1935).

See the Blandings reading list for a complete guide to the series.

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

‘The Custody of the Pumpkin’ in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere


Psmith (the ‘p’ is silent as in pshrimp) made his first appearance in an early Wodehouse school story. Wodehouse knew when he was onto a good thing, and Psmith made the transition to adult novels along with his author. Adoration for Psmith among Wodehouse fans borders on the cultish, and for good reason (he certainly makes me swoon).

Get started: From the beginning with Mike and Psmith or start with his final appearance in Leave it to Psmith (1923) and work your way backwards. Both are wonderful.

Mike nodded. A sombre nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if somebody had met him in 1812 and said, “So, you’re back from Moscow, eh?”

Mike and Psmith

Ukridge by P.G. Wodehouse


The character Wodehouse readers love to hate, Ukridge is a blighter and a scoundrel, but his adventures are comedy gold. If you’ve ever had a friend or relation who pinches items from your wardrobe without asking, and is perpetually ‘borrowing’ money, this series is for you.  

Get started: With the short story collection Ukridge (1924) or the novel Love Among the Chickens (revised in 1921).

Somebody met him in New York, just off a cattle-ship. Somebody else saw him in Buenos Ayres. Somebody, again, spoke sadly of having been pounced on by him at Monte Carlo and touched for a fiver. It was not until I settled down in London that he came back into my life. We met in Piccadilly one day, and resumed our relations where they had broken off. Old associations are strong, and the fact that he was about my build and so could wear my socks and shirts drew us very close together.

‘Ukridge’s Dog College’ in Ukridge


Uncle Fred

Pongo Twistleton’s Uncle Fred is a dapper old gent with a twinkle in his eye and a penchant for adventure. The sort of chap who can adopt an alias at the drop of a hat, and frequently does. He first appeared in the short story, Uncle Fred Flits By (1935), which was voted the favourite short story by members of the international Wodehouse Societies.

Get started: Read Uncle Fred Flits By in the story collection Young Men in Spats (1936) or try one of the Uncle Fred novels, Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939).

I don’t know if you happen to know what the word ‘excesses’ means, but those are what Pongo’s Uncle Fred from the country, when in London, invariably commits.

‘Uncle Fred Flits By’ in Young Men in Spats


Short Stories

Wodehouse was a master of the short story format and would be classed alongside Chekhov as one of the greats if he hadn’t been a humourist.

Get started: Meet Mr. Mulliner (1927) is the first in the superb Mulliner series. For the Oldest Member golfing stories try The Clicking of Cuthbert (1922; US title Golf Without Tears). No understanding of golf is required.

Vladimir specialized in grey studies of hopeless misery, where nothing happened till page three hundred and eighty, when the moujik decided to commit suicide.

The Clicking of Cuthbert

Piccadilly Jim by P.G. Wodehouse 2

The novels

Plot spoilers are less of a problem with Wodehouse’s ‘stand-alone’ novels, though some are connected by recurring characters. There are plenty to choose from, but if you’re chronologically inclined, some good examples from his early period include Uneasy Money (1916), Piccadilly Jim (1917) and The Small Bachelor (1927).

The residence of Mr. Peter Pett, the well-known financier, on Riverside Drive is one the leading eyesores of that breezy and expensive boulevard. As you pass by in your limousine, or while enjoying ten cents worth of fresh air on top of a green omnibus, it jumps out and bites at you.

Piccadilly Jim


The School Stories

Wodehouse began writing at a young age and his early school stories depict English public-school life as he knew it — with plenty of sports, as well as the literary and classical references he used so cleverly in his adult work. 

Get started: With Wodehouse’s first published novel, The Pothunters (1902) or head straight for his best work in the genre Mike and Psmith.

See the School Stories Reading List for a guide to the series.

The chronological challenge
Many of Wodehouse’s stories first appeared in magazines such as The Strand (UK) and The Saturday Evening Post (US), but weren’t always published in book form in the same order, or even under the same titles. If you read Wodehouse in order of book publication you will encounter spoilers, particularly in the Blandings series. Wodehouse also rewrote some of his early stories, so the beginning isn’t always the best place to start. It’s also helpful to know that Wodehouse’s books were often published under different titles in the UK and US.

In putting this series together, I’ve referred to many excellent online resources for Wodehouse fans (such as Neil Midkiff’s outstanding short story and novel listings) and invaluable advice from Wodehouse expert Tony Ring. Any errors, omissions and loony opinions that remain are entirely my own.

Where to buy Wodehouse
Unless you are particularly fortunate, your local bookstore is unlikely to stock much Wodehouse, or even know which books to start with. But they should be able to order books for you. If your local booksellers are as lovely as mine, this adds considerably to the pleasure.

Most books are currently in print and available online (links included in this series), including second hand and rare editions. Don’t be alarmed by the pricing of first and collectable editions — it is possible to read your way through Wodehouse relatively cheaply in paperback, and most titles are now available as Ebooks.

And don’t forget your local library.

Happy reading!


More posts in this series:

With more reading lists to follow.


A Visit to the Wodehouse family archives

Side view of house.JPG
Home of Sir Edward Cazalet and his wife Camilla, Lady Cazalet

On a beautiful autumn day, I left London’s Victoria Station for the glorious Sussex countryside to visit the home of Sir Edward Cazalet, P.G. Wodehouse’s step-grandson. I had met Edward and his wife Camilla, Lady Cazalet, in London during the summer, and they generously invited me to visit their home to view the family’s archive of Wodehouse materials.

The train journey was a pleasant, uneventful affair, which did not seem, to me, to be in quite the proper Wodehouse spirit. I ought to have been playing ‘Persian Monarchs’ with a genial stranger, or thumbing through a volume of poems by Ralston McTodd. But the closest approximation I could muster was an affinity for Lord Emsworth.

Lord Emsworth, in a train moving in the direction of home, was behaving like a horse heading for his stable. He snorted eagerly, and spoke at length and with emotion of roses and herbaceous borders.

Leave it to Psmith (1923)

It did seem a pity to be traveling merely as myself, and not an imposter. There is a lot to be said for adopting an alias, particularly when your own persona is as dull as my own. Polly Pott managed to pass herself off at Blandings as Gwendolyne Glossop, daughter of the eminent nerve specialist Sir Roderick Glossop (in Uncle Fred in the Springtime). With a bit of forethought, I might have presented myself as his other daughter. But forethought was never my strong suit, and I arrived with a sheepish sense of having let the side down.

I needn’t have worried. Edward Cazalet’s deep affection for his grandfather and enthusiasm for his work ensured a mutual understanding from the start. I spent the day giddy with joy as we looked through Edward’s impressive archive of Plum’s letters and personal materials, including notes for stories and draft manuscripts in various stages of devolvement.

Much Obliged Jeeves manuscript and volumes of Wodehouse’s letters

Wodehouse’s letters include correspondence with well-known figures of the day, including Agatha Christie, Evelyn Waugh, and Richard Burton. Reading his personal correspondence with family and friends (a tremendous privilege) left a lingering impression of Plum, the man. The impression is a good one. His private letters (many of them published in Sophie Ratcliffe’s P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters) are imbued with the same qualities as his fictional work, displaying sharp wit tempered by a generous spirit.


The other night, having run out of ‘Murine’, Ethel squirted some stuff into her eyes which the vet prescribed for Wonder, and a quarter of an hour later complained of violent pains in the head and said that the room was all dark and she couldn’t read the print of her Saturday Evening Post. Instead of regarding this as a bit of luck, as anyone who knows the present Saturday Evening Post, she got very alarmed and remained so till next morning, when all was clear again. It just shows what a dog has to endure. Though, as a matter of fact, I believe dogs’ eyes are absolutely insensitive. I don’t think dogs bother about their eyes at all, relying mostly on their noses.

      Letter to Denis Mackail (March 28, 1946)

P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

There is also a good deal of love in them.

My darling Angel Bunny.

Gosh, how I am missing my loved one! The house is a morgue without you. Do you realise that – except for two nights I spent in NY and the time you were in the hospital – we haven’t been separated for a night for twenty years!! This morning Jed waddled into my room at about nine, and I said to myself ‘My Bunny’s awake early’ and was just starting for your room when I remembered. It’s too awful being separated like this.

Letter to Ethel Wodehouse (July 6, 1967)

P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

lawn-in-sunshineIn the afternoon, Edward took me on a walking tour of the family farm and shared memories of afternoon walks with Plum, during visits to his grandfather’s home in Remsenburg (Long Island, New York). Nature had pulled up her socks and ordered us an exceptionally fine day to compliment the rolling farmland views, and I found myself pondering as Rogers, or possibly Hammerstein, once pondered, whether somewhere in my youth or childhood I had done something good.

Edward and horse by Elizabeth Frink.JPG
Edward Cazalet (with horse sculpture by Elisabeth Frink)

Plum’s library and chair

This joyous feeling reached a crescendo shortly before the cocktail hour, when I visited the cosy attic in which Plum’s treasured possessions have been lovingly preserved by Edward and his family. It contains Plum’s reading chair, his hat and pipe, golf clubs — even his personal statue of the infant Samuel at Prayer. The room is lined with bookshelves containing books from Wodehouse’s own library. The remaining walls are adorned with family photographs and sporting memorabilia.


Never a brilliant conversationalist, I was unequal to expressing this pleasure to my hosts at the time. I simply alternated between gaping and grinning for the remainder of my visit.

Plum’s personal statue of the Infant Samuel at Prayer

I don’t recall doing ‘something good’ in my youth or childhood. Or since, for that matter. But I did spend five years in Van Diemen’s Land without the usual preliminaries of having committed a crime. Perhaps my visit to the Cazalets was Fate’s way of evening out the ledger.


Thoroughly gruntled!


Souffles and spades

‘You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendor.’

Stephen Fry

Most Wodehouse readers will be familiar with this quotation, printed on thousands of new editions, and quoted ad nauseam by reviewers and fans alike. Unfortunately it is sometimes bandied about to support the argument that Wodehouse and his work ought not be discussed — that Mr Fry has spoken and we, mere readers, should restrict ourselves to spouting quotations (or better, dignified silence). As someone who blogs about Wodehouse, I naturally take a different view. Nor am I convinced that this is what Stephen Fry meant.

The quotation comes from Fry’s introduction to What Ho! The best of P.G. Wodehouse (republished in The Independent). Fry suggests the ‘miraculous verbal felicities’ of Wodehouse’s writing are best experienced by reading his work. No attempt to explain or analyse the mechanics of Wodehouse’s prose style can ever do justice to the real thing, and Fry does not attempt it himself, offering instead some well chosen quotations, including this favourite:

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

It is in this context that Fry says: ‘You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection…’ His point is that Wodehouse’s writing ought not be clinically dissected — or taken apart to see how it ticks. And unless you are a writer, looking to learn your craft from Wodehouse’s example, this is sound advice. The rest of Fry’s piece is ripe with discussion on the subject of Wodehouse, his life and contribution to our happiness. This includes, I’m sorry to say, further condemnation of those who seek to delve deeper into Wodehouse’s world.

Many have sought to “explain” Wodehouse, to psychoanalyse his world, to place his creations under the microscope of modern literary criticism. Such a project, as an article in Punch observed, is like “taking a spade to a soufflé”. His world of sniffily disapproving aunts, stern and gooseberry-eyed butlers, impatient uncles, sporty young girls, natty young men who throw bread rolls in club dining-rooms yet blush and stammer in the presence of the opposite sex – all may be taken as evidence of a man stuck in a permanently pre-pubescent childhood, were it not for the extraordinary, magical and blessed miracle of Wodehouse’s prose, a prose that dispels doubt much as sunlight dispels shadows, a prose that renders any criticism, positive or negative, absolutely powerless and, frankly, silly.

If we agree with Stephen Fry on this point, it puts many of us on shakier ground. Indeed, there are devoted fans happily psychoanalysing Wodehouse aunts, drones and sporty young girls at this very moment in an active Facebook group boasting nearly 10,000 members. And what of the various Wodehouse societies around the world that produce more scholarly work, and unite people with a shared love of Wodehouse? Is the otherwise genial Mr Fry really attempting to dictate terms and deny small pleasures to fellow Wodehouse-lovers? Perhaps his reference to ‘the microscope of modern literary criticism’ indicates a more specific, academic target.

The late Christopher Hitchens left no room for doubt in his condemnation:

Indeed, if anything could ever put one off being a Wodehouse fan, it would be the somewhat cultish element among his admirers and biographers. Such people have a tendency to allude to him as “The Master.” They publish monographs about the exact geographical location of Blandings Castle, or the Drones Club. They hold dinners at which breadstuffs are thrown. Their English branch publishes the quarterly Wooster Sauce, and their American branch publishes the quarterly Plum Lines: two painfully unfunny titles.

Christopher Hitchens

Censuring fellow Wodehouse lovers for such harmless pleasures is grossly unkind. It also smacks of hypocrisy, for Hitchens and Fry have both enjoyed the privilege of sharing their love of Wodehouse in their own way. Each has written at length about Wodehouse and the influence of his work on their lives. Both men have also had the privilege of writing introductions to modern editions and collected works.

Christopher Buckley reported in a piece about Hitchens:

When we met for another lunch, one that lasted only five hours, he was all a-grin with pride as he handed me a newly minted paperback reissue of Wodehouse with “Introduction by Christopher Hitchens.” “Doesn’t get much better than that,” he said, and who could not agree?

Christopher Buckley in the New Yorker

This is a privilege denied to the ordinary reader, but our capacity to enjoy Wodehouse is equal to that of Hitchens and Fry. Perhaps more so, for neither man could understand the joy of being momentarily lifted from the drudgery, poverty and despair of a working-class life into Wodehouse’s world. Appreciating Wodehouse is not a science, nor a competitive sport. There are no rules, and we should resist any attempts to impose limitations.

For too long, I have worried about overstepping the boundaries laid out by Fry and others, when really this censure is surely as silly as the activities they disapprove of. I am an admirer of both Fry and Hitchens, and I feel sure there is room for friendly disagreement between fans of such a genial writer as Wodehouse. But when it comes to dust-jacket endorsements, I prefer the more generous sentiments of Evelyn Waugh, quoted on the old Penguin paperback editions.

Mr Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in — ‘

Evelyn Waugh in a B.B.C. broadcast

This is the stuff to give the troops! Waugh doesn’t claim Wodehouse for himself — instead he shows the sort of pull-together spirit that Ukridge and I like to see. His words are prophetic too, as the captivity of modern life looks pretty dashed irksome from where I’m sitting. In addition to my daily dose of Wodehouse, writing this blog is one of my few pleasures, and if anyone finds my output silly I shall be delighted. I also plan to attend my first Wodehouse Society Convention later this year (Psmith in Pseattle). If breadstuffs are thrown, I shall be well pleased.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pop off to the local Garden Centre before it closes. We’re having souffle for dinner and I need to purchase the appropriate cutlery.


Cover Story: 5 people share their ideas about Classic Novels they’ve never read

I wrote this a few years ago at my personal blog, which I am now decommissioning. I thought I’d save this piece to share here with fellow Wodehouse lovers.

This week, I enjoyed a piece called Judging a Book by Its Cover: A 6-year-old guesses what classic novels are all about. It inspired me to conduct a similar exercise of my own. I showed the covers of 7 classic novels – one from each category of  The Guardian’s list of 1000 novels everyone must read) – to five people, of different ages, who had not read these books. I asked them to consider what, if anything, they already knew about the book, what they thought it was about, and whether they’d like to read it. I was particularly interested to compare how their responses varied.

The subjects were:

  • Amelia, a bright 6-year-old girl.
  • Ian, an intelligent 28-year-old who has struggled with reading throughout his life due to a learning disability (he can read words, but loses track of meaning in complex sentences).
  • Stephanie, a 37-year-old avid reader with eclectic tastes.
  • Bill, a 43-year-old who likes science fiction.
  • Lena, a 63-year-old who reads popular psychology and spiritual non-fiction.

Decline And Fall by Evelyn Waugh

“a bit of an odd cover for a historical book.”

AMELIA: thought this might be a P.G. Wodehouse book because “one of them looks like Jeeves.” She thought the story might about things that fall off. “Coats might fall off people or cars might fall into water.”

IAN: thinks it might be “about somebody gaining money or gaining power and then losing it.” Asked if he would be interested to read it, he wasn’t convinced it would be worth reading.

STEPHANIE: “I don’t know what it’s about, but I loved Vile Bodies and I’d love to read this. It might be about the same kind of thing – decadent living and debauchery.”

BILL: “I’ve heard of this, it’s a history of the Roman Empire. It’s a bit of an odd cover for a historical book. I would have expected Roman Emperors or statues of things. Something a bit more Roman. Have I got the right book? It’s not the sort of thing I’d usually read.” After reading the blurb Bill said, “That sounds better  – I might actually give it a read.”

LENA: “It’s probably set in the early 1900s – 1930s, perhaps a romance between people from different social stratas.” When the plot was described, Lena was surprised. “It hadn’t entered my mind that it might be a comedy. I’ve heard Evelyn Waugh is a good writer so I’d certainly give it some consideration on the basis of that – and the period in which it’s set. I quite like things of that era.”

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Not Anna Karenina

AMELIA: “It might be about “someone stealing and then they had to get in jail. It doesn’t sound very nice. It sounds a little bit mean.”

IAN:  “I have heard of this.” Ian thought the story would be “exactly what is says: steal the bread and you get your fingers cut off; do the crime, do the time.” He wouldn’t read it, but might watch the film version, “as long as it’s not subtitled.”

STEPHANIE: “I have a copy of this. I know I should read it.” She thought it might be about “Russians suffering.” When the plot was described, Stephanie said, it was “just as I suspected – grim and depressing.”

BILL: “I’m not all that hot on Russian novels”. Bill had heard of the title and author, but wasn’t really sure – or interested – in what it was about. After reading a description of the book, he was still “not really interested.” He elaborated by saying, “I tend to think of Russian authors as being a bit too depressing.”

LENA: “It’s certainly one that I’ve heard of. I’d guess that it’s set in Russia, possibly in war-time. Perhaps it’s about a captain in the Russian army – there’s a woman involved who’s married to somebody important, but she’s attracted to this dashing young officer and they have wild fling, and get caught. He’s sent to the Russian front and ‘disposed of’.” After reading the synopsis, Lena was interested in reading further” ‘I think that sounds really interesting.”

Ulysses by James Joyce

“…about a man who has no brain”

AMELIA: “It might be about a man and he has no brain and he does not know what any answer is to anything.” She thought “it might be a little bit funny, so I think I do want to read it.”

IAN:  “Is this about that over 50’s motorcycle group? Maybe he’s a blind guy who is toffee-nosed and thinks he’s better than everyone else. ” After hearing a synopsis, Ian said, “265,000 words about one day! That sounds like my Mum. She could talk for half an hour about going to the shop.”

STEPHANIE: I’ve read a biography of James Joyce and I’ve read Portrait of the Artist. I don’t find Joyce very appealing, and a lot of the people who talk about him are really pretentious. I wouldn’t mind betting half them haven’t read it (Ulysses).” After hearing a synopsis of the book, Stephanie thought it sounded “…pretty pretentious as well.”

BILL:  “It’s a bit of a classic. He named it after the Greek story by.. Homer isn’t it?” Bill doesn’t know what it’s about, but he remembers reading somewhere that it’s one of those book he ‘should’ read.” After reading the description, Bill is less keen. “I’m not really into stream-of-consciousness novels.”

LENA: “This would be a novel based loosely on the epic poem and brought into the modern era – or his era. It’s probably about a young fellow leaving the shores of his country and a fairly narrow, predictable existence – to go to war. And his whole life changes beyond what his experiences might have been if he’d never gone to war. His whole way of viewing things is challenged and he returns a very different person.” When a synopsis of the book was read to her,  Lena felt she wouldn’t want to read it. “I know people think he (Joyce) is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it doesn’t interest me. If I want stream-of-consciousness, I can listen to myself.”

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“it’s going to be a romance”

AMELIA: “It’s about a magic fence that could open by itself and someone invisible is coming into the house, and tries to steal all the kids in the house, and the children might think it’s a ghost. There might be a big adventure.” She doesn’t want to read it “because it might be too scary, but I like to hear about big adventures.”

IAN: “Stupid title for a book unless it’s a biography.” He thought it might be a thriller or a horror.  “Not my cup of tea.”

STEPHANIE: “I’ve got an old penguin paperback copy of this, and it’s always somewhere near the top of the pile so I’ll probably read it eventually. I don’t know a lot about it, apart from the fact that Alfred Hitchcock made a film of it. I’m imagining something a little bit like a Bronte novel.”

BILL: “I don’t really know anything about the book or the author. It sounds a bit like a romantic novel , or Thomas Hardy – I can’t bear Thomas Hardy! Bill was even less interested after reading the blurb.

LENA: “My mother used to read Daphne Du Maurier, but her copy of this book had a very different cover. I remember it quite vividly because it was very different from other book covers of the time – it had a picture of a very glamourous looking female on the front and it really caught my eye as a kid. I just presumed it was a romance. I guess it would be set in the 1800s. She’s either a well-to-do woman – it’s going to be a romance – who meets a guy from the wrong side of the tracks and has to leave her wealthy home behind. Or otherwise, she’s incarcerated in an insane asylum. I can’t make up my mind. Those gates seem to be symbolic of either being locked up or escaping from something.” After hearing the plot synopsis, Lena thought she probably wouldn’t read it, “but I might watch the film if it came out”.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

“mystery about a one-handed person who murders people”

AMELIA:  “There was a mountain with snow on it and even though it was a bright day, it was dark. And there was a queen who lived in the castle and whenever she saw people go past, she got a book of spells off the shelf to see if she could stop them from getting her gold and stop the white tigers from guarding the forest of darkness. At the end, when she lost, she went ‘nooooooooo!’ It might be a little be too scary for me.”

IAN:  “A murder mystery about a one-handed person who murders people with their one hand.” Ian didn’t want to read it. “I can’t really follow science fiction fantasy plots very well.”

STEPHANIE: “I’d heard of this title, but it never sounded very appealing. I really like the cover though. I have no idea what it’s about – some kind of futile struggle for meaning in the face of adversity, blah blah blah.” After hearing a synopsis of the book, she thought it was”nothing like I’d thought it was. I’d be more likely to read it, but I already have a lot of others books I want to read, so I won’t make any promises.”

BILL:  “I have heard a synopsis of the plot in past. I’ve forgotten what it was about now, but I’ve always wanted to read it.” After reading a synopsis of the book, Bill said slowly “…ahh, I think I have read that – and it was really good.” Yeah, Bill. Obviously!

LENA: “I don’t get science fiction at all. I don’t know what it could be about – some kind of time travelly, futuristicy sort of thing, set in some other dimension.” After hearing a synopsis, Lena said she was interested in reading it “on two counts because I’d be interested to see how she works that. I have got a sense of her as a name that I associate with good writing, so I’d be prepared to give it a chapter or two to see if I could get into it.”

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

“Why would you call a book Bleak House?”

AMELIA:  “About a house called Bleak and a boy called Bleak, and the house could talk. And whenever the Mum called ‘Bleak!’ the boy Bleak and the House both ran to her, but she said “Bleak go away!” So she decided that she would call them ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Bleak Boy’ whenever she called out, and that solved the problem.” Amelia would read this story, “because it doesn’t sound that scary.”

IAN: “A very boring sort of house in a very boring street – the people who live there are not very nice and nobody wants to go there.” Asked if he’d read it, Ian said, “Definitely not! Why would you call a book Bleak House?”

STEPHANIE:   “I am interested in Dickens, and I know he created great characters and exposed some of the terrible conditions of his time, but… I’m depressed enough already.”

BILL:  “I’ve heard of this and I’ve heard of Dickens of course. Mainly ‘A Christmas Carol'”. It doesn’t look very cheery. Probably it’s like most Dickens – all about hardship and deprivation and incredibly depressing. I read to escape from depressing reality, not read something even more depressing.”

LENA: “Well if it’s Charles Dickens, it’s gotta be a social commentary sort of thing depicting the life of the times. He might have written it as one whole sentence. He wrote the longest sentence in history, I think. The child might be the central character, probably an orphan who has found himself in the poor house. Some rich benevolent fellow and his family might discover him, take pity on him and rescue him, and later he falls in love with the daughter of the benefactor and they go through all sorts of trials and tribulations. And Dickens covers a fair bit of territory in terms of covering the life and times of the poor and disadvantaged in England at the time. I’ve read quite a few Dickens and I really enjoyed him when I was young. A Tale of Two Cities was fantastic – really different from my life in the Australian bush. I understand what he was about, but I don’t know that I could be bothered any more.”

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad 

“wild west high shenanigans”

AMELIA: “It’s about a man who is trying to kill someone and he has a gun with five shooting holes so the girl’s in trouble. But the girl throws the cannonball back and it hits the gun. And the man turns into a prince who says, ‘How did you know I was really a prince and got transformed?” Amelia wouldn’t really like to read it “because I don’t like fighting stories.”

IAN:  “Some Spanish guy with a neat moustache hiding in the bushes? Sounds like it might be about a Mexican guy trying to sneak into America or working on a cotton or cocaine plantation in Mexico and he rises to become some head army dude like Fidel Castro. It’s probably his memoirs. Yeah! If it was a movie I might be tempted.”

STEPHANIE: “I have to confess I’ve avoided reading any Joseph Conrad because I used to go out with this guy who really loved Conrad. This guy was an awful prat, and unfortunately I’ve just associated Conrad with him and haven’t been able to touch him (Conrad). But I started reading The Secret Agent the other day and I have to say that I love his writing style. I don’t know what this one is about though. Is it the sea one?” After reading the book blurb, Stephanie wasn’t sure if she’d read it. “This doesn’t really sound like my kind of thing, but he’s such a great writer, perhaps he makes it more interesting than it sounds.”

BILL: “The name of the author rings a bell. Is he American? Nostromo is the name of the spaceship in the first Alien movie.” Looking at the cover, Bill thought it might be about “gold digging, claim jumping, wild west high shenanigans. Not really my sort of thing.” But after hearing a description, Bill thought, “it could be interesting.”

LENA: “I’ve read one of his. It’ll be in some exotic place. The book I read was something to do with the sea. He’s probably picked a country like South America or Spain, and he’s writing about this fellow Nostramo who takes a journey across the seas to South America and makes his fortunes in the gold mines. And the story will go on and on and on forever and he’ll describe eloquently and painstakingly every fly that flies past him, so it’ll be pretty hard going. It’ll be deep and meaningful, but I don’t think that I could be bothered. I might watch it as a movie and if I thought it wasn’t such a bad yarn, I might decide it was worth reading.”

Thanks again to my ‘subjects’ for their time and refreshing honesty.


Plum! by the Inimitable P G Bhaskar

Plum! Comfort food for readers

by P G Bhaskar

Bhaskar is the author of Jack Patel’s Dubai Dreams (Penguin (I)) and Jack is back in Corporate Carnival (Harper Collins (I))’

P G Wodehouse is known to have said that he started turning out the stuff from the age of five. Before that, he has confessed to not remembering what he did. ‘Just loafing, I suppose’ is how he described it.

Too bad. Else, we would have had another five years of delightful reading material. Over a hundred years after he first started writing, what is it that still has millions of people reading his books? If ever relevance had been considered a necessary factor in writing a successful novel, Wodehouse has done much to shatter this myth. Indeed, his stories ceased to have relevance shortly after he started writing them. Butlers had started slimming down and shrunk both in size and numbers.  Earls had started working. So had ‘younger sons’. Soon spats fell by the wayside. Top hats were reduced to antiques. Class distinctions got blurred.  Technology took rapid strides. Travel became easier and so did migration and tourism. Suffice it to say that between the year 1900 and 2000 the real world changed completely.
Thankfully, the Wodehousean world didn’t. It remained happily and magically intact, like in a time capsule, unpolluted by changes and untouched by reality. For his fans the world over, it is a blessing. Years back, Evelyn Waugh had written this about Wodehouse. ‘Wodehouse’s idyllic world cannot stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own.’ How perfectly prescient can one get!

What is it about a P G Wodehouse novel that appeals to so many of us?

Is it the beauty, charm and cosy warmth of his world; one of blooming flowers and shimmering lakes, of castles and moats and of sunshine peeping in through the curtains in an attempt to spread brightness and cheer? A world where people are inherently good? Where villains abound but no man is vile? Indeed, in the world of Wodehouse, even the meanest of characters can stoop no lower than use a little ‘soup’ while busting a safe, indulge in a little temporary kidnapping of a badly behaved adolescent or bean someone on the head with a good, stout vase.

Or could it be the heart-warming simplicity of his characters? Save for an occasional double crosser, Wodehouse’s novels are packed with those who wear their heart on their sleeve and who speak what they think. There is none of the modern world’s shifty shades of grey. Of course, while the characters themselves are simple, the plots are often, far from it. Wodehouse revelled in twists and turns; they are inevitable, yet unpredictable. Except, of course, for the customary and delightful happy ending.  The complexity of some of his convoluted plots only served to bring out the best in him. Even as plans are floundering, schemes are going awry and perturbed characters are scratching their heads in disbelief amidst an unprecedented ‘concatenation of circumstances’, you can almost sense the master at work, getting ready to fit the pieces where they belong. And in the end, invariably, he delivers. With the precision of a magician and the practiced ease of a maestro, he waves his wand and voila! Every loose end gets tied, every character gets what he or she deserves and each note falls perfectly in its position as its conjurer concludes yet another bewitching, lyrical rhapsody.
The Wodehousean world is inherently just. It is large and accommodating. It has a place for everyone and everyone is perfectly placed. Timid, faltering poets co-exist peacefully with dashing, young modern novelists who have ‘drunk the cup of illicit love to its dregs’. Earls are never far away from pig men. Even business tycoons are not allowed to live in a cocoon of power and luxury. They are forced to rub shoulders with small time conmen, detectives and bar maids.

P G Wodehouse’s novels have a timeless beauty and grace about them. His sense of rhythm, his command over the language and his comic timing all come together in complete harmony in each one of his books. As our real world becomes increasingly ‘irksome’, the world of Wodehouse appears even more heavenly.  Well, thank God for that. Whatever be the state of the world that one find ourselves in, Wodehouse readers will always have another that they can happily escape into.

So, come, let us quietly celebrate. We can nip across to this little place round the corner that I know and have a quick one. A Gustave special, perhaps? But if you would rather make a bit of a splash and step high, wide and plentiful, let me know. We can really get into the spirit of the thing and maybe steal a policeman’s helmet.
P G Bhaskar

In Search of Plumtopia

What Ho!

I have started this blog as part of a lifelong quest for Utopia.

Unfortunately, the quest hasn’t been going so well, ever since I took that wrong turn at Bass Strait. Tasmania is pretty in places, but I don’t fit in here. I feel much as Alice anticipated she might upon reaching the end of the rabbit hole.

Alice_par_John_Tenniel_30How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downwards! The antipathies, I think –

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland

It has been suggested to me by some presumably well-intentioned people that my disgruntlement with life might be due to … err… personal issues and failure to view the world with positivity. Have you thought of counselling? The message from these smugly contented souls is a simple one – Utopia is a state of mind, so the problem is you!

I’ve long been envious of those lucky individuals with the capacity to view the glass as half full, without ever stopping to wonder about what’s in the water, but it doesn’t come naturally to us all. Further, I’d argue that societies need critical thinkers to affect social change.

My Utopian quest is a personal one, but it’s inspired by other thinkers, writers and philosophers. In particular, I’m guided by the work of P G Wodehouse, who created the greatest model for Utopia in western literature. Evelyn Waugh’s praise of it is often cited on Wodehouse dust jackets:

Mr Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.

Wodehouse himself was a model optimist, who maintained a doggedly sunny disposish through a long life, not without it’s turmoil. While interned in a Nazi prison camp, he continued to write comic novels and caught up on the complete works of Shakespeare. On his release, he controversially broadcast from Berlin, a series of humourous accounts of his imprisonment – the act of an optimist, not a political agitator.

Wodehouse, affectionately known as Plum, sets such pleasingly lofty standards for humanity that perhaps what I’m really seeking is Plumtopia.

Here’s hoping I find it.