Tag Archives: Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend

P.G. Wodehouse reading list: the Blandings stories

blandings-castleLord Emsworth breathed heavily. He had not supposed that in these degenerate days a family like this existed. The sister copped Angus McAllister on the shin with stones, the brother bit Constance in the leg . . . It was like listening to some grand saga of the exploits of heroes and demigods.

‘Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend’

(Blandings Castle)

This is a guide for readers wanting to discover the joys of P.G. Wodehouse’s Blandings series. It follows previous guides:

We start with a Blandings reading list, followed by notes on the series.

Blandings Reading List

Blandings Castle has joined Narnia, Brideshead and 221B Baker Street as a hallowed setting of English literature. Every enthusiast knows its rose garden, the terraces overlooking the lake, the steps down to the lawn where Gally sips a thoughtful whiskey, the gardens presided over by McAllister, the cottage in the West Wood suitable for concealing diamond necklaces or Berkshire pigs, and the hamlet of Blandings Parva which adjoins the estate.

N.T.P Murphy: The P.G. Wodehouse Miscellany

something-fresh

The much loved Blandings series features the absent-minded Lord Emsworth, his prize-winning pig the Empress of Blandings, and a changing cast of relations, staff, guests and imposters. The first Blandings novel Something Fresh, written in 1915, is one of my favourites and a great place to start. Wodehouse continued to write about Blandings for another 60 years (he was working on Sunset at Blandings when he died).

The early novels have a different atmosphere to the Blandings that emerges in Blandings Castle, in which Lord Emsworth’s prize-winning pig, the Empress of Blandings is introduced.

Blandings Castle is a short-story collection containing several classic Blandings stories, mostly written before Summer Lightning. Blandings Castle should be read before Summer Lightning to avoid spoilers. The stories are among Wodehouse’s best, and include:

  • The Custody of the Pumpkin (1929)
  • Lord Emsworth Acts for the Best (1926)
  • Pig-Hoo-o-o-o-ey (1927)
  • Company for Gertrude (1928)
  • Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend (1928)
  • The Go-getter (1931)

The volume also includes some fine non-Blandings short stories.

The tranquillity of Lord Emsworth’s life at Blandings is constantly under threat throughout the series: from oily villains (like Smooth Lizzie and Eddie Cootes); regrettable relatives (such as Lady Constance Keeble and younger son Freddie Threepwood); supercilious staff (Rupert Baxter); and invited guests (the revolting Duke of Dunstable).

At an earlier point in this chronicle, we have compared the aspect of Rupert Baxter, when burning with resentment, to a thunder-cloud, and it is possible that the reader may have formed a mental picture of just an ordinary thunder-cloud, the kind that rumbles a bit but does not really amount to anything very much. It was not this kind of cloud that the secretary resembled now, but one of those which burst over cities in the Tropics, inundating countrysides while thousands flee.

‘The Crime Wave at Blandings’ in Lord Emsworth and Others

32-23Happily for Lord Emsworth, Blandings’ extended cast of heroes and heroines are equal to the challenges presented to them.

Lord Emsworth’s younger brother, the Hon. Galahad Threepwood, makes his first appearance in Summer Lightning. He and Uncle Fred (Frederick Twistleton, 5th Earl of Ickenham) put a debonair spring-in-the-step of the later novels, much as Psmith had done in the earlier Leave it to Psmith.

The final novel Sunset at Blandings was completed after Wodehouse’s death, from his draft manuscript and notes, by Richard Usborne.

When you’ve completed the novels, you may also wish to track down the remaining short stories, which can found in the following collections:

Happy reading!

HP

Great Wodehouse Romances: Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend (by Ken Clevenger)

BlandingsCastle
The superb short story ‘Lord Emsworth and the Girlfriend’ was published in ‘Blandings Castle’

My heartfelt thanks to the inimitable Ken Clevenger for contributing a wonderful and very fitting first piece in this Valentine’s series dedicated to the  Great Wodehouse Romances.

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Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend

by Ken  Clevenger

Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend” is the great Wodehousian romance, most worthy of a special Valentine. My starting point is the very nature of great romances. Love must blossom, however improbably. It will be heroic, idyllic, and set in the beauty of nature, but not without the odd nettle. In the end love conquers all, as someone once noted; Jeeves, perhaps?

The easy part is to recognize in this “perfect short story” that Blandings and its gardens are the bounty of nature. The nettle, perhaps I should have said thistle, as le mot juste, is A. McAllister. The hero, was ever a hero more beset by constant woes? is Clarence. His faithful companion and supporter: Beach. His opening ire, directed at “a blameless kippered herring,” makes the appearance of love seem unlikely. But as Clarence begins his wandering (pottering seems more apt but unlyrical), love appears as the heroine saves the hero from a dog-toothed fate, but not The Fete, with a commanding “Hoy!” Was ever love introduced so startlingly? And can one recall many other Wodehousian nods to mother as sweet as merely “wizened motherliness” as Gladys, the heroine, is described?

The hero’s trials include the foreign speech of the heroine, her protective bother, Ern, the usurping, ruling goddess of the castle, Connie, and the grim beast who guards these gardens and flarze. The hero’s path is stoney, not moss covered. Indeed, in his despair and struggles, at times “[h]e feels like a man who in error has kicked a favorite dog.” But in the end there is a welcome refuge, albeit normally a humble “lounge or retiring room for cattle.” And there the hero and heroine share their grim fates. Then love, and the courage to face the world unafraid in a high summer wonderland, emerge triumphant.

There is a feast, of course. The carnal nature of love is hinted at by wanton hand-holding and the greatest gift in the hero’s power is bestowed. There are classical references to Achillea, Euphorbia, Gypsophilia, Helianthus, and Thalictrum. The ancient ancestors of the hero appear to spur his courage for the final, fateful conflict. The ogre is dashed with a departing, defeated “Hphm.” The malevolent goddess is dashed too. It is, to steal a phrase, “all sweetness and light.”

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More submissions on this theme are wanted. More details on the series and how to respond can be found at my original post on the  Great Wodehouse Romances.

HP

(c) The above piece was penned by Ken Clevenger and copied here with his kind permission.

Wodehouse’s Women: the case for the defence

The Clicking Of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse
The Clicking Of Cuthbert includes some fabulous female characters

In order to better understand and unravel some of the issues, I’d like to consider the charges levelled against Wodehouse in a recent criticism of Indian Summer of an Uncle by Janet Cameron. While I don’t agree with Cameron’s assessment, I am grateful to her for providing a starting point for my thinking. There is too much to be said on this particular subject in one article (I’d like to make it a PhD study) so I propose to respond in a series of pieces.

I begin today with the first charge:

Women are excluded as complex characters’

This charge is partially correct, but misleading because Wodehouse was simply not in the business of creating complex characters at all.

“I believe there are only two ways of writing a novel. One is mine, making the thing a sort of musical comedy without music, and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going down deep into life and not caring a damn.”

Wodehouse in a letter to William Townend

Bertie Wooster is arguably P.G. Wodehouse’s most complex character. As the first-person narrator of over 10 novels and 30 stories, we have greater insight into his character than any other in the Wodehouse canon – but he is hardly a complex character. In the short story Indian Summer of an Uncle (1930) Bertie and Jeeves are well established and familiar to Wodehouse readers. Of the female characters, two (Rhoda Platt and her Aunt Maudie) make no further appearance. Their characters are developed only to the extent required for the comedy to work – along with the  hundreds of other male and female ‘bit part’ characters Wodehouse created in the course of his prolific career.

Wodehouse’s characters don’t require complexity – and certainly not in his short stories. As Hilaire Belloc noted, Wodehouse was a practitioner of commedia dell’arte,  adapting a well established cast of stage characters to suit his comedic purpose:

“…the rules of the game are already agreed upon between the actors and their audiences, so that the former had either to play the game with a new brilliance each time or be frankly given the bird by a disappointed audience.”

Hilaire Belloc in From the World of Music, Ernest Newman (Calder, 1956) cited by Frances Donaldson in P.G. Wodehouse: The Authorised Biography (1982).

Wodehouse biographer Frances Donaldson adds to this assessment:

I think it is often forgotten how close Wodehouse… was working to the world of the stock company, the English equivalent of commedia dell’arte. In the nineteenth century the provincial theatres of England had resident ‘stock’ companies who played all the supporting parts, while the leads were played by visiting stars. These stock companies consisted of actors engaged to play stereotyped parts – the Juvenile lead and the Leading Lady, the Low Comedian, the Heavy Father, the Chamber Maid (later known as the soubrette), Walking Ladies and Gentlemen, later to be known as supers. Playwrights of the nineteenth century had to write plays which included parts for the salaried stock company and the playwrights of the early twentieth century were their immediate descendants.”

Frances Donaldson in P.G. Wodehouse: The Authorised Biography (1982).

Janet Cameron criticises Aunt Agatha – the only recurring female character in the story – as ‘a caricature of an aunt‘. Frances Donaldson would have agreed, having argued in her biography that Wodehouse’s fictional Aunts ‘…are stock characters in a long line of British humour.’ Indeed this is rather her point – that applying well recognised theatrical character types enabled Wodehouse to focus his attention on his intricate farcical plots.

It is clear from Wodehouse’s personal letters that his work in musical theatre greatly influenced his approach as a prose writer, particularly in terms of characterisation. Wodehouse’s involvement in the theatre dates back to 1904 with Sergeant Brue, which ran for 152 performances at the Strand Theatre in London. Wodehouse went on to make a significant contribution to American musical theatre through his collaboration with Guy Bolton and Jerome Kern.

But what of the charge that Wodehouse’s women are less complex than his men? Certainly, in the Indian Summer of an Uncle, Bertie Wooster is the central and more complex character, but not just in comparison to the women. Bertie’s Uncle George is a male ‘walk-on’ role, and we never get any closer to knowing the inscrutable Jeeves in spite of his many appearances. If one reads Wodehouse just a little more widely, it’s clear that this particular charge does not stick.

The opposite has even been argued. Robert Hall believes that Wodehouse’s heroines frequently have more depth and interest than his heroes:

Wodehouse’s leading girl-characters are, by and large, somewhat more individualised than his male juvenile leads. Significantly, the Junior Lipstick Club, to which some of Wodehouse’s heroines belong, does not play a parallel role to that of his Drones, in supplying young feminine leads. Almost all of his ingénues have energy and sparkle, often (like Sally Painter  in Uncle Dynamite, when she pushes the policeman into the pond) taking the initiative when the “hero” wavers in his resolution.

Robert Hall inthe Comic Style of P.G. Wodehouse (1974)

It is reasonable to give weight to the view of those, such as Belloc, Donaldson and Hall, who have made a detailed study of Wodehouse’s life and work. To their views, I humbly add my own – that Wodehouse could still draw minor characters with great sympathy and affection. For example, in the short story, Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend, he devotes just one paragraph to describing the female lead:

She was a small girl of uncertain age – possibly twelve or thirteen, though a combination of London fogs and early cares had given her face a sort of wizened motherliness which in some odd way caused his lordship to look on her as belonging to his own generation. She was the type of girl you see in back streets carrying a baby nearly as large as herself and still retaining sufficient energy to lead one little brother by the hand and shout recrimination at another in the distance. Her cheeks shone from recent soaping , and she was dressed in a velveteen frock which was obviously the pick of her wardrobe. Her hair, in defiance of the prevailing mode, she wore drawn tightly back  into a short pigtail.

Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend (1926)

Wodehouse consciously informs us in this passage that he is describing a ‘type of girl’, and yet his description is no less effective or moving because of it.

In summary, Wodehouse’s female characters are no less lacking in complexity than his males. With the possible exception of Bertie Wooster, all his characters are lightly, and delightfully drawn. Thousands of men and women around the world continue to derive great pleasure from the work of P.G. Wodehouse and share great affection for his characters – who extend beyond stereotypes when given the Wodehouse treatment.

While the lack of depth and human complexity might be considered a failing by some serious-minded critics, theirs is just one way – a very prescriptive and narrow one – of viewing literature. Surely there is enough complexity in the world already without wishing it upon our humourists.

HP

See also: Wodehouse’s Women: Bachelors Anonymous