Tag Archives: My Man Jeeves

Love in the Time of Wodehouse: Chiefly About Chickens

For some years now, I’ve been pushing the idea, aided and abetted by a gang of like-minded eggs, that Valentine’s Day should be commemorated as the anniversary of P.G. Wodehouse’s death in 1975. I’m a persistent sort of blighter, so here we are again in 2020.

This year, I was curious to take a look at Wodehouse’s writing on the subject of love and see how it might have developed over the course of his 75-year writing career. I quickly discovered (as ever with Wodehouse) that I’d bitten off more than I could chew. So until some generous bird comes across with the necessary oof for full-time study, it’s a mere snippet.  

Unsurprisingly, love doesn’t feature in Wodehouse’s early school stories. The fact that it takes centre stage in his first grown-up novel, Love Among the Chickens (1906) is more curious. Wodehouse’s lifelong love of detective fiction is evident in his early writing–the genre would seem a logical next step and I’m dashed if I can see how he suddenly branched out into romances. Unless…

It would be interesting to know to what extent the work of authors is influenced by their private affairs. If life is flowing smoothly for them, are the novels they write in that period of content coloured with optimism? And if things are running crosswise, do they work off the resultant gloom on their faithful public? If, for instance, Mr. W. W. Jacobs had toothache, would he write like Mr. Hall Caine? If Maxim Gorky were invited to lunch by the Czar, would he sit down and dash off a trifle in the vein of Mr. Dooley? Probably great authors have the power of detaching their writing self from their living, workaday self. For my own part, the frame of mind in which I now found myself completely altered the scheme of my novel. I had designed it as a light-comedy effort. Here and there a page or two to steady the reader, and show him what I could do in the way of pathos if I cared to try; but in the main a thing of sunshine and laughter. But now great slabs of gloom began to work themselves into the scheme of it. Characters whom I had hitherto looked upon as altogether robust developed fatal illnesses. A magnificent despondency became the keynote of the book. Instead of marrying, my hero and heroine had a big scene in the last chapter, at the end of which she informed him that she was already secretly wedded to another, a man with whom she had not even a sporting chance of being happy. I could see myself correcting proofs made pulpy by the tears of emotional printers.

Love Among the Chickens (1906)

The passage appears at a point in the novel when our hero, the author Jeremy Garnet, is thwarted in his wooing of Phyllis Derrick. Wodehouse frequently draws from personal experience in his early works and there are autobiographical touches to Garnet’s character. It’s not unreasonable (however impertinent) to wonder whether Wodehouse might have been in love.

My love had grown with the days. Mr. J. Holt Schooling, or somebody else with a taste for juggling with figures, might write a very readable page or so of statistics in connection with the growth of love in the heart of a man. In some cases it is, I believe, slow. In my own I can only say that Jack’s beanstalk was a backward plant in comparison.

Love Among The Chickens (1906)

If Wodehouse was in love in 1906 — or somewhere on the spectrum — no business resulted. The chief suspect, for my money, is Ella King-Hall. The King-Hall family believed Wodehouse was ‘half in love with her’* and he dedicated books to her in 1907 and 1908. The 1907 dedication appeared in a book called Not George Washington, which Wodehouse had written with a chap called Herbert Westbrook (or at least Westbrook’s name appears on the title).

Wodehouse dedicated books to him too.

To That Prince of Slackers, Herbert Westbrook

The Gold Bat (1904)

And

To Herbert Westbrook, without whose never-failing advice, help, and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time

A Gentleman of Leisure (1910)

Sophie Ratcliffe describes Westbrook as ‘handsome, charismatic, and permanently broke’* and Wodehouse credited him as an inspiration for the character of Ukridge, Jeremy Garnet’s scoundrel friend and chief trouble maker in Love Among the Chickens.

Ukridge was the sort of man who asks you out to dinner, borrows the money from you to pay the bill, and winds up the evening by embroiling you in a fight with a cabman. I have gone to Covent Garden balls with Ukridge, and found myself legging it down Henrietta Street in the grey dawn, pursued by infuriated costermongers.

Love Among the Chickens (1920 edition)

Ella King-Hall and Herbert Westbrook were married in 1912.

There is no love rivalry between Garnet and Ukridge in Love Among the Chickens. Ukridge is recently married to the long-suffering Millie (the long-suffering being ahead of her). Ella King-Hall, who was older than Wodehouse and Westbrook by fifteen years, and worked with them on various plays, doesn’t seem to have much in common with either of them.

Nor are there any ‘great slabs of gloom’ in the book, although readers are left wondering about poor Mrs Ukridge’s future

Looking back at the affair after the lapse of years, Garnet was accustomed to come to the conclusion that she was the one pathetic figure in the farce. Under what circumstances she had married Ukridge he did not learn till later. He was also uncertain whether at any moment in her career she regretted it. But it was certainly pathetic to witness her growing bewilderment during the weeks that followed, as the working of Ukridge’s giant mind was unfolded to her little by little. Life, as Ukridge understood the word, must have struck her as a shade too full of incident to be really comfortable. Garnet was wont to console himself by the hope that her very genuine love for her husband, and his equally genuine love for her, was sufficient to smooth out the rough places of life.

Love Among The Chickens (1906)

This passage was omitted from a revised 1920 edition if Love Among the Chickens, by which time any real-life concerns about Mrs Westbrook had been partially smoothed by Wodehouse himself. 

He [Wodehouse] continued to play a role in Westbrook’s life as the unacknowledged breadwinner. After her marriage, Ella King-Hall became his literary agent for all his British contracts and remained so until her retirement through ill-health in 1935.

Robert McCrum: Wodehouse: A Life (2005)

Wodehouse was thoroughly business-like when it came to this sort of thing and there is no reason to doubt Ella Westbook’s capacity for managing the task, but he might easily have placed his affairs with somebody else.

In quality terms, the period following Love Among the Chickens (1906) is arguably the least impressive in Wodehouse’s otherwise brilliant career. With the exception of a superb finale in the school story genre (Mike and Psmith), most of the works from this period (The Luck Stone, The Swoop , The Prince and Betty, Death at the Excelsior) have been forgotten, and are of interest only to Wodehouse enthusiasts.

“Jimmy, we were practically boys together. Tell me about this girl–the girl you loved, and were idiot enough to lose.”

Jimmy drew a deep breath.

“Very well,” said Mifflin complacently, “sigh if you like; it’s better than nothing.”

A Gentleman of Leisure (1910)

It would be fanciful to suggest that Wodehouse’s art had suffered from a disappointment in love – and there’s no hint of it in his published letters. Rather, it was a period of creative experimentation with voice, style and genre. Wodehouse had left the school story genre behind him, but was yet to find his place in adult fiction.** Unlike his fictional Drones, Wodehouse did not have the luxury of a private income to sustain him, which meant writing for a living, dashing off whatever the magazines would take until he found his niche.  

But love may well have contributed to Wodehouse’s breakthrough. In 1914, he met and married Ethel Wayman in New York. The first Jeeves and Blandings stories appeared in print the following year (My Man Jeeves and Something Fresh). The real-life romance between Wodehouse and his wife is incredibly touching, and readers owe her a debt of gratitude for smoothing away the troubles of life so that he could write.  

We may never know more about Wodehouse’s early experiences of love and romance, but we don’t really need to know. Wodehouse never wasted good material – so I feel sure we’ve read about them.  

Have you ever been turned down by a girl who afterwards married and then been introduced to her husband? If so you’ll understand how I felt when Clarence burst on me. You know the feeling. First of all, when you hear about the marriage, you say to yourself, “I wonder what he’s like.” Then you meet him, and think, “There must be some mistake. She can’t have preferred this to me!” That’s what I thought, when I set eyes on Clarence.

Doing Clarence A Bit Of Good in My Man Jeeves (1915)

Better to have loved and lost, and bunged the thing down on paper, than never to have loved at all.

Happy Wodehouse Day!

HP

REFERENCES

*From: Sophie Ratcliffe, P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters.

**Read Paul Kent’s Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, Volume 1: “This is jolly old Fame” for more on this subject.

Image of Emsworth, Hampshire (where Wodehouse, Herbert Westbrook and Ella King-Hall all lived for a time) taken on a visit by Honoria Plum

A Centenary of My Man Jeeves

100 Banners (1)My Man Jeeves was published 100 years ago in May 1919.

Jeeves–my man, you know–is really a most extraordinary chap. So capable. Honestly, I shouldn’t know what to do without him. On broader lines he’s like those chappies who sit peering sadly over the marble battlements at the Pennsylvania Station in the place marked “Inquiries.” You know the Johnnies I mean. You go up to them and say: “When’s the next train for Melonsquashville, Tennessee?” and they reply, without stopping to think, “Two-forty-three, track ten, change at San Francisco.” And they’re right every time. Well, Jeeves gives you just the same impression of omniscience.

My Man Jeeves

May 2019 marks 100 years since the publication of My Man Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse’s first Jeeves story collection.

Well, sort of. It’s complicated.

Wodehouse chronology always is, because many of his works were published in magazine format on both sides of the Atlantic before appearing in book form — sometimes under different titles, and sometimes with significant revisions to the text.

My Man Jeeves is a classic example. Published only in the UK, the earliest story in the collection is Absent Treatment, which was first published in March 1911 in The Strand Magazine (UK). This story, along with several others included in My Man Jeeves, had previously been included in a 1917 short story collection, The Man With Two Left Feet.

Some of the stories from My Man Jeeves were later reworked by Wodehouse and included in the short story collection Carry On, Jeeves, published in 1925 in the UK and 1927 in the US. For fans reading their way through the Jeeves and Wooster saga, I usually suggest starting saving My Man Jeeves last, for this reason.

On the other hand, no great harm will befall you by starting your Wodehouse reading journey with My Man Jeeves –and it’s packed full of classic Wodehouse.

The first story, Leave it to Jeeves, picks up from where Extricating Young Gussie (also included in The Man with Two Left Feet) left off. Bertie and Jeeves are having an extended stay in America, giving Aunt Agatha time to cool off over Bertie’s failure to keep cousin Gussie from a career on the stage.  Jeeves dutifully performs his consultant-in-residence act for a string of Bertie’s New York pals.

In Leave it to Jeeves, he assists Bruce ‘Corky’ Corcoran to butter up (and eventually gain financial independence from) a difficult, but oofy, uncle.

It was great stuff. The more I read, the more I admired the chap who had written it and Jeeves’s genius in putting us on to the wheeze. I didn’t see how the uncle could fail to drop. You can’t call a chap the world’s greatest authority on the yellow-billed cuckoo without rousing a certain disposition towards chumminess in him.

The volume is also littered with some of Wodehouse’s best-known quotations – of the variety often flung about the internet. Like these treats from Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest.

Lady Malvern was a hearty, happy, healthy, overpowering sort of dashed female, not so very tall but making up for it by measuring about six feet from the O.P. to the Prompt Side. She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season.

And

“What ho!” I said.

“What ho!” said Motty.

“What ho! What ho!”

“What ho! What ho! What ho!”

After that it seemed rather difficult to go on with the conversation.

I appreciate that, as someone who flings a fair amount of Wodehouse quotation about the internet myself, I’m hardly in a position to criticise others. But I do feel Wodehouse’s stuff is always better in its natural habitat of his original work.

If you’ve never read My Man Jeeves, or haven’t re-read it in a while, do pick it up for a commemorative thumb through. You won’t be disappointed.

A word on sources and a debt of gratitude 

Fortunately for us, a number of people (brainy coves) have devoted long hours to researching and sharing their encyclopaedic Wodehouse knowledge, including the complex publication histories of his work.

I’m indebted, whenever I write anything on the subject, to exceptional online bibliographies compiled by Neil Midkiff and the late Terry Mordue.  The entire gang of geniuses responsible for the Madame Eulalie website are heroes of mine –I’ll bet they know all about that next train to Melonsquashville.

“How does he do it, Bertie?” he said. “I’ll tell you what I think it is. I believe it’s something to do with the shape of his head. Have you ever noticed his head, Bertie, old man? It sort of sticks out at the back!”

Jeeves And The Hard-Boiled Egg in My Man Jeeves

I am also grateful, beyond anything mere words can  express, for my copy of Eileen McIlvaine’s P G Wodehouse: A Comprehensive Bibliography and Checklist — a cherished gift from US Wodehouse Society friends David and Katy McGrann.

While I’m on the subject of gratitude, I must also mention the personal kindness and support of friends in the UK and Dutch Wodehouse societies (during my time in the Northern h.). I miss you very much.

Reading Wodehouse is not only a joy and a privilege, it brings wonderful people together.

That includes YOU! Thank you for reading Plumtopia.

HP

And now, I’ll be taking My Man Jeeves on a centenary binge about town, which you can follow on Twitter — please join in with your own images if you’re so inclined. #MyManJeeves100

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12 Days of Wodehouse Christmas

What Ho! Ho! Ho!

I hope the festive season finds you happy, healthy and well.

Earlier this December, I had a bit of Twitter fun with a Wodehouse themed 12 Days of Christmas – featuring Wodehouse related gift ideas. This piece provides a summary for those of you who don’t follow Twitter. It may be a lazy way to blog, but news media organisations are reporting Tweets as news these days, and even Wodehouse wasn’t averse to reusing his own material. I hope it gives you some good gift ideas — for Christmas or any time of year.

With all the compliments of the season,

Honoria

On the 1st day of Christmas, my true love gave to me — membership of a Wodehouse Society #12daysofWodehouse https://t.co/VBGQdSJz8g via @HonoriaPlum

1st

On the 2nd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me –delicious Plum Pie #12daysofwodehouse pic.twitter.com/qqivdG207m

2nd

On the 3rd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me — something shiny #12daysofWodehouse https://t.co/wy2M6bNCVm via @HonoriaPlum

3rd

On the 4th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me – Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo https://t.co/4mnM9GES48 #12daysofWodehouse pic.twitter.com/yLXPFCj7B0

4th

On the 5th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me – tickets to a Wodehouse show. Try Love on the Links at Salisbury Playhouse @salisburyplay #12daysofWodehouse https://t.co/iEG6KUTfib

5th

On the 6th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me — a My Man Jeeves carry bag https://t.co/Ab9qgdYrEj #12daysofWodehouse pic.twitter.com/yhl0cCReCB

6th

On the 7th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me – The Amazing Hat Mystery https://t.co/ar1ABDaxZm #12daysofWodehouse pic.twitter.com/MfkDiOQTyl

7th

On the 8th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me — Wodehouse in modern Dutch #12daysofWodehouse https://t.co/XrcFVGTm7C

8th.JPG

On the 9th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, Wodehouse on DVD #12daysofWodehouse pic.twitter.com/tynu6Bc0hK

9th

On the 10th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ‘Goodbye to All Cats’ a PG Wodehouse pick-me-up https://t.co/5ThqkiP3pn #12daysofWodehouse pic.twitter.com/SZw7axlVep

10th

On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, ‘Bring on the Girls!’ by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton– on their days in musical theatre #12daysofWodehouse https://t.co/oJSzS4bqD9 pic.twitter.com/fLpQ1JCZtP

11th

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, The Smile that Wins #12daysofWodehouse pic.twitter.com/z7By5lVq3J

12th.JPG

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

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

Jeeves and Wooster Reading List

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

Notes on the series

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

Very Good, Jeeves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Code of the Woosters.

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

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

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

Happy Reading!

HP

Getting started with Bertie and Jeeves: a chronological challenge

New Wodehouse readers sometimes ask which of the Jeeves stories they should read first. Opinion on the matter is divided; some people recommend ‘Carry On, Jeeves’ (1925) whereas I suggest ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ (1923). Both are excellent. The question is a matter of chronology.  This piece explores these starting points in more detail.

Readers looking for a more complete reading list, with suggestions for getting started, may find this reading list for the Jeeves and Bertie Wooster stories helpful.

Beginning with ‘Carry On, Jeeves’

Carry On Jeeves (1925) is a collection of short stories, beginning with ‘Jeeves Takes Charge’, in which Jeeves enters Bertie’s employment, cures his hangover, and disentangles him from an engagement with the unsuitable Florence Craye.

…he floated noiselessly through the doorway like a healing zephyr. That impressed me from the start. Meadowes had had flat feet and used to clump. This fellow didn’t seem to have any feet at all. He just streamed in.

This is followed by several stories which had appeared in an earlier collection called ‘My Man Jeeves’ (1919). Set mainly in America, the original stories featured a chap called Reggie Pepper. In Carry On Jeeves, Wodehouse revised the stories to include Bertie Wooster, who had made his debut in ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ (1923) and firmly established himself as a narrator.

However Carry On Jeeves also includes new stories that follow on from events in The Inimitable Jeeves, ‘The rummy affair of old Biffy’ and ‘Without the Option’. Both feature Honoria Glossop and her father Sir Roderick, the eminent ‘nerve specialist’.

One of the things that get this old crumb so generally disliked among the better element of the community is the fact that he has a head like the dome of St. Paul’s and eyebrows that want bobbing or shingling to reduce them to anything like reasonable size. It is a nasty experience to see this bald and bushy bloke advancing on you when you haven’t prepared the strategic railways in your rear.

These Glossops are notorious among Wodehouse readers, but unless you’ve read ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ you won’t have met them. Although Wodehouse can generally be enjoyed out of order, these particular stories are better if you’re familiar with the characters already, and ‘The rummy affair of old Biffy’ gives away the plot of the earlier story.

There are similar issues with ‘Clustering around young Bingo’. This is a very successful reworking of the Reggie Pepper story, ‘Rallying Round Old George’. George has been replaced with young Bingo Little, whose love life featured heavily in ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’. If you read ‘Carry On, Jeeves’ first, you’ll find out who Bingo eventually marries. This may not spoil your enjoyment of ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’, but it will spoil the surprise.

Beginning with ”The Inimitable Jeeves’

Chronologically, the events of ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ take place sometime between the first and the sixth chapters of ‘Carry On, Jeeves.‘  But it would be pedantic and unnecessary to read the stories in that order. ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ makes an excellent introduction to the saga because no prior knowledge is required to enjoy and fully understand the stories. There are no plot spoilers or references to past events. Reading ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ first won’t diminish your enjoyment of ‘Carry On, Jeeves’. The Inimitable Jeeves’ also introduces many of the saga’s recurring characters.

For modern readers who are unaccustomed to reading short stories, ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ is also a more seamless collection than ‘Carry On Jeeves’. The stories, mostly published during 1922 in  Cosmopolitan (US) and  The Strand (UK) magazines, are more closely interconnected than the collection in ‘Carry On, Jeeves’.

Other possible beginnings

If you have a particular mania for chronological correctness, you could begin with the aforementioned My Man Jeeves (1919). Getting your hands on a copy may not be so easy, and as Wodehouse revised most of it for ‘Carry On, Jeeves’ there really isn’t much point. This is a volume best left for the Wodehouse fanatics (the ranks of whom, you may soon be joining).

At the risk of complicating things further, a purist might scoff at the sort of slacker who begins with My Man Jeeves, when the first Jeeves story, ‘Extricating Young Gussie’, was published much earlier, in 1915 (not to be confused with the other ‘first’ Jeeves story, ‘Jeeves Takes Charge’, which was not the first written, but recounts Bertie and Jeeves’ first meeting). ‘Extricating Young Gussie’ appeared in the 1917 collection ‘The Man with Two Left Feet‘ and there is some question as to whether the Bertie who appeared here was a Wooster or a Mannering-Phipps. Do read it, if you can find a copy, but it’s not essential reading for the new Wodehouse reader.

Perhaps the most common approach to reading Wodehouse is to start with whichever book you happen to chance across and be perfectly content to devour the rest of them in whatever order you seize upon them. Many people have read Wodehouse this way, especially those of us who collected our books second-hand in the days before internet booksellers and modern reprintings of his work.

So to the modern reader seeking advice, I recommend ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’, but it’s advice you should feel free to ignore.

HP

References and further reading
The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)
Madam Eulalie (annotations)
My reading list for the Jeeves and Bertie Wooster stories