Tag Archives: P.G. Wodehouse

What’s on Your Wodehouse Wish list?

 “I don’t mind telling you that, in the fullness of time, I believe this is going to spread a good deal of sweetness and light.”


The Indiscretions of Archie (1921)

Around this time every year, I post a few suggestions for anyone looking to give the gift of Wodehouse at Christmas.

For the Wodehouse devotee, Paul Kent’s new book on Wodehouse’s writing is sure to please and Wodehouse Society membership is always a good idea.

For new readers and those still working their way through Wodehouse’s substantial output, there is much to choose from. Try this reading guide if you’re looking for suggestions.

But this year I’d like to do things a little differently and ask you.

What’s on your Wodehouse wish list?

Please let us know via the comments below.

Self and cat are keen to spread some Wodehouse sweetness and light ourselves this year, so you never know your luck…

May all your wishes come true

‘You remember that old song, Spread a little happiness. Let’s sing it, shall we?’

‘Okay. I don’t recall the words too well. I’ll have to go tum-tum-tum a bit.’

‘Tum-tum-tum to your heart’s content. It’s the spirit that matters. Ready?’

‘I’m ready.’

‘Then let’s get down to it.’

They got down to it.

The Girl in Blue (1970)

New Wodehouse book: ‘This is jolly old Fame’ by Paul Kent hits the spot

It’s here we arrive at the main thrust of this Introduction: literary criticism – which is a significant branch of the Culture Industry – has thus far failed Wodehouse miserably; that is, when it has deigned to notice him. And this has long hindered a true appreciation of his achievements not just as a great comic writer, but as a great writer and Artist…

Paul Kent ~ This is jolly old Fame

Whenever I try to describe this blog to people who don’t read it and, let’s face it, probably didn’t ask and don’t want to know, they seem to come away with the impression that I write book reviews. But between ourselves, I find book reviews incredibly difficult and rarely attempt them.

I mean, it’s easy enough to write a ripping admonishment of a uniformly dreadful book, but who has the time to read dreadful books in these busy modern times, let alone make their authors feel any worse? So too, the kind of self-indulgent opinion sharing that routinely passes for review online, which I’m quite good at. Look me up on Twitter, Facebook or Goodreads and you’ll find no shortage of unsubstantiated literary opinions (at least unsubstantiated by me) along the lines of Jane Eyre was a tedious whiner and we’d all be a lot better off if everybody just stuck to reading Wodehouse.

But Paul Kent has written something worthy of more thoughtful review, and I’m dashed if I know how to go about it.

It’s not that I’m lacking in things to say about this book. On the contrary, if you’ll observe my reading copy below, each tag indicates a point on which I’ve been prompted to reflect and want to return to later — so many in fact, that about half way first reading I had to go back and start again with a colour coded system.

jolly

This is why, as far as I’m concerned, This is jolly old Fame hits the spot. In some places, Paul Kent makes points that I’ve always wanted to make, but never quite found the right time or had the wit to put into words. To pick just one instance: he says:

…reading even a few Wodehouse novels with reasonably careful attention, there appear scores of themes and recurring motifs which, considered together, add up to something that is both significant and, ultimately, revealing…

And he’s right!

More often, Kent makes points which had never occurred to me, setting my thoughts in a multitude of new directions. He draws on an impressive array of literary sources and opinions, but doesn’t hold back from giving his own – firmly, but respectfully questioning some of the ideas many of us seem to have accepted as lore when it comes to discussing Wodehouse and his work. This is the sort of thinking and writing the world of Wodehouse appreciation needs – and gives the rest of us plenty to talk about.

And this is just Volume 1, with two more volumes to yet come. The focus here is on Wodehouse’s early writing career, influences, and the development of his inimitable style and reputation. Kent begins with this quotation, from one of Wodehouse’s letters to his step-daughter Leonora:

I really am becoming rather a blood these days. . . [In] a review of a book in the Times, they say “The author at times reverts to the P.G. Wodehouse manner”. This, I need scarcely point out to you, is jolly old Fame. Once they begin to refer to you in that casual way as if everybody must know who you are all is well. P.G. Wodehouse

Kent, Jolly Old Fame

I could say more, but each of the many threads I’d like to unpick would lead us to another 1500 or so words of superfluous chattering, when all you really need to know is:

‘This is jolly old Fame’ hits the spot.

You can buy it — here.

HP

A Centenary of A Damsel in Distress

damsel montage

‘I’ve a headache.’
‘I thought you would have, laddie, when I saw you getting away with the liquid last night. An X-ray photograph of your liver would show something that looked like a crumpled oak-leaf studded with hob-nails. You ought to take more exercise, dear heart. Except for sloshing that policeman, you haven’t done anything athletic for years.’

A Damsel in Distress

A Damsel in Distress by P.G. Wodehouse was first published in the USA on 4 October 1919, having previously been serialised in the Saturday Evening Post in May-June of the same year. The first UK edition was published on 15 October 2019.

The story is set in England, featuring scenes in London and the fictional village of Belpher, based on the pretty coastal town of Emsworth, Hampshire, where Wodehouse once lived — a connection celebrated today by the local Emsworth Museum.

The bally Englishness of it all is rounded off with historic Belpher Castle and its inmates – the aristocratic Marshmoretons upstairs, and a below-stairs cast headed by Keggs the Butler. There’s little to like about the Marshmoretons, who are one of the scaliest gangs of invertebrates and inveritable snobs Wodehouse ever assembled. Even Lady Maud Marshmoreton, the Damsel in Distress of the title, is one of Wodehouse’s least likeable heroines (in my view).

These Marshmoretons need a good shake-up and Wodehouse gives it to them in the form of romantic entanglements with unsuitable Americans — Broadway composer George Bevan and chorus girl Billie Dore. The Americans inject much needed life and Broadway sparkle into the story. They steal all their scenes and render their stuffy English counterparts even more colourless.

‘You aren’t George Bevan!’


‘I am!’

‘But’ – Miss Plummer’s voice almost failed her – ‘But I’ve been dancing to your music for years! I’ve got about fifty of your records on the Victrola at home.’
George blushed. However successful a man may be he can never get used to Fame at close range.
‘Why, that trickly thing – you know, in the second act – is the darlingest thing I ever heard. I’m mad about it.’
‘Do you mean the one that goes lumty-lumty-tum, tumty-tumty-tum?’
‘No the one that goes ta-rumty-tum-tum, ta-rumty-tum. You know! The one about Granny dancing the shimmy.’
‘I’m not responsible for the words, you know,’ urged George hastily. ‘These are wished on me by the lyricist.’
‘I think the words are splendid. Although poor popper thinks it’s improper, Granny’s always doing it and nobody can stop her! …’

Perhaps this reflects Wodehouse’s own experience as an Englishman in New York. He had been living and working there for around five years when A Damsel in Distress was written, following previous visits in 1904 and 1909. It may also reflect good commercial sense. Upstairs-downstairs dramas and stories transplanting Americans into the British aristocracy may have already become clichéd by Wodehouse’s day (I’m guessing here), but even in 2019 they remain unaccountably popular. Or at least this popularity is unaccountable to me — when it comes to Downton Abbey, I’m with David Mitchell.

But I digress…

1919 Damsel in Distress ITALIAN
Una Damigella In Pericolo

A Damsel in Distress is a popular favourite among Wodehouse readers – it has a 4 and half star rating on Goodreads and has been translated into multiple languages, including five Italian translations.

The plot has also been adapted for film and stage several times, including a silent film released in October 1919 — when the ink on Wodehouse’s Saturday Evening Post original was barely dry.

Wodehouse himself was involved in developing the script for a 1937 film musical adaptation starring Fred Astaire, Joan Fontaine, George Burns and Gracie Allen – with a fabulous score by George Gershwin. Brain Taves has written about this film’s fascinating history for Plum Lines (Journal of the US Wodehouse Society):

“On the advice of George Ger­shwin, RKO producer Pandro Ber­man bought the screen rights to A Damsel in Distress in November 1936. Gershwin had collaborated in the theater with Wodehouse before he wrote the novel, and Gershwin believed that the character of the music writer named George Bevan in A Damsel in Distress was based on him. Gershwin’s nine songs for the film were composed before the script was written, and he died during production of the movie.”

Brian Taves: A Damsel in Distress: Novel, to Play, to Film
Plum Lines Vol. 2 2 No.3 Autumn 2001

Stage performances of A Damsel in Distress include a 1928 adaptation written by Wodehouse and Ian Hay, which ran at the New Theatre in London –with a young Joan Hickson among the cast. And in 2015, I was fortunate enough to see a wonderful adaptation by Rob Ashford at the Chichester Festival.

While A Damsel in Distress is not one of my own favourite Wodehouse novels, I give it a solid 3 stars (if I rated everything Wodehouse wrote as equally excellent, I’d have no credibility). I suspect I’m in a minority among Wodehouse fans on this one, however, and I have no wish to detract from the pleasure this work brings to others. It remains a ‘must-read’ for Wodehouse fans, particularly for Wodehouse’s Broadway insights.

And the glimmer of his genius is present, as always.

‘A cat, on its way back from lunch, paused beside him in order to use his leg as a serviette.’

And

‘The furniture had been constructed by somebody who would probably have done very well if he had taken up some other line of industry…’

And

His pause was more eloquent than his speech and nearly as eloquent as his eye.

So don’t take my word for it — if you haven’t read A Damsel in Distress, grab a copy and decide for yourself. The 1937 musical is also available on DVD — here’s a snippet to whet your whistle.

Pip pip to old man trouble
And a toodly-oo too

HP

Further reading

Madam Eulalie: Source of the original Saturday Evening Post header image (above). You’ll also find the original Saturday Evening Post text, illustrations, and annotations.

Reviews of A Damsel in Distress

Pigs Have Wings: PG Wodehouse in Cincinnati (2019 Convention)

cincinnati

The US Wodehouse Society’s biennial convention is the big event for Wodehouse fans in the USA. It also attracts a devoted international crowd and is well worth including on your Wodehouse Bucketlist.

With the next convention in Cincinnati, Ohio just a few months away, it’s time to get excited — and start planning. See the Wodehouse Society’s website for registration and further details. EARLY REGISTRATION ends August 10th. 

I can thoroughly recommend the experience to newcomers. Attending my first convention (Psmith in Pseattle) remains one of the highlights of my life as a Wodehouse fan, and I plan to attend many more conventions in the years ahead. It’s a great chance to meet other fans and Wodehouse experts from around the world, and take home some unique Wodehouse merch.

For convention updates and conversation with other convention-goers, the Pigs Have Wings- PGW in Cincinnati: The Wodehouse Society’s 2019 Convention Facebook group is the place to be — they’ll be able to answer all your convention related questions (and most of your Wodehouse questions as well).

Meeting other Wodehouse lovers in person is always a pleasure (you’ll soon become friends) and Cincinnati looks like a fabulous city.

 

Happy travels!

HP

 

Wodehouse’s Anti-Semitism in Context by Elliott Milstein

This article was originally published in the March 2019 edition of Wooster Sauce, the journal of The P G Wodehouse Society (UK) and is reproduced here with kind permission of the author.

* * *

Wodehouse’s Anti-Semitism in Context

by Elliott Milstein

In searching the internet for reactions to the recent news regarding Westminster Abbey’s plans to dedicate a memorial to P. G. Wodehouse, one of the netizens of PGWNet uncovered an article by Benjamin Ivry in the October 18, 2018, edition of Forward whose title really says it all: “How Lovely P.G. Wodehouse Was – Such a Shame About the Anti-Semitism.”

To put this publication in context, the online journal Forward began life in 1897 as the Yiddish language daily paper Der Forvart, dedicated to the advent of worldwide socialism. Today it remains both Jewish and decidedly left-wing.

As we know, socialists, even in Wodehouse’s time – let alone today, as their numbers dwindle – were not particularly fond of him, partly because of his parodies of them and their cause, and partly because he was seen as advocating for the leisured class. So we should keep in mind that Mr Ivry and his ilk likely come to Wodehouse already thinking him not so “lovely”, despite his use of the word in the title. Ivry even tangentially refers to Wodehouse’s efforts to reduce his tax burden, a gratuitous comment that is clearly an attempt to prejudice his leftward-leaning readership, as such actions would be particularly repugnant to any good socialist.

That being said, there are specific accusations made in the article that deserve an objective response, regardless of its author’s prejudice. In doing so, we need to examine those arguments not only in themselves but also within the context of the extraordinarily complicated and nuanced concept of “anti-Semitism” itself.

There are those who aver that all anti-Semitism is the same. Like some of the aggrieved women of the #MeToo movement who equate any salacious remark with rape, there are many Jews who see anyone who says they’ve been “jewed” at the local greengrocer as a Nazi. I personally do not see these issues in pure black and white, but rather on a continuum. Indeed, the majority of scholars on the subject divide anti-Semitism into two categories, frequently labeled “radical” and “genteel”.

Radical anti-Semites are true Jew haters: those who see Jews as enemies, Christ killers, members of a global cabal bent on world domination, who sacrifice gentile children and drink their blood (if you are unfamiliar with the infamous “blood libel”, I assure you this is not an exaggeration). Such people see Jews as deserving not only of persecution but annihilation.

The more genteel variety are those who merely indulge in Jewish stereotypes: the hard-nosed and even corrupt businessman – greedy, grubbing, cheap, excessively uxorious, vaguely obnoxious; people who look funny, dress funny, and talk funny; what Margalit Fox, in her excellent book Conan Doyle for the Defence refers to as “the Other”. They would be abhorred at the idea of persecuting or harming Jews in any way, but they’d rather avoid them, if they can, preferring to associate with PLU (“people like us”). They are not above making a nasty crack from time to time, but more in the way of a witticism than a true expression of grievance, much as such a one may callously mock a person with a lisp or physical deformity.

Ivry makes no specific distinction on the continuum but, based on his arguments, seems to see Wodehouse in both lights, though perhaps more genteel than radical. His arguments fall into three categories: the wartime broadcasts, evidence from his writings, and his private reflections and personal letters.

I will not take the time here to rehash the broadcast arguments and counter-arguments. I will assume that the Sauce readership is fully familiar with this canard and its refutations. Suffice it to say that anyone who believes, as Ivry clearly does, that Wodehouse made these broadcasts out of sympathy with the Nazi cause would certainly believe him to be a radical anti-Semite, but he would just as certainly be wrong. Let us leave this entire subject in the dustbin of history where it belongs and look at the arguments from his writings.

To begin, we must remember that genteel anti-Semitism was so infused in Victorian and Edwardian society that it was virtually everywhere. Perhaps the most notorious example of an anti-Semitic character of the time was Dickens’s Fagin from Oliver Twist. But Dickens himself never saw it as such. When challenged by a Jewish acquaintance, Eliza Davis, for perpetrating this “great wrong” against her people, Dickens protested that he had “no feeling towards Jews but a friendly one”. When asked why he made such a point of making Fagin Jewish, his long reply could be summed up as “literary convention”. In fact, after this exchange, Dickens felt so bad about Fagin that he deliberately made the Jew Riah in his next book, Our Mutual Friend, a remarkably good and sympathetic character. Davis responded by presenting Dickens with a Hebrew-English Bible inscribed, in part, with thanks for “atoning for an injury as soon as being conscious of having inflicted it”. (Our Mutual Friend, Penguin Books, note on page 820 by editor, Adrian Poole)

When I was working on my Wodehouse thesis back in 1976, I was deeply fortunate to have as my adviser J. M. Cameron, a British professor of the old school, recently retired and transplanted from his position as Chair of Philosophy at the University of Leeds to my school, St Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. This article does not give me ample space to fully describe this wonderful man, but he was, for one of his time and upbringing, extraordinarily dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism of all kinds. He told me that after Kristallnacht (November 9–10, 1938), he vowed he would never let even the most innocent anti-Semitic comment made in his presence go unchallenged.

One day as I was discussing my research before I even began writing the paper, he asked me if I had seen any anti-Semitic references in Wodehouse’s writing. I told him I had not. He replied, “He would be quite unique for that period if there were none. Look for them. I am sure you will find them.” And, of course, put on the scent like that, I did. Because, after all, as Prof. Cameron pointed out to me later, virtually every British writer of the time did. The question for us today – post-Kristallnacht, post-Holocaust – is whether, like Henry James, George Orwell, Graham Greene, H. G. Wells, etc., they fell into the genteel category; or, like T. S. Eliot, H. Rider Haggard, Sapper, John Buchan, etc., into the more virulent radical kind; or, like Dorothy L. Sayers, Virginia Woolf, Evelyn Waugh, etc., somewhere on the continuum.

In Wodehouse’s early books and stories, there are several (no more than four or five, I believe) references to “Jews” as such. The most memorable for me was in Money for Nothing, when John Carroll, in order to distract Pat Wyvern during an especially embarrassing moment in a night club, remarks: “That man . . . looks like a Jewish black beetle.” A gratuitous remark, until one realizes that the character referred to is a “Mr A. Baerman”, the name of the Jewish literary agent who stole Wodehouse’s copyright to Love Among the Chickens. So this quick comment was really just Wodehouse getting a little of his own back at this admittedly nasty man.

But Ivry ignores all of these references (probably he is unaware of them, as they are so few and far between) and, indeed, eschews the more well-known examples of the Jewish money lenders disguised as Scotsmen in Leave It to Psmith; Ukridge’s nefarious partner, Isaac O’Brien, in ‘The Exit of Battling Billson’; or the obnoxious behaviour of the Cohen Brothers in ‘The Ordeal of Oswald Mulliner’. And truly, all of this is pretty mild stuff. I bring it up merely to point out that, as Owen Dudley Edwards states in his book P. G. Wodehouse, “Wodehouse for the most part showed himself far above the magazines where he learned his craft, and even here his shortcomings, while cheap, have nothing of the smooth venom apparent in many of his fellow-writers’ comments on ‘Hebrews’.”

Ivry instead concentrates his ire on Wodehouse’s portrayal of the Hollywood magnates Jacob Z. Schnellenhamer, Isadore Fishbein, and Ben Zizzbaum. There is no doubt that the names chosen are deliberately Jewish-sounding and the characters themselves are far from sympathetic. But it remains that there is no commentary by Wodehouse in the stories on any aspect of their Jewishness, nor are any of the stereotypical attributes played upon. Most likely, these movie executives are given Jewish names for the simple reason that movie magnates in the 1930s were, in fact, predominantly Jewish, something Wodehouse knew firsthand, and it would have been odd if he hadn’t given these characters Jewish names. This is hardly evidence of an anti-Semitic attitude.

It is also important to note that, post-Holocaust, even these mild references to Jews disappear entirely. The character of Ivor Llewelyn – introduced as “Ikey” in The Luck of the Bodkins (1935), making fun of him adopting a false Welsh name – comes back in the 1970s in two books as a much more sympathetic figure, and his Welshness is legitimized with a reference to a Welsh school marm in his childhood, removing even the tiny trace of Jewishness with which he was created. Thus, in a way it can be said that Wodehouse, too, atoned for an injury when he became conscious of having inflicted it.

When asked why the word “Jew” had been removed from later editions of Brighton Rock and Stamboul Train, Graham Greene responded that “after the Holocaust one couldn’t use the word Jew in the loose way one used it before the war. . . . [T]he casual references to Jews [are] a sign of those times when one regarded the word Jew as almost a synonym for capitalist.” In other words, seen through the magnifying lens of the Holocaust, earlier ‘genteel’ anti-Semitism grows to look more like the ‘radical’ version, when clearly that was never the author’s intent. Even the unworldly Wodehouse saw the truth of this and reacted similarly.

The final argument Ivry makes is that Wodehouse’s anti-Semitic attitudes can be gleaned by his references to Jews in his private letters. These are potentially more damning because they reflect Wodehouse the man, not the writer, as speaker and are therefore more likely to reflect his true feelings. Also, many of the examples are post-Holocaust.

The first example Ivry gives, however, is from Hollywood before the war, claiming that Brian Taves notes that “some of Wodehouse’s fellow screenwriters suspected him of being anti-Semitic”. He supports this by citing Philip Dunne, whom even Ivry notes was “left-wing”; Dunne “believed Wodehouse’s ‘hatred’ for members of the SWG [Screen Writers Guild] . . . was an anti-Semitic matter.” The truth behind this story, which is available in full in Brian Taves’s excellent book P. G. Wodehouse and Hollywood, is that Wodehouse was being heavily recruited by Dunne to leave the mainstream, extant Screen Playwrights union for the new, socialist SWG, but Wodehouse refused, even showing the other union Dunne’s recruitment letters. Dunne never forgave him and perpetrated this scandal in retaliation.

According to Taves, Dunne was the only screenwriter to accuse Wodehouse of anti-Semitism, not “some of [his] fellow screenwriters”. Here, it seems, Ivry’s prejudice takes the form of deliberate deception to perpetrate what he must have known was a falsehood.

The same is true of Ivry’s use of his later letters. Without rehashing each example, I will say that the only thing damning about the references, when one looks at them closely, is that Wodehouse refers to several Jewish people as “Jews”. Now, one can question why – when complaining, for instance, about how “repulsive” Groucho Marx had become in the 1950s (a perfectly reasonable complaint, I’m sad to say) – he had to describe him as a “middle-aged Jew” rather than a “middle-aged man”, but as Groucho’s Jewishness always was quite manifest, it is hardly significant evidence of an anti-Semitic remark, but more as a colorful descriptor.

The fact is that context is everything. In my own family, when discussing where to dine out, one family member will sometimes turn down a choice of restaurant as having “too many Jews”. Clearly an anti-Semitic remark, right? In actuality, we all know that what she means is that she prefers going somewhere where we are unlikely to run into a lot of people we know. It is a remark made in private to people who know exactly what she means, but, taken out of context and made public, it sounds awful. We must remember that the true context of Wodehouse’s letters to friends and family cannot be fully known.

Here, finally, is the most outrageous example from Ivry’s article, in which context is deliberately hidden. He quotes the following from a letter to Bill Townend dated January 15, 1949: “A curious thing about American books these days is that so many of them are Jewish propaganda. Notice in [Norman Mailer’s] ‘The Naked and the Dead’ how the only decent character is Goldstein. [Irwin Shaw’s] ‘The Young Lions’ is the same. It is a curious trend. The Jews have suddenly become terrifically vocal. Did you see that picture, ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’?”

Sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it? But then read the passage that Ivry leaves out, which immediately follows: “I am wondering if that book of yours about Jews might not do well over here. If you will send me a script, I will see what I can do with it.” (Thanks to Sophie Ratcliffe [P. G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, p.427] for making this research possible!)

So, what out of context looks like a complaint about the sudden vocalness and pushiness of Jews, is, in context, a prelude to Wodehouse’s offer to promote Townend’s book about Jews. This is hardly the action of an anti-Semite.

When I see examples of people in the early 21st century judging people over a hundred years ago by today’s standards, I always reflect that the young people of the 22nd century are just as likely to feel the same about me because I eat meat or have supported my local zoo, or committed some other future solecism I cannot even imagine. Attitudes and mores change over time, thank goodness. Context is everything.

P. G. Wodehouse was, by all accounts, a mild, kindly, and benign man, but he was a man of his time. It is natural that his attitudes toward the Jewish people were influenced by that, and such attitudes would manifest. But within context, and especially in comparison to his contemporaries, he still remains, in my estimation, a mild, kindly, and benign man, and our post-Holocaust sense of what constitutes anti-Semitism simply does not apply here.

* * *

My thanks to Elliott Milstein for his permission to share this piece at Plumtopia.

HP

Tales from the Junior Lipstick: the F. of the S. — Part II

Back by popular demand, if a broad definition of the word popular is applied, Part II of my homage to P.G. Wodehouse, a Junior Lipstick Club story

The F. of the S.

Here’s Part I if you missed it.  

* * *

Eustacia Bellows and Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow (said Hilda Gudgeon) had been pals since childhood. When Stacey was nine she saved Cyril from drowning in the village pond, and when an impressionable young girl saves a chap from drowning, she naturally takes a proprietorial interest in his progress. When Cyril was lying-in with mumps, she read him Pickwick. In the holidays she took him for bracing walks and corrected his square cut.

They met again by chance in London last spring. Cyril had just stepped in front of an omnibus, and Stacey, who happened to be on hand, dashed into the road and pushed him aside.

When Cyril had finished gulping like a stranded goldfish, she deposited him in a neighbouring tea and bun shop and got to work on rekindling the friendship. For love had hit her, as surely as the number 37 omnibus hadn’t hit Cyril. Stacey could see the poor lamb was lost without her. It had been almost two years since they’d last met — how Cyril had managed to survive all that time in London without her was a mystery.

“Fancy running into you again, Pompy old pet,” said Stacey, opening proceedings with her trademark cheerfulness.

Cyril blinked like a bewildered rabbit. I don’t know what kind of shove she gave him, but Stacey was our school’s half-prop — Rosie Benger’s shoulder still gives her trouble after being on the receiving end of one of Stacey’s tackles. Given the choice between colliding with an omnibus or Stacey Bellows, I’m not sure I wouldn’t take my chances with the bus. I dare say Cyril, who was always on the delicate side, was feeling it.

“How’s the metrop treating you?”

“Fine, fine,” Cyril gurgled.

“You’re looking well,” said Stacey, proving the adage that love is blind, for Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow was not one of nature’s greatest hits. His closest friends might, after a good meal and some financial inducement, be persuaded to call him Byronic, but a consumptive Byron at best, with some sort of wasting sickness thrown in.

Cyril sniffed his tea.

“So, no secret troubles then?”

“Eh?”

“One merely wonders. Chaps don’t usually go about flinging themselves at omnibuses, you know. I suppose the odds are lower for poets. Some worm criticises your latest effort, and just as you’re pondering whether life is worth living, along comes the number 37. I expect it’s an occupational hazard.”

Cyril bristled –- or tried to. Weakened by his ordeal, Cyril’s bristling was on par with that of an existential hedgehog who has given up on life.

“The critics were very complimentary about my last volume.”

“Were they? That’s terrific! I’m dashed sorry I haven’t read it. The only thing of yours I’ve read is that collection you sent at Christmas. Something about butterflies, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s it. Where Doth the Moth?: Prose studies of the anthropomorphic condition.”

“And they liked it, you say?”

“One critic,” said Cyril proudly, “called it the most astonishing new work since The Tay Bridge Disaster.”

Well, love may be blind, but even love could not overlook the fact that Where Doth the Moth? contained some of the worst bilge ever flung at the poetry-loving public. To give you just one example:

Love, love, and thirst.

Fools endure like true honey.

Wishes flap!

Rotting hide.

Digestion is a torpid bride.

Hero holds the highest grape.

Bounder laps the rotting pool.

The flounder is a fool.

 

It goes on like that for another thirty-seven stanzas.

“I’m just putting the finishing touches on my next volume,” said Cyril. “I’ll send you a copy.”

“Please do.”

“And you’ll be invited to the wedding.”

“Is someone getting married?”

“I am,” said Cyril, brightening a little. “Angelica Blake has just agreed to marry me. I was on my way to speak to her father when you… err… ran into me. My mind was dwelling on Angelica’s tender face.”

“Your mind, such as it is, was very nearly dwelling all over Piccadilly Circus. I don’t like the sound of it. Are you sure this female is a good influence?”

“Angelica is my ideal,” said Cyril, filling himself with air. “She walks in beauty like the night…”

“So she’s a pippin,” said Stacey. “But is she fit to handle the business of being Mrs Pomfrey-Waddelow? The woman who marries you will need nerves of steel and the biceps of an all-in wrestler. Can she do the Australian crawl with one arm, and lug a kicking boy in the other — that’s what I want to know.”

Cyril shuddered. “I haven’t fallen in a pond in years.”

“No, you’ve moved on to omnibuses. What would this Blake female have done if she’d been the woman on the spot today?”

“Oh, Angelica,” said Cyril with feeling. “To see her beloved, as I hope I may now call myself, stricken before her eyes would haunt her delicate soul forever.”

“Sensitive girl, is she?”

“Naturally. She’s a poet too, you know. This afternoon, she’s reading her Sonnets of Sincerity to the Wimbledon Ladies Literary Society.”

Stacy was renown at school for her quick thinking, and her wits did not desert her at the crucial moment.

“I’d like to see that. A pal of mine is on the committee. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I buzzed down to Wimbledon and joined the festivities.”

“I wish I could join you,” said Cyril. “I have to catch Angelica’s father before he leaves for the country.” Cyril’s brow, by the despairing light of the tea-shop, wore an unearthly aspect. “She says she can’t marry me unless he gives his consent.”

“What? In these enlightened times?” asked Stacey, brightening.

“Her father is Sir Igneous Blake, the gravel magnate. He’s about eight feet tall and looks like Grendel on one of his bad days. He bullies poor Angelica terribly.”

“Well, don’t let him bully you, old thing. Make a good impression, and if he gives you any trouble, be firm.”

“I’m wearing my best suit,” said Cyril.

Stacey inspected Cyril’s costume. His morning coat was covered in dust and there was a hole in one trouser leg. His hat was intact, but it was a filthier, more misshapen hat than strictly fashionable. Cyril looked less like something the cat had dragged in, than something a discerning cat would give a wide berth to. It occurred to Stacey that a prospective father-in-law might feel the same way.

“On second thoughts,” said Cyril, “perhaps it can wait until I go down there on Friday.”

“Why put it off?” Said Stacey. “I’d do it now if I were you.”

“Do you really think so?”

“I do. Show old Pop Blake that an omnibus can’t keep a good Pomfrey-Waddelow down. Besides, you don’t want to keep a dear girl like Angelica waiting for an answer.”

“No. I suppose you’re right.”

“That’s settled then,” said Stacey. “Sit tight and finish your tea while I pop out and get you a taxicab.”

* * *

Continue to Part III

HP

Tales from the Junior Lipstick: the F. of the S.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again–girls are rummy. Old Pop Kipling never said a truer word than when he made that crack about the f. of the s. being more d. than the m.

P.G. Wodehouse ~ Right Ho, Jeeves

With Ben Schott‘s recent homage to Wodehouse, Jeeves and the King of Clubs, so well received by the critics, the time seems right to tell you about a little homage of my own invention, which I’ve been threatening to share for some time. Unlike most Wodehouse fan-fiction, it does not feature Jeeves or Bertie Wooster. I’ve chosen to set my homage within the inner sanctum of one of Wodehouse’s lesser known fictional clubs — The Junior Lipstick.

As a women’s club, Wodehouse could never comfortably enter this world (in life, or in fiction), but he provides a fleeting glimpse in ‘Came the Dawn’ (Meet Mr Mulliner) when Angela Biddlecombe is fetched ‘from the billiard-room, where she was refereeing the finals of the Debutantes’ Shove-Ha-penny Tournament…. She was smoking a cigarette in a long holder, and as she approached she inserted a monocle inquiringly in her right eye.’  

I thought it might be fun to take a closer look into this world in a series of short stories, while also having a pop at the Wodehouse style (the tricky bit). I won’t thrust the whole bally lot upon my poor blameless readers here, just my introduction to the first story. It’s not perfect, but it was terrific fun to write.

THE F. OF THE S.

Into the atmospheric pea-souper of the Junior Lipstick Club smoking room, Daphne Dinmont made an appearance.

“What beasts men are,” she said, attacking a blameless armchair. “They toy with our hearts, and flit and sip like butterflies on a toot.”

“Does this mean all bets are off on an early union between yourself and Jerry Noble?” asked Trixie Steggles, who liked to keep abreast of the form.

“You bet it does!” said Daphne.

“For three weeks, he gave me the rush of a lifetime. Dinner at the Carlton, dancing at Mario’s, boating on the Serpentine. Then last Tuesday, he cancelled our lunch to visit a dying aunt in Aberdeen and I haven’t heard from him since, but Mavis Stubbs saw him at the Scarlet Centipede, dancing like a gigolo on shore leave. And now I’ve just seen him lunching at the Berkeley with Felicia Koops and that idiotic Pekingese of hers — staring lovingly into her eyes.”

“The peke’s?”

“No, the Koops’.”

“Look on the bright side,” said Lettice Albright, who, unlike the poet Blake, could happily see another’s woe and not be in sorrow too. “Perhaps the Peke will bite him.”

“Do you suppose it’s possible to bribe a Peke?” asked Daphne.

“Too unreliable,” said Trixie. “I remember at school, Veronica Turbington persuaded Miss Whemper’s Basset Hound to eat her Thucydides paper. It gorged itself on the best bits, refused to touch the worst passages, and regurgitated the remains on Miss Whemper’s mauve slippers.”

“Quite right,” said Jane Hubbard, puffing on a congenial pipe. “Nothing beats a snake. Slip one into his bedroom after dinner, let the snake do the rest.”

“Don’t be an ass,” said Trixie. “How does she get the snake into his bedroom?”

“That depends on what floor he sleeps on,” said Jane. “I met a man at Aswan who shimmied up the Old Cataract Hotel with a live cobra stuffed down his trousers.”

“That’s just the sort of low trick I’d expect from a man,” said Daphne. “Men can do whatever they like. They flit and sip, and scale walls with their trousers full of snakes. And what can we women do about it? Nothing!”

The shapely eyebrows of the smoking room rose in unison.

Jane Hubbard snorted. Hilda Gudgeon looked up from the letter she’d been writing to the MCC on proposed changes to the Leg-Before-Wicket rule. Ordinarily content to let girls be girls, she knew when a firm hand was needed.

“What rot!” said Hilda. “That sort of talk will get you struck from the club register.” The girls in the smoking room nodded in approval, eyebrows restored to normal service.

“But, what can I do about Jerry?” said Daphne, looking slightly ashamed.

“Plenty,” said Hilda. “I’d have created a scene at the Berkeley if I were you. If you can break windows, break ’em! You could try and get him back if you really want to, but he sounds like a bit of a worm to me.”

“I… I suppose he is a worm, but I thought he was my worm.”

Daphne’s lower lip trembled like an infant violinist, and Hilda gave her a commiserating wink. As one of the Junior Lipstick’s less junior members, she’d seen this sort of thing before.

“Women are just as capable as men,” said Hilda. “Remember what Kipling says about the female of the species?”

“That’s just poetry.”

“Not just poetry. I can think of at least a dozen real examples without trying.” Hilda paused thoughtfully for a while before continuing.

“Did you ever meet Eustacia Bellows? Stacey to her friends and admirers. She was always popping into the club at one time, before her troubles with Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow.”

“Is that a person?”

“Certainly. The Shropshire Pomfrey-Waddelows are an old family. Cyril is currently making a name for himself as a poet.”

“Good for him.”

“And if you stop interrupting me, I will tell you about them.”

“Oh, go on then,” said Daphne.  

***

Fancy more f. of the s.?

Read Part II of the story here

***

I’d love to know what you think of it.

HP

 

 

 

Reading Wodehouse: a plea for help

What Ho, Wodehouse fans,

Robert Pimm needs your help.

Does he have a complete set of the Folio Society Wodehouse?

And what should he read when he’s finished them?

I’ll post my thoughts, once I’ve gathered them, but I know you’ll have some good advice on these important questions.

Pip Pip
HP

Robert Pimm: novels, short stories and more

I need help.

I need help from Wodehouse experts, or Kenner as we call them here in Austria.

For years, I have been relishing my father’s Folio Society collection of Jeeves and Wooster stories.  I have so far read 14 of them, as reported in my blogs Aunts aren’t gentlemen – 10 quotations, Jeeves and the feudal spirit: 20 delicious quotations, and Right ho, Jeeves – 14 fruity quotations (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).

When I started reading Wodehouse, as reported in my blog How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide, I received invaluable practical advice from top Wodehouse specialist Plumtopia.  I recommend her.

I have now reached the final boxed set of my father’s collection, which I find comprises six volumes set at Blandings Castle: Summer Lightning (1929); Heavy Weather (1933); Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939)…

View original post 308 more words

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

Six reasons why P.G. Wodehouse is Stephen Fry’s hero

If I were to construct a Plumtopian society according to my own specifications (which, regrettably, nobody has asked me to do) BBC Radio 4 would be one of the first things I’d bung into the package.

In addition to producing high quality radio, the Radio 4 website is also well worth exploring. It contains, among other things, this little gem:

Six reasons why P.G. Wodehouse is Stephen Fry’s hero

Fry and Wodehouse are always an irresistible combination. For a second helping try the 2017 broadcast (currently available on repeat) of Stephen Fry on PG Wodehouse, as part of the BBC Radio 4 Great Lives series.

That’s enough from me.

Happy listening.

HP