Tag Archives: Psmith

Top 50 P.G Wodehouse romances (voted by readers)

This February, I asked readers to nominate their favourite romances from the world of P.G. Wodehouse and to cast their votes in numerous polls on Twitter and Facebook. It’s an admittedly frivolous exercise, but we Wodehouse fans need not be steeped to the gills with serious purpose all the time. If our comments and discussion over the past month have led anyone to pick up a Wodehouse book, we have done our little bit to help spread sweetness and light in the world.

And there’s a lot of sweetness and light to spread — over 80 couples nominated from 58 different novels and story collections published between 1909 (The Gem Collector) and 1974 (Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen). Fans applied a liberal interpretation of ‘romance’ to include favourite couples Dolly and Soapy Molloy, Dahlia and Tom Travers, Bertie and Jeeves, and even Lord Emsworth and The Empress of Blandings –not romantic plots within the strict meaning of the act perhaps, but too beloved to leave out.

Over 660 votes and 130 comments were calculated, crunched and analysed to produce the ‘Top 50’ list below – a wonderful source of reading suggestions if you’re working your way through Wodehouse’s work.

While it would be a mistake to place too much importance on their order of appearance, a few clear favourites emerged. The central romance of Psmith & Eve Halliday in Leave it to Psmith was the stand-out favourite, 22 votes ahead of the second placed romance between Madeline Bassett and Gussie Fink-Nottle (and 38 votes ahead of third). As the leading lovers in Wodehouse’s best-known series, the inclusion of La Bassett and Spink-Bottle makes sense, despite the deplorable drippiness of these characters.

TOP 50 WODEHOUSE ROMANCES
Couple (First) Appear in
1 Psmith & Eve Halliday Leave it to Psmith (1923)
2 Madeline Bassett & Gussie Fink Nottle Right Ho, Jeeves (1934)
3 Bingo Little & Rosie M. Banks The Inimitable Jeeves (1923)
4 Ashe Marson & Joan Valentine Something Fresh (1915)
5 Ronnie Fish & Sue Brown Summer Lightning (1929)
6 George ‘Piggy’ Wooster & Maudie Wilberforce Indian Summer of an Uncle in Very Good, Jeeves (1930)
7 Jimmy Crocker & Ann Chester Piccadilly Jim (1918)
8 George Bevan & Lady Maud Marshmoreton A Damsel in Distress (1919)
9 Cuthbert Banks & Adeline Smethurst The Clicking of Cuthbert (1922)
10 Agnes Flack & Sidney McMurdo Those in Peril on the Tee in Mr Mulliner Speaking (1929)
11 Esmond Haddock & Corky Pirbright The Mating Season (1949)
12 Maudie Stubbs & Sir Gregory ‘Tubby’ Parsloe-Parsloe Pigs Have Wings (1952)
13 Archibald Mulliner & Aurelia Cammarleigh The Reverent Wooing of Archibald in Mr Mulliner Speaking (1929)
14 Sally Fairmile & Joss Weatherby Quick Service (1940)
15 Hugo Carmody & Millicent Threepwood Summer Lightning (1929)
16 Sally Nicholas & Ginger Kemp The Adventures of Sally (1922)
17 William Bates & Jane Packard Rodney Fails to Qualify in The Heart of a Goof (1926)
18 Dolly & Soapy Molloy Sam the Sudden (1925)
19 Mordred Mulliner & Annabelle Sprockett-Sprockett The Fiery Wooing of Mordred in Young Men in Spats (1936)
20 Jeff Miller & Anne Benedick Money in the Bank (1942)
21 Beatrice Chavender & J.B. Duff Quick Service (1940)
22 “Nobby” Hopwood & Boko Fittleworth Joy in the Morning (1947)
23 Madeline Bassett & Spode Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (engaged) (1963)
24 Pauline Stoker & Chuffy Chuffnell Thank You, Jeeves (1934)
25 Sacheverell Mulliner & Muriel Branksome The Voice from the Past in Mulliner Nights (1933)
26 Jill Mariner & Wally Mason Jill the Reckless (1921)
27 Tipton Plimsoll & Veronica Wedge Full Moon (1947)
28 Sam Shotter & Kay Derrick Sam the Sudden (1925)
29 Monty Bodkin & Sandy Miller Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin (1972)
30 Lord Emsworth & The Empress of Blandings Pig-Hoo-o-o-o-ey in Blandings Castle (1935)
31 Jerry Vail & Penny Donaldson Pigs Have Wings (1952)
32 Billie Dore & Lord Marshmoreton A Damsel in Distress (1919)
33 Bill Chalmers & Elizabeth Boyd Uneasy Money (1917)
34 George Mulliner & Susan Blake The Truth About George in Meet Mr Mulliner (1927)
35 Stiffy Byng & Stinker Pinker The Code of the Woosters (1938)
36 Ramsden Waters & Eunice Bray The Rough Stuff in The Clicking of Cuthbert (1922)
37 Bill Lister & Prue Garland Full Moon (1947)
38 Aunt Dahlia & Tom Travers Clustering Round Young Bingo in Carry On, Jeeves (1925)
39 Berry Conway & Ann Moon Big Money (1931)
40 Joe J. Vanringham & Jane Abbott Summer Moonshine (1937)
41 Adrian Mulliner & Lady Millicent Shipton-Bellinger The Smile that Wins in Mulliner Nights (1933)
42 Annabel Purvis & Freddie Fitch-Fitch Romance at Droitgate Spa in Eggs, Beans and Crumpets (1940)
43 Horace Appleby & Ada Cootes Do Butlers Burgle Banks? (1968)
44 Bobbie Wickhham & Reggie ‘Kipper’ Herring Jeeves in the Offing (1960)
45 Bertie & Jeeves The Inimitable Jeeves (1923)
46 Pat Wyvern & John Carroll Money for Nothing (1928)
47 Jane Hunnicut & Jerry West The Girl in Blue (1970)
48 Galahad Threepwood & Dolly Henderson Summer Lightning (mention only – Dolly never appears) (1929)
49 Captain Brabazon-Biggar & Mrs Spottsworth Ring for Jeeves (1953)
50 Freddie Widgeon & Sally Foster Ice in the Bedroom (1961)

That’s just the top 50 — there’s another 30 nominated romances where they came from!

Thanks to everyone who participated. It has been a real pleasure for me to revisit old favourites, and be reminded of some wonderful characters I’d forgotten. I hope you find this list whets your appetite to read or re-read a Wodehouse romance again soon.

HP

Happy P.G. Wodehouse Day!

What Ho, and Happy P.G. Wodehouse Day everyone!

That’s what I’m calling Valentine’s Day this year. And why not? It’s a good day for it. Saint Valentine can’t expect all the attention for himself. Nor can he bally well object — as the Patron Saint of affianced couples, love, and marriage — to us celebrating an author who wrote about these things in abundance.

St Valentine’s Day is also the anniversary of P.G. Wodehouse’s death in 1975. And if your romantic life on Valentine’s Day is as depressing as mine, Wodehouse is the man to turn to for solace and cheer.

This February, I’ve been on a mission to discover your favourite romances from Wodehouse’s world. If you’ll indulge me today (and I really feel somebody ought to), I’d like to share a few of my own favourites.

something-freshJoan Valentine and Ashe Marson

From: Something Fresh

Something Fresh was the book that marked my conversion from a Wodehouse reader to budding completist and fanatic. One of the many memorable features of this novel is the romance between the central  characters.

They are, like most of Wodehouse’s great couples, genuine equals. At the beginning of the story, they’re both earning a meagre income as writers for the same magazine. Joan is an intelligent and capable heroine, brimming with gumption. She motivates Ashe to leave his dingy apartment in search of adventure at Blandings Castle.

“Mr. Marson—”

“Don’t call me Mr. Marson.”

“Ashe, you don’t know what you are doing. You don’t know me. I’ve been knocking about the world for five years and I’m hard–hard right through. I should make you wretched.”

“You are not in the least hard–and you know it. Listen to me, Joan. Where’s your sense of fairness? You crash into my life, turn it upside down, dig me out of my quiet groove, revolutionize my whole existence; and now you propose to drop me and pay no further attention to me. Is it fair?”

“But I don’t. We shall always be the best of friends.”

“We shall–but we will get married first.”

“You are determined?”

“I am!”

Joan laughed happily.

“How perfectly splendid! I was terrified lest I might have made you change your mind.

P.G. Wodehouse's Psmith. Cover of the Bietti edition of Leave it to Psmith (1936).
P.G. Wodehouse’s Psmith. Cover of the Bietti edition of Leave it to Psmith (1936).

Psmith and Eve Halliday

From: Leave it to Psmith

Flamboyant, marvellous, ingenious Psmith is the shimmering star of Wodehouse’s early work and a favourite character of many Wodehouse fans,  including me. In Leave it to Psmith, he meets his romantic match in Eve Halliday. Eve is a strong  capable heroine with limited means, while Psmith has been reluctantly employed in the fish business. After a chance encounter, Psmith and Eve meet again at Blandings Castle.

Eve is a star character in her own right, shining though the story in a way that Psmith’s boyhood companion Mike Jackson (much as we’re fond of him) never managed to do. Had Wodehouse matched Psmith with anyone less worthy, we could not have forgiven him.

‘Cynthia advised me,’ proceeded Eve, ‘if ever I married, to marry someone eccentric. She said it was such fun . . . Well, I don’t suppose I am ever likely to meet anyone more eccentric than you, am I?’

‘I think you would be unwise to wait on the chance.’

‘The only thing is . . .’ said Eve reflectively. ‘“Mrs Smith” . . . It doesn’t sound much, does it?’

Psmith beamed encouragingly.

‘We must look into the future,’ he said. ‘We must remember that I am only at the beginning of what I am convinced is to be a singularly illustrious career. “Lady Psmith” is better . . . “Baroness Psmith” better still . . . And – who knows? – “The Duchess of Psmith” . . .’

mr mulliner speakingArchibald Mulliner and Aurelia Cammarleigh

From: ‘The Reverent Wooing of Archibald’ (Mr Mulliner Speaking)

People with a mere nodding acquaintance of Wodehouse are often surprised to learn that he created many central characters like Joan, Eve, Ashe and Psmith (especially in the stand-alone novels) who were obliged to work without the support of a large income. P.G. Wodehouse is much better known as the creator of Bertie Wooster and his fellow Drones — idle young men of independent wealth and sub-par intelligence.

And they don’t get much idler or sub-parer than Archibald Mulliner, a genial fellow whose only claim to fame is his ability to imitate a hen laying an egg.

– a ‘Charawk-chawk-chawk-chawk’ of such a calibre that few had ever been able to listen to it dry-eyed. Following which, it was Archibald’s custom to run round the room, flapping the sides of his coat, and albumen which she sees lying beside her in the straw.

Then, gradually, conviction comes.

‘It looks like an egg,’ one seems to hear her say. ‘It feels like an egg. It’s shaped like an egg. Damme, it is an egg!’

And at that, all doubting resolved, the crooning changes; takes on a firmer note; soars into the upper register; and finally swells into a maternal pæan of joy – a ‘Charawk-chawk-chawk-chawk’ of such a calibre that few had ever been able to listen to it dry-eyed. Following which, it was Archibald’s custom to run round the room, flapping the sides of his coat, and then, leaping onto a sofa or some convenient chair, to stand there with his arms at right angles, crowing himself purple in the face.

But even a hen-laying-egg impersonator can find love in Wodehouse’s generous world, although Archibald needs to apply the full extent of his talents to smooth the course of a difficult wooing.

Cyril Mulliner and Amelia Bassett

From: ‘Strychnine in the Soup’ (Mulliner Nights)

Some of the great Wodehouse romances take their time to develop. For others, love blossoms from the very beginning.

Mulliner Nights by P.G. Wodehouse

‘You are evidently fond of mystery plays.’

‘I love them.’

‘So do I. And mystery novels?’

‘Oh, yes!’

‘Have you read “Blood on the Banisters”?’

‘Oh, yes! I thought it was better than “Severed Throats”.’

‘So did I,’ said Cyril. ‘Much better. Brighter murders, subtler detectives, crisper clues.., better in every way.’

The two twin souls gazed into each other’s eyes. There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.

‘My name is Amelia Bassett,’ said the girl.

‘Mine is Cyril Mulliner. Bassett?’ He frowned thoughtfully. ‘The name seems familiar.’

‘Perhaps you have heard of my mother. Lady Bassett. She’s rather a well-known big-game hunter and explorer. She tramps through jungles and things. She’s gone out to the lobby for a smoke.

This quotation ends with a hint of the difficulties to come, in the shape of Lady Bassett and her explorer chum Lester Maple Durham (pronounced Mum). These fierce obstacles to a happy union are not easily overcome – it will require all of Cyril’s courage, a goodish brace of cocktails, and a copy of Horatio Slingsby’s ‘Strychnine in the Soup’ to win the girl he loves.

Very Good, JeevesPiggy and Maudie

From: ‘Indian Summer of an Uncle’ (Very Good, Jeeves)

In Very Good, Jeeves, Bertie Wooster is reluctantly obliged – under instruction from his Aunt Agatha – to break up his Uncle George’s romance with Rhoda Platt, a young waitress.  With Jeeves’ assistance Bertie is successful in breaking off the romance, causing the occasional misguided critic to point to this story as evidence of misogyny on the part of the author and his characters. This view is drivel!

“Indian Summer of an Uncle” is a rare but triumphant example of a mature couple finding romance in fiction. Rhoda Platt’s Aunt, Maudie Wilberforce, is revealed as the former Criterion bar-maid to whom Uncle George (now Lord Yaxley) was one engaged. If the family considered her an unsuitable match then, she is even less appealing in advanced middle age.

I should think that in her day she must have been a very handsome girl, though even then on the substantial side. By the time she came into my life, she had taken on a good deal of excess weight. She looked like a photograph of an opera singer of the ’eighties.  Also the orange hair and the magenta dress.

But some extra girth and a dash or orange hair are no obstacle to love in Wodehouse’s world. Uncle George has no hesitation in choosing his former love over her pretty young niece.

As Bertie notes:

The first thing she did when she came in was to start talking about the lining of her stomach. You see the hideous significance of that, Jeeves? The lining of his stomach is Uncle George’s favourite topic of conversation. It means that he and she are kindred souls.

The reunion of Maudie Wilberforce and ‘Piggy’ Wooster is a touching scene, in which the lining of stomachs features heavily. And it gives an aged and girthed f. of the s. like myself some small hope for the future.

But that’s enough sentiment from me today. I’m off to read Honeysuckle Cottage.

If you can stomach a little more romance, Ashok Bhatia has also written something special for the occasion – on Cupid in Plumsville:

Happy wooing, friends!

HP 

P.G. Wodehouse reading list: the school stories

‘Sit down, Lorimer,’ he said.

There are many ways of inviting a person to seat himself. The genial ‘take a pew’ of one’s equal inspires confidence. The raucous ‘sit down in front’ of the frenzied pit, when you stand up to get a better view of the stage, is not so pleasant. But worst of all is the icy ‘sit down’ of the annoyed headmaster. In his mouth the words take to themselves new and sinister meanings. They seem to accuse you of nameless crimes, and to warn you that anything you may say will be used against you as evidence.

A Prefect’s Uncle (1903)

Admiration for the works of P.G. Wodehouse is not a competitive sport. The merest whiff of appreciation for The Code of The Woosters, one of Wodehouse’s most popular novels, will be sufficient for other Wodehouse fans to scoop you lovingly into the fold. For as Wodehouse once wrote: ‘There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature” (‘Strychnine in the Soup’ in Mulliner Nights)

However, a knowledge of Wodehouse’s school stories – written, as the name suggests, for younger readers — will set you apart as a more serious enthusiast.

These books can be read in any order. If you’re not a fan of the genre, I suggest starting with Mike and Psmith, starring Mike Jackson and Rupert Psmith (the ‘p’ is silent as in pshrimp). I love this story so much that I included it in my top five Wodehouse books.

Wodehouse school stories reading list

*Serialised in the ‘Chums’ between 1908-1909, but not published in book form until 1997.

Notes on the series

P.G. Wodehouse began his writing career at a young age. By his own account:

From my earliest years I had always wanted to be a writer. I started turning out the stuff at the age of five. (What I was doing before that, I don’t remember. Just loafing, I suppose.)

 Over Seventy

As a student at Dulwich college, Wodehouse edited the school magazine, The Alleynian, and received his first payment for writing in 1900 from Public School Magazine for a piece on ‘Some Aspects of Game-Captaincy’.

Wodehouse’s early fiction reflects the public-school life he knew well, and clearly enjoyed. The stories are set mostly in fictional boys’ schools, and expose the various shenanigans and maneuverings of the inmates. Wodehouse included occasional female characters, often as sympathetic letter writers, and wrote several stories about a plucky cricket enthusiast called Joan Romney.

Wodehouse fans will detect a hint of the autobiographical, even in these stories.

It is a splendid thing to be seventeen and have one’s hair up and feel that one cannot be kissed indiscriminately any more by sticky boys and horrid old gentlemen who “knew you when you were that high, my dear,” or who nursed you on their knees when you were a baby. When I came down to dinner for the first time in a long frock and with my hair in a bun there was a terrific sensation. Father said, “My dear Joan!” and gasped. The butler looked volumes of respectful admiration. The tweeny, whom I met on the stairs, giggled like an idiot. Bob, my brother, who is a beast, rolled on the floor and pretended to faint. Altogether it was an event. Mr. Garnet, who writes novels and things and happened to be stopping with us for the cricket, asked me to tell him exactly how it felt to have one’s hair up for the first time. He said it would be of the utmost value to him to know, as it would afford him a lurid insight into the feminine mind.

I said: “I feel as if I were listening to beautiful music played very softly on a summer night, and eating heaps of strawberries with plenty of cream.”

He said, “Ah!”

The Wire-Pullers (A Cricket Story)

Wodehouse’s knowledge of sports and literature, popular culture, history and classics is evident throughout the early stories – and is worked into his writing with the same seamless genius we associate with his classic works.

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

In the context of a long literary life, Wodehouse’s school-story period was short-lived. His first novel for adult readers, Love Among the Chickens, was published in 1906 and introduced his most scandalous ‘old-boy’, Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge. Wodehouse’s transition from writing school stories to writing for adults included novels featuring Mike Jackson and Psmith as adults, and using a boys’ school as the setting for The Little Nugget (1913).

Some critics have argued that Wodehouse and his writing, never ‘grew up’ at all — that the characters in his stories think and behave much like school children in adult clothing. As George Orwell put it:

Mike Jackson has turned into Bertie Wooster. That, however, is not a very startling metamorphosis, and one of the most noticeable things about Wodehouse is his lack of development.

George Orwell In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse:

There’s some truth to this, but rather than a point of criticism, I believe it’s one of the magic ingredients that make’s Wodehouse incomparably special. Despite becoming a master of his craft, Wodehouse’s writing is never weighed down by seriousness — he never loses the youthful spring in his step. In a life that was not without its hardships, this is remarkable, and wonderful.

The school stories are an important part of understanding Wodehouse’s place in the world of literature, as well as enjoyable reading. I recommend them highly.

Many can be viewed in their original magazine format via the excellent Madame Eulalie’s Rare Plums, a site devoted to the early works of P. G. Wodehouse.

More in this series:

HP

A note on the Psmith-Halliday romance by K.V.K. Murthy

32-23This February’s Great Wodehouse romances series continues with another guest author, K.V.K. Murthy, known to Facebook friends as James Joyce.  His piece takes us on a walk through romantic literary history with Psmith and Eve Halliday (Leave it to Psmith).

A note on the Psmith-Halliday romance

by K.V.K. Murthy

The question of favourites is mostly subjective, and Wodehouse’s vast canvas of miniature romances doubtless provides for each taste. The Gussie-Bassett, Tuppy-Angela, Bingo-Banks and others too numerous to mention are all miniatures :a concatenation (to use Jeeves’ word) of comical situation, Edwardian silly-assness and a bit of fat-headedness thrown in for seasoning. They are the staple of drawing-room one-act plays of a certain generation, given occasional revivals in schools to round off the Annual Day shindig. Barring minor changes in detail, they are all more or less cast from the same block. Wodehouse’s success with that block – or formula – lay in the plasticity of his language: in anybody else’s hands it would have spelt tedium, a tiresomely unfunny business.

But the Psmith-Halliday romance stands out, a class apart, with little in common with the other country-house capers. To begin with, this is not a miniature sketch: it is an epic, a work conceived on classical lines working on classical allusions (‘the fruit of an expensive education,’ as Psmith himself would say). If the whole comedy of errors is Bardic, Psmith’s first encounter with Eve, and his first act of devotion is pleasingly (and appropriately) Elizabethan: Eve’s hat, the rain, the hastily produced umbrella are nothing if not throwbacks to Sir Walter Raleigh’s famous act with his cloak for his Queen(Psmith indeed mentions this parallel to the unfortunate Walderwick).

Psmith’s courting is a stately progress, like a gavotte or apas-de-deux – matched perfectly by a languid stateliness of Wodehousian idiom absent from the miniature romances, which again underscores the Master’s fine ear for symphonic form (the book can actually be visualised as a symphony in four movements: a brief adagio, followed by an allegro ma non troppo, a longish andante, and a final presto).

If the romance begins on an Elizabethan note, it also seems to advance through epochs. In his initial moves to Eve, Psmith’s demeanour has faint courtly echoes of Andrew Marvell, although without the fatalistic overtones (in a bizarre coincidence there is even a Cynthia in one of his poems) – and with this we have stepped quietly and seamlessly into the Restoration. But we don’t linger long here.

Soon, Psmith and Eve decant us, seamlessly again, and charmingly – into the Regency. It doesn’t require too overwrought an imagination to see Psmith as a latter-day Beau Brummell – his fastidious appearance alone would have earned a hat doff from that laced and cravated dandy, to say nothing of his manner of speech- and Eve as a fine Belgravia belle (even if her origins in the book, though genteel, are decidedly not West End).

Whether Wodehouse saw these associations, much less intended them to be seen is a moot point. In any case it is only critics who look for them and find them, as this one did. And I’m sure the Master wouldn’t complain. But there is one other aspect which sets the Psmith-Halliday chronicle apart from all the others: its is a complete novel in the classical sense, in the elegant Jane Austen mould, a perfect marriage of form and content.

JJ

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. 

9781585679225_p0_v1_s192x300

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

something-fresh

Blandings

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
mike-and-psmith

Psmith

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

Ukridge

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

wodehouse-young-men-in-spats

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

18053

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

pothunters

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!

HP

More posts in this series:

With more reading lists to follow.

HP

Happy New Year: Snifters with Ukridge at the Coal Hole

Coal Hole and steps
Ukridge took snifters at the Coal Hole in ‘The Debut of Battling Billson’. Image by Honoria Plum

N.T.P. Murphy identifies the Coal Hole in The Strand (in A Wodehouse Handbook, Volume One ) as one of four remaining London pubs mentioned in Wodehouse’s writing. It is mentioned in ‘The Debut of Battling Billson’, after long-suffering narrator James Corcoran meets Ukridge at the Gaiety Theatre.

‘Hallo, laddie!’ said Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, genially. ‘When did you get back? I say, I want you to remember this tune, so that you can remind me of it tomorrow, when I’ll be sure to have forgotten it. This is how it goes.’ He poised himself flat-footedly in the surging tide of pedestrians and, shutting his eyes and raising his chin, began to yodel in a loud and dismal tenor. ‘Tumty-tumty-tumty-tum, tum, tum, tum,’ he concluded. ‘And now, old horse, you may lead me across the street to the Coal Hole for a short snifter….’

(Ukridge, 1923)

Ukridge leads Corky down the steps to the cellar bar and, over a couple of tawny ports, outlines his latest scheme of managing a champion boxer. During a recent visit to London, I followed his example, leading my family down the same steps and through the back entrance, immediately next to the Savoy Theatre stage door.

stage_door_johnnies_28drawing29
Stage Door Johnnies (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Coal Hole is in the heart of Wodehouse’s West End. The Savoy Theatre was very much of Wodehouse’s time, opening in October 1881, five days before his birth. It’s owner, theatre impresario and hotelier Richard D’Oyly Carte, was father to Rupert D’Oyly Carte, whom Wodehouse credited as the inspiration for the character of Psmith (the D’Oyly Carte family believe Wodehouse confused Rupert with his brother, Lucas). The Savoy Theatre was home to the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, which the young Wodehouse greatly admired. Wodehouse would later have one of his own plays, Brother Alfred (written with Herbert Westbrook), produced by Lawrence Grossmith at the Savoy in 1913.

The Gaiety Theatre (demolished in 1956) was famous for its musical comedies and chorus girls, including the ‘Gaiety Girls’ who shocked society by marrying into wealth and aristocracy. They were also a great source of material for the young Wodehouse, who worked for The Gaiety as a stand-in lyric writer (see Murphy’s Handbook for juicy details). His writing is bursting with actresses (like Cora ‘Corky’ Pirbright), chorus girls (Sue Brown, Billy Dore) and former stage dames who’ve put their past behind them, like Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Julia.

There are some things a chappie’s mind absolutely refuses to picture, and Aunt Julia singing ‘Rumpty-tiddley-umpty-ay’ is one of them.

(Extricating Young Gussie, 1915)

874817Wodehouse’s long association with the theatre is most remembered for his contribution as a Broadway lyricist, working in collaboration with Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton. For an account of his theatrical career, Wodehouse and Bolton’s 1954 memoir Bring on the Girls is terrific fun.

There are also references in Wodehouse’s fiction that are clearly drawn from his experiences in the theatre. George Bevan, hero of A Damsel in Distress, is a good example.

‘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! …’

A Damsel in Distress (1919)

Similar sentiments were politely concealed by my long-suffering family, who stood by the entrance to the Coal Hole as I indulged my habit of talking to strangers — on this occasion, a charmingly odd bird, who genially informed us that he hailed from outer space. I ought to have invoked the Ukridge spirit by inviting him to join our party, before touching him for a fiver, or at the very least a glass of port (poor Corky is touched for two rounds of tawny in ‘The Debut of Battling Billson’). Sadly, Ukridge’s big, broad, flexible outlook deserted me at the critical moment.

We took the steps down into the quiet, wood panelled cellar bar. It was easy to imagine this cosy haven attracting thirsty theatre goers, cast and crew. Its intimate atmosphere offers patrons the potential for raucous conversation, intimacy or solitude, according to the mood and occasion. A friendly barmaid directed us to explore the main bar on the floor above, with its entrance directly onto the Strand, abaft the Savoy and (presumably) opposite the old Gaiety. The two bars probably attracted different clientele, but Ukridge was a man who mixed in a wide variety of social circles and I wondered at his choice of the cellar over the grander bar. But as a slightly shabby Colonial, Ukridge’s tastes suited me perfectly well.

My snifter at the Coal Hole was short, but instructive, and it seems a fitting way to toast the end of another year of writing Plumtopia. I’d like to close this final piece for 2015, by raising a glass of the old tawny to you, readers and friends. Thanks for your support and encouragement.

Best wishes to you all for 2016!

HP

Coal Hole cellar bar
The Coal Hole cellar bar (Image by Honoria Plum)

 

When the martyred p. is late for work

As he stood near the doorway, one or two panting figures rushed up the steps, and flung themselves at a large book which stood on the counter near the door. Mike was to come to know this book well.

Psmith in the City

One of the minor curses of my day-to-day existence is being habitually late for work — not through personal tardiness, I hasten to add. Mine is not the life of Joss Weatherby (Quick Service), who oversleeps after late nights at the gambling table, or Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps (Barmy in Wonderland) who goes on toots with Mervyn Potter. No, I go to bed at an early hour and rise regularly at 5.00am to write.

Dragging myself away from writing is a struggle — I sympathise with Nicholas Jules St Xavier Auguste, Marquis de Maufringneuse et Valerie-Moberanne (French Leave) who cannot drag himself from cafes to attend his work at the bureau —

What happens? I wake. I rise. I shave. I bathe. I breakfast. I take my hat and cane. I say to myself ‘And now for the bureau.’ I go out into the street, and at once I am in a world of sunshine and laughter and happiness, a world in which it seems ridiculous to be shut up in a stuffy office with the senile Soupe and the homicidal Letondu. And all of a sudden. . . how it happens I couldn’t tell you . . . I find myself in a chair on the boulevard, a cigarette between my lips, coffee and a cognac in front of me. It’s a most mysterious state of affairs.’

French Leave

Unlike ‘Old Nick’, who cuts an ‘…elegant figure dressed in the extreme of fashion’, my outer crust is not my priority. The best I can manage is a hasty approximation of office wear, with hair and face presented pretty much as God intended them –presumably as some sort of joke. I may never be admired as a testament to English womanhood, but the plus side of maintaining this sort of public image is that it requires very little upkeep. A simple donning of shirt, trousers and shoes is all it takes. In a former workplace, I was known as ‘the girl with wet hair’. I’ve even been known to throw a dress over my writing clothes to save time. But I am always ready to leave home at the required hour.

It is at this point in the morning routine that I wake the half-portion and complete an exercise known to parents everywhere as ‘the school run’. My daughter gets herself ready without a fuss (most of the time). We walk to school together and wait at the gates amongst a sea of families, ready to storm the Bastille when the gate keeper arrives.

At precisely 8:31am, or possibly 8:32 if the gatekeeper has been on a toot with Mervyn Potter, I am ready to begin my commute. I dash to the bus stop with an earnest vigour that would make Psmith proud.

Whose is that form sitting on the steps of the bank in the morning, waiting eagerly for the place to open? It is the form of Psmith, the Worker. Whose is that haggard, drawn face which bends over a ledger long after the other toilers have sped blithely westwards to dine at Lyons’  Popular Cafe? It is the face of Psmith, the Worker.’

Psmith in the City

This keenness on my part goes unseen in the workplace. What colleagues notice is the empty desk at 9:00am. There is no martyred p. (as Archibald Mulliner puts it) where the martyred p. should be. When I open the door to the cosy little crypt we like to call our office, I am met by the dazed expressions of workers who began their toil beneath the artificial light a good deal earlier. I offer an embarrassed “Sorry, I’m late,” but it sounds hollow even to my ears after the 635th consecutive occasion.

The disciplinarians among you will no doubt be tutting to yourselves, feeling that it’s time I changed my attitude.”Martyred ‘p.’s due to toil in crypts at 9.00am should begin to toil at 9.00am,” you say, –no doubt from force of habit. Mr. Duff, Ham magnate and Managing Director of Duff and Trotter, felt the same way about Joss Weatherby in Quick Service. Old Nick’s director at the troisieme bureau of the Ministry de Dons et Legs in French Leave would agree. J.G. Anderson, employer of Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps in Barmy in Wonderland would be banging the desk by now. I suggest you do it too –it’ll make you feel better, and the exercise is no doubt beneficial for someone in your position.

There is little I can do about my morning routine, but re-reading Quick Service (and what a fantastic book that is) has prompted me to revise my attitude instead. As so often happens when reading Wodehouse, I stumbled across a passage so ripe with wisdom and good example that I was encouraged to change my ways almost immediately. The passage pertains to a disagreement between the aforementioned Mr. Duff and his employee Joss Weatherby, who has breezed into the offices of Duff and Trotter several hours later than expected.

“You’re late!” he boomed,
“Not really,” said Joss.
“What the devil do you mean, not really?”
“A man like me always seems to be later than he is. That is because people sit yearning for him. They get all tense, listening for his footstep, and every minute seems an hour…”

Quick Service

Wodehouse does it again! A mere four lines of instructive prose and I am a new woman. No more feeling like a worm uttering pathetic apologies, if indeed that’s what worms do. Henceforth, I shall breeze into the office with a benevolent smile, in the hope that my arrival injects a dash of sunshine into the lives of others. I expect this new attitude will bring me a sort of warm, inner glow that will last, oh, at least an hour I should think.

Thanks again, P.G. Wodehouse!

HP

Hard knocks: Wodehouse, cricket and me

By T. M. R. Whitwell (see File:Mike (Wodehouse).djvu) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Reginald, mark you, whose normal batting style was a sort of cross between hop-scotch, diabolo, and a man with gout in one leg trying to dance the Salomé Dance.

Reginald’s Record Knock

Reginald’s Record Knock’ first appeared in Pearson’s Magazine in 1909. When I encountered the story in Murray Hedgcock’s excellent collection Wodehouse at the Wicket (1997), it instantly struck a chord. You see, my first love, long before I discovered P.G. Wodehouse, was cricket. When I was young, my parents would drop me at the Adelaide Oval (they having no interest in the game) where I would spend the day watching cricket and keeping score in a little notebook.  My greatest wish was to play professional cricket, but tragically, like Reginald Humby, I was an indifferent cricketer:

‘When a boy at school he once made nine not out in a house match, but after that he went all to pieces. His adult cricket career was on the one-match one-ball principle. Whether it was that Reginald hit too soon at them or did not hit soon enough, whether it was that his bat deviated from the dotted line which joined the two points A and B in the illustrated plate of the man making the forward stroke in the ‘Hints on Cricket’ book, or whether it was that each ball swerved both ways at once and broke a yard and a quarter, I do not know. Reginald rather favoured the last theory.’

Unlike Reginald, who we shall return to anon, my story is a painful one. As a young girl in 1970s Australia, finding an opportunity to play cricket was challenge enough. I joined the school team of course, but was never allowed to bat or bowl in the nets at practice. My duties were restricted to fetching wayward balls. My name was usually omitted when the weekly team notice was posted, although occasionally I was named 12th and my parents would drop me at some far-flung suburban ground to spend a day watching others play.

I was named in the first eleven once, when an outbreak of cholera or dengue fever gave the coach no other choice. He put me at the bottom of the batting order and sent me to field in the car park, where I could not adequately return the ball. To my lasting shame, I also dropped a catch. Wodehouse knew this feeling, which he described in the poem ‘Missed’:

Oh ne’er, if I live to a million,
Shall I feel such a terrible pang.
From the seats in the far-off pavilion
A loud yell of ecstasy rang.
By the handful my hair (which is auburn)
I tore with a wrench from my thatch,
And my heart was seared deep with a raw burn
At the thought that I’d foozled that catch.

Missed (1903) (Full text at www.madameulalie.org) 

Batting last, I made four not out in the last two desperate overs of our innings, but my poor showing in the field reinforced the coach’s prejudices and I was never picked again.

As a young woman, no longer dependent on the benevolence of adults, I worked hard to learn the game with the assistance of talented cricketing friends. When no friend was to hand, I spent hours alone in the local nets, bowling at an empty wicket. I played indoor cricket several times a week, wrote match reports for a newsletter, and enjoyed every opportunity for a social game. As a bowler, I developed a knack for ousting over-confident batsmen. Their faces would light up like a child’s at Christmas when I came on to bowl, for in addition to being a girl, I was also short, pudgy and wobble-breasted. The decent players would pretend not to have noticed, but more ordinary batsmen looked on me as their big chance – like Wodehouse’s Reginald when he discovers Blagdon is bowling.

The sight sent a thrill through Reginald. He had seen Blagdon bowl at the nets, but he had never dared to hope that he might bat against him in a match. Exigencies of space forbid a detailed description of Blagdon’s bowling. Suffice to say that it was a shade inferior as bowling to Reginald’s batting as batting.

And later, when Reginald faces Westaway:

Scarcely had Reginald recovered from the pleasurable shock of finding Blagdon bowling at one end when he was amazed to find that Westaway was bowling at the other. Critics had often wrangled warmly as to the comparative merits of Blagdon and Westaway as bowlers; some thought that Blagdon had it, others that Westaway was the more putrid of the two; a third party called it a dead heat.

The prospect of my bowling evoked similar joy in opposing batsmen. Even before my first ball, hitherto unpromising players would be seen scoping-out gaps in the field and practicing hook shots in the air. By the time I waddled up to release my ball (which I insisted was medium pace, however slow the act of delivery appeared) the batsman would have invariably run out of patience and danced up the pitch to meet the anticipated long-hop or full toss he had mentally prepared to score off. I was wise to this and never pitched short. The over-confident amateur would find himself stranded a long way from home with no time to make alternative plans for unexpected deliveries. Every wicket claimed felt like a great triumph.

In describing Reginald Humby’s emotions on the occasion of his unexpected century, Wodehouse shows us the depth of human feeling he was capable of bunging into his art.

Wodehouse at the Wicket coverThe ordinary batsman, whose average always pans out at the end of the season between the twenties and the thirties, does not understand the whirl of mixed sensations which the really incompetent cricketer experiences on the rare occasions when he does notch a few. As ball follows ball, and he does not get out, a wild exhilaration surges through him, followed by a sort of awe as if he were doing something wrong, even irreligious. Then all these yeasty emotions subside, and are blended into one glorious sensation of grandeur and majesty, as of a giant among pygmies.

Buoyed by minor successes with the ball, I decided to join a cricket club, where I was permitted to carry the drinks and keep score for F Grade (or perhaps it was Q grade). It was a starting point, and the players welcomed me, a 19 year old girl with limited cricketing experience, more warmly than I expected. A little too warmly in fact. It became quickly and painfully clear that they did not take my interest in playing cricket seriously — I was considered something of a groupie, ‘hanging around’ the team presumably in order to bed them.

The team in question were arguably the most unattractive assortment of male specimens ever gathered together on a field; lecherous gout-ridden has-beens, beer swilling could-have-beens, and arrogant thought-they-weres. The only player whose personality would not make his own grandmother wince was the wicket-keeper, who was permanently stoned. Their collective lack of hygiene and inability to keep whites white (members opting instead for a shade of fungal yellow to match their teeth) would have repelled even the staunchest admirer. The idea that I would set my heart on bedding a team of cricketers is insulting; that I would then proceed to select this bunch of degenerates, is astonishing. And yet, this deluded idea they undoubtedly had.

Encountered on the field, they would have given Wodehouse’s Psmith, always sensitive to vulgarity, a shock from which he might not have recovered. As he confessed to Mike:

The last time I played in a village cricket team match I was caught at point by a man in braces. It would have been madness to risk another such shock to my system. My nerves are so exquisitely balanced that a thing of that sort takes years off my life.

Mike and Psmith (1909)

If our team had contained a man in braces, it would have raised the tone considerably and helped draw the eye away from the fungal yellows.

It has now been over twenty years since I played the game and reading Wodehouse on cricket is the closest I get to capturing the enthusiasm I once held for it. Every so often I grow wistful and think about returning to the game, but if the chaps couldn’t accommodate me in my prime, they’re unlikely to indulge me in flabby middle-age. Women do play cricket these days – and good luck to them – but women’s cricket is highly competitive, for skilled and serious athletes. There is no tradition of laid-back social cricket, where women of advanced years and limited ability can combine their love for the game with a long lunch break and a few pints — like Reginald Humby’s club, The Hearty Lunchers.

They belong to the school of thought which holds that the beauty of cricket is that, above all other games, it offers such magnificent opportunities for a long drink  and a smoke in the shade. The Hearty Lunchers do not take their cricket in that spirit of deadly and business-like earnest which so many people consider is spoiling the game.

A Hearty Luncher who has been given out caught at the wicket does not explain on arriving at the pavilion that he was nowhere near the ball, and that the umpire has had a personal grudge against him since boyhood. No, he sinks into a deck chair, removes his pads, and remarks that if anyone was thinking of buying him a stone ginger with the merest dash of gin in it, now is his time.

The Hearty Lunchers don’t mind that Reginald can’t bat, they make room for him anyway, giving ‘Reginald’s Record Knock’ a special place in my heart.

In a wonderful twist, Reginald’s betrothed Margaret Melville is also revealed as a cricket lover who plays in ladies matches. Wodehouse depicts her enthusiasm for the game as genuine, perfectly natural – even admirable. Nothing sordid or unseemly is suggested when we learn Margaret regularly attends the Chigley Heath matches, with a crowd ‘…mainly composed of small boys and octogenarians…’ The fact that Margaret plays in ladies matches also suggests the presence of other lady cricketers  some 17 years before England had a Women’s Cricket Association. Once again it’s worth observing that Wodehouse’s ‘treatment’ of women betters not only his contemporaries, but often our own.

While writing this piece has brought back some painful memories, Wodehouse provides balm for such wounds. Returning to the poem ‘Missed’:

Ah, the bowler’s low, querulous mutter
Points loud, unforgettable scoff!
Oh, give me my driver and putter!
Henceforward my game shall be golf.
If I’m asked to play cricket hereafter,
I am wholly determined to scratch.
Life’s void of all pleasure and laughter;
I bungled the easiest catch.

The world of cricket may have lost me, but perhaps it’s not too late to try my hand at golf.

HP

Wodehouse and Tennyson

The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:John_William_Waterhouse_The_Lady_of_Shalott.jpg
Painting by John William Waterhouse depicting Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott

When Bertie Wooster is brimming with joy on a fine spring morning in The Inimitable Jeeves, he says:

‘In the spring, Jeeves, a livelier iris gleams upon the burnished dove.’

It is one of many Wodehouse references to the works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (from the poem Locksley Hall). In Right Ho, Jeeves, Aunt Dahlia finds a bound volume of Tennyson just the thing for flinging at nephews, and although Bertie claims not to read Tennyson by choice, he is familiar enough with Tennyson’s stuff to quote him often. The following lines from Tennyson’s In memoriam, for example, will be familiar to all who have followed Bertie’s adventures:

That men may rise on stepping-stones
Of their dead selves to higher things.

Being of a non-poetic sort of disposition, I’m not qualified to speak at length on the merits of Tennyson or make comparisons between the writers. I must leave the heavy spade work to others, such as Inge Leimberg, who has written a detailed comparison of Plum’s A Damsel in Distress and Tennyson’s Maud in an excellent piece entitled: Across the pale parabola of Joy”: Wodehouse Parodist.

My own favourite Wodehouse ‘tribute’ to Tennyson is ‘Trouble Down at Tudsleigh’ (in Young Men In Spats), in which Freddie Widgeon attempts to impress the beautiful April Carroway by brushing up on his Tennyson. The story is littered with Tennyson references, which have been helpfully documented in the ever-brilliant Madam Eulalie annotations. The story was delightfully adapted for television as part of the Wodehouse Playhouse series (further evidence that Wodehouse can be successfully adapted for screen) with John Alderton giving a memorable performance of Freddie Widgeon quoting Tennyson: ‘de-da de-da, de-da de-da, the Lady of Shallott’ .

Returning to our original quotation, a closer look at Tennyson’s Locksley Hall rings a few more bells for Wodehouse readers. The poem opens as follows:

Comrades, leave me here a little, while as yet ‘t is early morn:
Leave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the bugle-horn.

The first line is reminiscent of both Psmith (who addresses everyone ‘comrade’) and Aunt Charlotte’s rousing ‘A-hunting-we-will-go’ in The Mating Season.

But tempted though I am to wade deeper into Tennyson’s work in search of Wodehouse, I find my eyes glaze over and my pulse grows weak. Upon discovering a ‘jaundiced eye’, in about the two-hundred and thirty eighth stanza of Locksley Hall, I am a mere shadow of my former self, incapable of even a whispered ‘Ho!’  Now, more than ever, I feel the pathos of Freddie Widgeon’s ordeal in ‘Trouble Down at Tudsleigh’, traversing that fine line between comedy and tragedy.

 HP

Great Wodehouse Romances: When Plum created Eve

Psmith and Eve (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Psmith.jpg)
Psmith and Eve Halliday in Leave it to Psmith

Rupert (or Ronald) Psmith was one of Wodehouse’s earliest heroes. He made his memorable first appearance in 1908 in a school story serialised in The Captain as ‘The Lost Lambs’, better known to many readers under the 1953 title Mike and Psmith. Alongside his bosom school chum Mike Jackson, Psmith (the P is silent as in pshrimp) made a successful transition from school stories to adult fiction in two further novels, Psmith in the City (1910) and Psmith Journalist (1915), before his final appearance in Leave it to Psmith (1923).

It is clear from comments in the growing Wodehouse Facebook community that my own love for this character is shared by many others, so it seems apt that when Wodehouse cast him as a romantic lead, he created Eve.

She was a girl of medium height, very straight and slim; and her fair hair , her cheerful smile, and the boyish suppleness of her body all contributed to a general effect of valiant gaiety, a sort of golden sunniness – accentuated by the fact that, like all girls who looked to Paris for inspiration in their dress that season, she was wearing black.

Leave it to Psmith

Aside from her outward charms, Eve Halliday is also an attractive character. She is one of Plum’s independent heroines, with no stern father or serious minded aunt to misguide her.  The prospect of pinching Lady Constance Keeble’s necklace (in aid of a good cause) does not faze her. She also shows herself to be a loyal friend, with an intelligent mind and an elegance of manner that make her a fitting mate for one of Plum’s most beloved characters.

Psmith agrees:

“This,” said Psmith, “is becoming more and more gratifying every moment. It seems that you and I were made for each other. I am your best friend’s best friend and we both have a taste for stealing other people’s jewellery. I cannot see how you can very well resist the conclusion that we are twin-souls.”

“Don’t be silly.”

“We shall get into that series of ‘Husbands and Wives Who Work Together’.”

At the end of Leave it to Psmith, the couple are engaged and Psmith is hired to replace The Efficient Baxter as Lord Emsworth’s secretary. Although Wodehouse later adapted the story (with Ian Hay) for the stage, he never revisited the Psmiths after their marriage. One possible explanation for this, given by Wodehouse biographer Frances Donaldson, is that Wodehouse could not envisage Psmith without a substantial income. Donaldson also suggests that Leave it to Psmith was written ‘only after much badgering’ by Plum’s daughter Leonora, to whom the book is also dedicated.

Another explanation has been given, by some brainy cove whose name escapes me for the moment (I have a feeling it was Plum himself, but cannot find the reference), is that Wodehouse found it difficult to envisage suitable plots for Psmith after his marriage. Having found his niche as a writer of romantic comedies, Wodehouse had little use for a married hero (Bertie Wooster was kept notably single). Although we are treated to a few short stories centred on the married life of Bingo and Rosie Little, these are exceptions.

The fate of the Psmiths after marriage continues to be a topic for speculation among Wodehouse readers. We want more of them! I have often thought of writing a little homage myself – along the lines of Sebastain Faulks, but without the advance.

Perhaps like the Molloys (Dolly and Soapy, to their friends) the Psmiths might build on their early forays in the necklace pinching business and turn their capable minds to crime. They would excel I am sure, provided they could overcome any moral objections. I see their criminal activities confined to pinching only from those who have the stuff in piles, coupled with a propensity to share their ill-gotten gains with the needy, combining the debonair style of Raffles with the generosity of Robin Hood.

Perhaps more plausibly, I can also imagine the Psmiths entering the crime detection business. From almost the first moment, when Psmith meets Mike Jackson in the common room at Sedleigh, there is something Holmesian about him. Wodehouse was a great fan of Arthur Conan-Doyle, and it is Psmith, not Sherlock Holmes, who first utters the phrase ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’  (in Psmith Journalist). Psmith has the perfect partner in Eve, who promises to be every bit as capable as Agatha Christie’s delightful Tuppence Beresford.

Plotting out the next few chapters in their lives, I see Psmith becoming the unexpected recipient of a modest inheritance (a distant Aunt, or perhaps a rich Uncle in Australia) that would enable the Psmiths to purchase a detective agency. They would excel in the detection business, although they may have to fight off some underhanded skulduggery from a competing agency run by Percy Pilbeam.

Great wealth may never be theirs, unless the Psmiths have the good fortune to recover a Maharaja’s ruby, or compromising letters for a wealthy heiress. But they would have enough to secure a modicum of comfort and keep the wolves at bay. Even in tough times, one suspects the enterprising Psmiths have the necessary wherewithal to succeed in life without ever having to fall back on the fish business.

HP