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Three Unconventional Roads To Wodehouse

Mr Mulliner SpeakingThe Blog ‘Classically Educated’, which offers itself as ‘A Place for Global Citizens and Polymaths’, recently recommended ‘Three Unconventional Roads to Wodehouse’ – a welcome addition to this subject.

One of my great regrets in life is not having put in the necessary mental spadework to develop my potential as a polymath. My mental faculties are sound – perhaps not genius material, but my mother (like Bertie Wooster’s) thought me bright. And I’m genuinely interested in knowing, well… everything! It’s not a question of prestige, or being good at quiz nights — I just hate to be ignorant.

But life is stern and life is earnest. The necessary toil which consumes one’s fertile thinking hours, also has a tendency to sap ambition. This, along with the inevitable distractions of everyday life, have kept me from developing the old bean to any laudable extent. At this late stage, the best I can reasonably hope for is to become a unimath (if that’s a word, Jeeves), although my areas of current expertise are deplorably limited.

Even on the subject of P.G. Wodehouse, his life and work, I am an enthusiast rather than an expert. I have read (and re-read) his published works, as well as biographies and other works written about him — well over 100 volumes in total. This puts me in the excellent company of hundreds of genial souls around the globe — I am honoured and delighted to be among them. But the experts in our community take their devotion to another level, dedicating long hours to scholarly research to uncover new information (including undiscovered works) for our benefit. I tip my hat to them!

But for the Polymath – or indeed anyone else — looking to extend their reading into the realm of Wodehouse, I feel sufficiently qualified to offer informed advice without making an ass of myself. Indeed, I have already done so.

It always interests me to read others’ recommendations, and I’ve revised my own ideas on the subject many times. There is no wrong way to read Wodehouse, expect perhaps upside-down.

I’m now following this polymath blog in a last-ditch attempt to attain wisdom. Wish me luck!

Happy reading!

HP

Classically Educated

Mention PG Wodehouse in a conversation and most people will immediately think of Jeeves and Wooster.  That’s partly due to the success of the books and stories, but, I suspect, mostly because of the various film and TV adaptations.  Of course, the one with Hugh Laurie as Wooster utterly deserves to have that notoriety.

But there is more to Wodehouse than the butler and his hapless gentleman.  No less a writer (and polymath) than Isaac Asimov said that Wodehouse, on a sentence level, is one of the three greatest writers in the English language (the other two, if memory serves, being Austen and Dickens).

People often scoff at that, of course.  A mere humorist upstaging countless numbers of earnest, serious writers, some of whom are even politically committed?  Blasphemy.  My answer to that is simple: pick up any of Wodehouse’s books, turn to a random page, and read any sentence…

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P.G. Wodehouse reading list: the Blandings stories

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

‘Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend’

(Blandings Castle)

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

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

Blandings Reading List

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

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

something-fresh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

HP

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

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

Jeeves and Wooster Reading List

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

Notes on the series

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

Very Good, Jeeves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Code of the Woosters.

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

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

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

Happy Reading!

HP

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. 

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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

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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

50 authors Wodehouse readers love

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been sharing the  favourite authors of Wodehouse lovers in the ‘Fans of P G Wodehouse’ Facebook community. This final installment lists the 50 most popular writers listed during our discussion of the topic. Their order here is a very rudimentary ranking according to the number of nominations, mentions and ‘likes’.  I share them, imperfectly ranked as they are, in the interests of helping like-minded readers who may be looking for ‘new’ authors to try.

Happy reading!

HP

AUTHORS
1. Agatha Christie
2. Douglas Adams
3. Jane Austen
4. Terry Pratchett
5. Jerome K Jerome
6. Charles Dickens
7. John Mortimer
8. Saki
9. Richmal Crompton
10. RK Narayan
11. G K Chesterton
12. Gerald Durrell
13. Rex Stout
14. J.R.R Tolkien
15. Enid Blyton
16. Bill Bryson
17. Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle
18. J K Rowling
19. John Steinbeck
20. Leo Tolstoy
21. Mark Twain
22. Oscar Wilde
23. E F Benson
24. Henry Cecil
25. Roald Dahl
26. George McDonald Fraser
27. Evelyn Waugh
28. Raymond Chandler
29. Daphne du Maurier
30. Stephen Fry
31. Joseph Heller
32. James Herriot
33. Alistair Maclean
34. Dorothy L Sayers
35. James Thurber
36. Louisa May Alcott
37. Lewis Carroll
38. Frederick Forsyth
39. Richard Gordon
40. Graham Greene
41. Georgette Heyer
42. Stephen Leacock
43. Somerset Maugham
44. Alexander McCall Smith
45. Tom Sharpe
46. George Bernard Shaw
47. William Makepeace Thackery
48. Dornford Yates
49. Leslie Charteris
50. Jhumpa Lahiri