Tag Archives: Saturday Evening Post

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

A Centenary of Piccadilly Jim

The residence of Mr. Peter Pett, the well-known financier, on Riverside Drive, is one of 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. Architects confronted with it reel and throw up their hands defensively, and even the lay observer has a sense of shock. The place resembles in almost equal proportions a cathedral, a suburban villa, a hotel and a Chinese pagoda. Many of its windows are of stained glass, and above the porch stand two terra-cotta lions, considerably more repulsive even than the complacent animals that guard New York’s Public Library.

P.G. Wodehouse: Piccadilly Jim (1916)

So begins Piccadilly Jim, with some of my favourite Wodehouse opening lines. If you’ve never ventured beyond Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Blandings stories, Piccadilly Jim is an excellent place to start. It’s still in print and widely available from reputable bookshops and online sellers.

2018 marks 100 years since Piccadilly Jim’s UK publication, making this year a centenary of sorts for one of Wodehouse’s most loved novels. I say ‘of sorts’ because Piccadilly Jim was serialised in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916, and published in book form the following year in the US. A centennial celebration at Plumtopia is long overdue.

In a nutshell, Piccadilly Jim is the story of American rascal Jimmy Crocker. Having started out as a journalist in New York, he moves to London after his actor father marries into money. Jim’s excesses in London make good copy in the New York papers, who dub him ‘Piccadilly Jim’. The stories are an embarrassment to his new aunt-by-marriage, Nesta Ford Pett, who wants Jimmy to return to New York and work in her husband’s business. Jimmy has little interest in reforming his character, but a chance meeting with a beautiful American redhead called Ann Chester changes his mind.

To this relatively straightforward plot, we add the Wodehouse treatment. The aforementioned household in Riverside Drive also contains Mrs Pett’s odious son Ogden, a literary salon, an undercover detective and multiple imposters.

There was a strong literary virus in Mrs. Pett’s system. She not only wrote voluminously herself–the name Nesta Ford Pett is familiar to all lovers of sensational fiction–but aimed at maintaining a salon. Starting, in pursuance of this aim, with a single specimen,–her nephew, Willie Partridge, who was working on a new explosive which would eventually revolutionise war–she had gradually added to her collections, until now she gave shelter beneath her terra-cotta roof to no fewer than six young and unrecognised geniuses. Six brilliant youths, mostly novelists who had not yet started and poets who were about to begin, cluttered up Mr. Pett’s rooms on this fair June morning, while he, clutching his Sunday paper, wandered about, finding, like the dove in Genesis, no rest.

Ann Chester stands out as another sparkling Wodehouse heroine. She’s a reformed poet with enterprising ideas about kidnapping young Ogden (previously kidnapped in The Little Nugget) and sending him to a dog-hospital for fresh air and exercise. Like Wodehouse’s other infamous redhead Bobby Wickham, Ann has a fiery nature to match her hair colour.

“It’s your red hair!” said Mr. Pett at length, with the air of a man who has been solving a problem. “It’s your red hair that makes you like this, Ann. Your father has red hair, too.”

Ann laughed.

“It’s not my fault that I have red hair, uncle Peter. It’s my misfortune.”

Mr. Pett shook his head.

“Other people’s misfortune, too!” he said.

Of the wider cast, the intimidating Miss Trimble deserves mention as the International Detective Agency’s top operative, who joins the Pett household in the guise of a parlour-maid. Miss Trimble is a martial arts expert, a crack-shot with a revolver, and an outstanding creation from the first.

At this close range she more than fulfilled the promise of that distant view which Mrs. Pett had had of her from the window. Her face was not only shrewd and determined: it was menacing. She had thick eyebrows, from beneath which small, glittering eyes looked out like dangerous beasts in undergrowth: and the impressive effect of these was accentuated by the fact that, while the left eye looked straight out at its object, the right eye had a sort of roving commission and was now, while its colleague fixed Mrs. Pett with a gimlet stare, examining the ceiling.

Miss Trimble is also a socialist, whose assignment in the Pett household gives her an opportunity to sneer at vulgar excess up close.

She frowned disapprovingly at a Canaletto.

“You–ah–appear to dislike the rich,” said Mrs. Pett, as nearly in her grand manner as she could contrive.

Miss Trimble bowled over the grand manner as if it had been a small fowl and she an automobile. She rolled over it and squashed it flat.

Piccadilly Jim has been translated into multiple languages and adapted for film three times, in 1919, 1936, and 2005. The 1919 adaptation by Wodehouse’s friend Guy Bolton is reputedly the most faithful to the book.

The 2005 adaption received some poor reviews from Wodehouse fans, despite an all-star cast including Sam Rockwell as Jimmy Crocker, Frances O’Connor as Ann Chester, and Tom Wilkinson, Brenda Blethyn, Allison Janney, Austin Pendleton, Hugh Bonneville, Tom Hollander, Geoffrey Palmer and Pam Ferris. Too much of Wodehouse’s original material is wasted for this adaptation to be a fan favourite, and the filmmakers seem to have abandoned period authenticity in their choice of costumes, sets, and soundtrack (Sia and Emilíana Torrini make brief musical cameos singing Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Tainted Love’ respectively). I don’t have a strong view about this adaptation, so I’d love to know what you think of it.

And if you are yet to discover the joys of the original, I heartily recommend popping out and picking up a copy — it’s certainly one of my favourites.

Happy reading!

HP

References and further reading

The serialised version of Piccadilly Jim is available online from Madame Eulalie’s inimitable website, complete with the original illustrations by May Wilson Preston.

 

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

A Visit to the Wodehouse family archives

Side view of house.JPG
Home of Sir Edward Cazalet and his wife Camilla, Lady Cazalet

On a beautiful autumn day, I left London’s Victoria Station for the glorious Sussex countryside to visit the home of Sir Edward Cazalet, P.G. Wodehouse’s step-grandson. I had met Edward and his wife Camilla, Lady Cazalet, in London during the summer, and they generously invited me to visit their home to view the family’s archive of Wodehouse materials.

The train journey was a pleasant, uneventful affair, which did not seem, to me, to be in quite the proper Wodehouse spirit. I ought to have been playing ‘Persian Monarchs’ with a genial stranger, or thumbing through a volume of poems by Ralston McTodd. But the closest approximation I could muster was an affinity for Lord Emsworth.

Lord Emsworth, in a train moving in the direction of home, was behaving like a horse heading for his stable. He snorted eagerly, and spoke at length and with emotion of roses and herbaceous borders.

Leave it to Psmith (1923)

It did seem a pity to be traveling merely as myself, and not an imposter. There is a lot to be said for adopting an alias, particularly when your own persona is as dull as my own. Polly Pott managed to pass herself off at Blandings as Gwendolyne Glossop, daughter of the eminent nerve specialist Sir Roderick Glossop (in Uncle Fred in the Springtime). With a bit of forethought, I might have presented myself as his other daughter. But forethought was never my strong suit, and I arrived with a sheepish sense of having let the side down.

I needn’t have worried. Edward Cazalet’s deep affection for his grandfather and enthusiasm for his work ensured a mutual understanding from the start. I spent the day giddy with joy as we looked through Edward’s impressive archive of Plum’s letters and personal materials, including notes for stories and draft manuscripts in various stages of devolvement.

volumes
Much Obliged Jeeves manuscript and volumes of Wodehouse’s letters

Wodehouse’s letters include correspondence with well-known figures of the day, including Agatha Christie, Evelyn Waugh, and Richard Burton. Reading his personal correspondence with family and friends (a tremendous privilege) left a lingering impression of Plum, the man. The impression is a good one. His private letters (many of them published in Sophie Ratcliffe’s P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters) are imbued with the same qualities as his fictional work, displaying sharp wit tempered by a generous spirit.

 

The other night, having run out of ‘Murine’, Ethel squirted some stuff into her eyes which the vet prescribed for Wonder, and a quarter of an hour later complained of violent pains in the head and said that the room was all dark and she couldn’t read the print of her Saturday Evening Post. Instead of regarding this as a bit of luck, as anyone who knows the present Saturday Evening Post, she got very alarmed and remained so till next morning, when all was clear again. It just shows what a dog has to endure. Though, as a matter of fact, I believe dogs’ eyes are absolutely insensitive. I don’t think dogs bother about their eyes at all, relying mostly on their noses.

      Letter to Denis Mackail (March 28, 1946)

P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

There is also a good deal of love in them.

My darling Angel Bunny.

Gosh, how I am missing my loved one! The house is a morgue without you. Do you realise that – except for two nights I spent in NY and the time you were in the hospital – we haven’t been separated for a night for twenty years!! This morning Jed waddled into my room at about nine, and I said to myself ‘My Bunny’s awake early’ and was just starting for your room when I remembered. It’s too awful being separated like this.

Letter to Ethel Wodehouse (July 6, 1967)

P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

lawn-in-sunshineIn the afternoon, Edward took me on a walking tour of the family farm and shared memories of afternoon walks with Plum, during visits to his grandfather’s home in Remsenburg (Long Island, New York). Nature had pulled up her socks and ordered us an exceptionally fine day to compliment the rolling farmland views, and I found myself pondering as Rogers, or possibly Hammerstein, once pondered, whether somewhere in my youth or childhood I had done something good.

Edward and horse by Elizabeth Frink.JPG
Edward Cazalet (with horse sculpture by Elisabeth Frink)

plums-chair
Plum’s library and chair

This joyous feeling reached a crescendo shortly before the cocktail hour, when I visited the cosy attic in which Plum’s treasured possessions have been lovingly preserved by Edward and his family. It contains Plum’s reading chair, his hat and pipe, golf clubs — even his personal statue of the infant Samuel at Prayer. The room is lined with bookshelves containing books from Wodehouse’s own library. The remaining walls are adorned with family photographs and sporting memorabilia.

 

Never a brilliant conversationalist, I was unequal to expressing this pleasure to my hosts at the time. I simply alternated between gaping and grinning for the remainder of my visit.

infant-samuel
Plum’s personal statue of the Infant Samuel at Prayer

I don’t recall doing ‘something good’ in my youth or childhood. Or since, for that matter. But I did spend five years in Van Diemen’s Land without the usual preliminaries of having committed a crime. Perhaps my visit to the Cazalets was Fate’s way of evening out the ledger.

 

Thoroughly gruntled!

HP

Blandings Centenary: Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse

1915 Something Fresh collage

It’s a special week for P.G. Wodehouse fans. June 26th will mark 100 years since the first Blandings story, Something Fresh, was serialised in the ‘Saturday Evening Post’. It was published in book form in September that year (in the U.S. as Something New).

If Wodehouse had not gone on to write more Blandings stories, Something Fresh would be highly-regarded as a fine comic novel. Aside from the memorable central romance between detective fiction writer Ashe Marson and the enterprising Joan Valentine, Wodehouse gives us all the subplots and subterfuge we expect from a Blandings adventure.

And as the work that introduced characters like Lord Emsworth, Freddie Threepwood, Rupert Baxter, and Beach, Something Fresh holds a special place in many Wodehouse lovers’ hearts. It’s one of the books I often return to. The title Something Fresh seems particularly apt because the story leaps from the page, as fresh to me as when I first read it over twenty years ago.

To say that Baxter’s heart stood still would be medically inexact. The heart does not stand still. Whatever the emotions of its owner, it goes on beating. It would be more accurate to say that Baxter felt like a man taking his first ride in an express elevator who has outstripped his vital organs by several floors and sees no immediate prospect of their ever catching up with him again.

It might equally have been titled ‘Something Special’ because there is an extra ‘something’ in this novel that arguably marked a turning point in his work. Perhaps there’s an added injection of happiness in there too — it was while writing Something Fresh that P.G. Wodehouse met and married Ethel Wayman.

He recalls this time in his Preface to a later penguin edition:

Half-way through it I got married (and have been ever since) to an angel in human form who had seventy-five dollars. As I had managed to save fifty, we were fairly well fixed financially, but we felt we could do with a bit more, and by what I have always looked on as a major miracle we got it. My agent, who must have been an optimist to end all optimists, sent the story to the Saturday Evening Post and George Horace Lorimer, its world famous editor, bought it as a serial and paid me the stupefying sum of $3,500 for it, at that time the equivalent of seven hundred gleaming golden sovereigns. I was stunned. I had always known in a vague sort of way that there was money like $3,500 in the world, but I had never expected to touch it. If I was a hundred bucks ahead of the game in those days, I thought I was doing well.

After an already impressive early career, P.G. Wodehouse had arrived!

For a full and informed review of Something Fresh, I recommend the excellent Bully — one of the first and best Wodehouse related blogs. It contains plot-spoilers, so you may prefer to read Something Fresh first.

Happy reading!

HP