Tag Archives: Sophie Ratcliffe

Wodehouse News: movie reviews, Slapstick festival & a Japanese stage adaptation

A Sunday triple-bill for Wodehouse fans.

Jeeves and The Hollywood Way

For Golden Age of Hollywood fans, the Grand Old Movies blog is well worth following, and this week they’ve added the pleasures of Wodehouse into the mix. ‘Jeeves and The Hollywood Way’ looks at the two Jeeves movies starring Arthur Treacher, Thank You, Jeeves! (1936) and Step Lively, Jeeves ! (1937). The writer is sound on Wodehouse, so there’s no need to add my 2 cents worth on the subject. Highly recommended.

Wodehouse discussion at the Slapstick Festival

Next, it’s Book Shambles Podcast: a live recording from the Bristol Old Vic panel discussion (Robin Ince, Prof Sophie Ratcliffe and Joanna Neary) at the recent Slapstick Festival. The Wodehouse discussion starts about 13 minutes in.

The discussion has had mixed reviews from Wodehouse enthusiasts, but I was pleased to hear the panelists highlight the ‘oomph’ of his female characters, and challenge the popular misconception that Wodehouse appeals mainly to men.

Takarazuka Revue production of Oh, Kay!

And finally, some exciting news from Tamaki Morimura, who is well known to Wodehouse fans for her work translating Wodehouse into Japanese (as well as being a thoroughly good egg).

The all female Takarazuka Revue company will be performing Nice Work If You Can Get It, an adaptation of the 1926 musical Oh, Kay! by George and Ira Gershwin (music and lyrics), Guy Bolton, and P.G. Wodehouse (book).

It’s a fascinating combination. Perhaps it’s time for my first trip to Japan.

Happy viewing!

HP

Love in the Time of Wodehouse: Chiefly About Chickens

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

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

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

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

Love Among the Chickens (1906)

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

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

Love Among The Chickens (1906)

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

Wodehouse dedicated books to him too.

To That Prince of Slackers, Herbert Westbrook

The Gold Bat (1904)

And

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

A Gentleman of Leisure (1910)

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

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

Love Among the Chickens (1920 edition)

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

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

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

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

Love Among The Chickens (1906)

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

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

Robert McCrum: Wodehouse: A Life (2005)

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

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

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

Jimmy drew a deep breath.

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

A Gentleman of Leisure (1910)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Wodehouse Day!

HP

REFERENCES

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

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

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

P.G. Wodehouse in the news

Having apprised regular readers of certain facts about an upcoming Wodehouse exhibition at the British Library, the keen observer may have detected an absence of new material here at Plumtopia. But the world of Wodehouse has not suffered. Indeed, it has been buzzing along quite nicely.

The P G Wodehouse Society dinner

On 11 October, the P G Wodehouse Society (UK) held its biennial dinner. This is always a special occasion, and in 2018 included readings from Neil Pearson, Katy Reece, and Robert Daws. Daws is well known to Wodehouse fans for playing Tuppy Glossop in the Jeeves and Wooster television series. He also gave a performed reading of ‘Wodehouse in Wonderland’ — a play by William Humble — at the recent Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature Film & Music.

The biggest news item of the year was also announced at the dinner.

P.G. Wodehouse memorial for Westminster Abbey

The momentous news — that a memorial stone for Wodehouse is planned for Westminster Abbey — has been widely reported (see Patrick Kidd in The Times, Alison Flood in The Guardian).

This announcement signifies:

“… a recognition of Plum’s place in the literary pantheon. His stone will deservedly lie among those of some of the greatest writers in this country’s history and his own literary heroes.”
(P G Wodehouse Society Chairman, Hilary Bruce
)

Empress Michiko sparks enthusiasm for Wodehouse in Japan

The Empress of Japan recently announced that she will spend her upcoming retirement reading as much as possible – and P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster books are at the top of her reading pile. This has sparked a rise in demand for Wodehouse’s work in Japan – with sales increasing from around 100 books per anum to 100 per day, according to publishers.  Hopefully this will lead to renewed demand for Wodehouse translator Tamaki Morimura to translate more of Wodehouse’s work.

Jeeves and the King of Clubs  

schottWhat makes this new Wodehouse homage by Ben Schott different from all the other Wodehouse homages that have been written over the years? Well, like Sebastian Faulks’ ‘Jeeves and the Wedding Bells’, this one has been blessed with the approval of the Wodehouse estate. Released in November, it has received kind reviews from Patrick Kidd (The Times) and Sophie Ratcliffe (known to Wodehouse fans as the editor of P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters).

A Plum Assignment plumassignment

Another new release of particular interest this year is ‘A Plum Assignment: Discourses on P. G. Wodehouse and His World’ by Curtis Armstrong (film and television actor) and Wodehouse expert Elliott Milstein.

What Ho! At the British Library

The British Library’s Wodehouse exhibition opened in November and will continue through to February 2019. They’ve also hosted several Wodehouse related events, with the next one planned for 21 February 2019 — an evening of Wodehouse stories and song, including Wodehouse biographer Robert McCrum. Tickets for the previous event sold out, so don’t wait too long for this one (tickets here).

Perfect Nonsense in North America

Wodehouse fans in the USA will finally be able to enjoy the delights of Perfect Nonsense, the Goodale brothers’ delightful stage adaptation of The Code of the Woosters. Its first US performance will run March 21 to April 14 2019 in Hartford, Connecticut (tickets here).

Keeping up to date with all the latest Wodehouse news  

Personal demands (wheels within wheels) over the last few months have made it difficult to write at length, but you can find me on Twitter @HonoriaPlum for a daily dose of Wodehouse, including any Wodehouse news that comes to hand.

I have grand plans for Plumtopia in 2019, and trust this brief absence has not caused any significant loss to the world of blogging, Wodehouse, or indeed literature.

To give Wodehouse the last word:

There was once a millionaire who, having devoted a long life to an unceasing struggle to amass his millions, looked up from his death-bed and said plaintively, ‘And now, perhaps, someone will kindly tell me what’s it’s all been about.’ I get that feeling sometimes, looking back. Couldn’t I, I ask myself, have skipped one or two of those works of mine and gone off and played golf without doing English literature any irreparable harm? Take, for instance, that book The Swoop, which was one of the paper-covered shilling books so prevalent around 1909. I wrote the whole 25,000 words of it in five days, and the people who read it, if placed end to end, would have reached from Hyde Park Corner to about the top of Arlington Street. Was it worth the trouble?

Yes, I think so, for I had a great deal of fun writing it. I have had a great deal of fun — one-sided possibly — writing all my books.

P.G. Wodehouse (Over Seventy)

I love writing Plumtopia — thanks for reading again this year.

HP

P.G. Wodehouse: A musical celebration at the British Library — Report

BL event.JPG
Reading from L to R: Hal Cazalet, Edward Cazalet, Lara Cazalet, (Robert McCrum seated behind Lara), Sophie Ratcliffe and Tony Ring

On 28 January, the British Library celebrated their recent acquisition of the Wodehouse archives with P.G. Wodehouse: A musical celebration. As the title suggests, the event celebrated Wodehouse’s lesser known but important contribution as a musical theatre lyricist, working in collaboration with Guy Bolton, Jerome Kern and others (including George and Ira Gershwin). 

I felt privileged to be among those present as singer Hal Cazalet and actress Lara Cazalet (Wodehouse’s great grandchildren) and pianist Stephen Higgins performed songs from the Wodehouse songbook, including: ‘Put Me in My Little Cell’, ‘You Never Knew About Me’, ‘The Enchanted Train’, ‘Oh Gee Oh Joy’, ‘Bill’, and ‘Anything Goes’.

Hal Cazalet also provided a rapt audience with some professional insights into his grandfather’s methods as a lyricist, and his influence on later developments in musical theatre. Hal put forward a convincing argument that Wodehouse’s work as a lyricist not only influenced, but improved Wodehouse’s writing.

A highlight of the day was listening to Sir Edward Cazalet, one of the few people living today who knew ‘Plum’ and Ethel Wodehouse well. Edward’s reminiscences about his grandfather were affectionate and deeply moving – and fans will be touched to learn that Edward still has the pencil his grandfather was holding when he died.

The proceedings were further enhanced by observations from assembled experts, including Wodehouse’s biographer Robert McCrum (Wodehouse: A Life), Sophie Ratcliffe (who edited PG Wodehouse: A Life in Letters) and Tony Ring, whose extensive research and numerous works on Wodehouse include the multi-volume Wodehouse Concordances.

After the formal proceedings, came the infinite pleasures of meeting other Wodehouse lovers – both old friends and new ones. It was wonderful to meet members of the Dutch P.G. Wodehouse Society, who had travelled to London especially for the event, online friends from the Facebook Fans of P.G. Wodehouse group, U.K. Society members, and even a few celebrities. A socially inclined gaggle of us, reluctant for the festivities to end, moved on to a local hostelry where the feast of reason and flow of soul continued long into a splendid Winter evening.

I recommend that you also read Mike Swaddling’s account of the event at the UK Wodehouse Society website (with pictures by Dutch Wodehouse Society President Peter Nieuwenhuizen) via British Library Celebrates Plum the Lyricist (Wodehouse Society report)

HP

 

P.G. Wodehouse – A Life in Letters edited by Sophie Ratcliffe

This is a terrific review, from someone who knows her Wodehouse.

The Aroma of Books

13022713 //published 2011//

As soon as I heard about this book, I knew that I wanted to not just read it, but to own it, so that I could savor it whenever I wished.  I haven’t regretted investing in this hefty tome (especially since I got it used, hardcover, for only $5!), even though it has taken me months to wade through it.

While, on the whole, I’m not someone who enjoys delving into the personal lives of individuals whose art I enjoy, there are some exceptions to the rule.  Agatha Christie’s autobiography was an absolute delight, with a fascinating glimpse into the age in which she lived.  More recently, John Cleese’s rambling about his early years and the various events that led up to the formation of the Pythons was fun and engaging.  A Life in Letters was a different sort of autobiography, because it isn’t exactly an…

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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

On this day: P.G. Wodehouse knighted 1 January 1975

P.G. Wodehouse received his knighthood in the 1975 New Year’s Honours List. His letters from that time, published in Sophie Ratcliffe’s P.G.Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, reveal that he had a busy time with press interviews, as well filming introductions for a new BBC Television Series called Wodehouse Playhouse.

Reflecting on his first month of knighthood, Wodehouse wrote:

9780091796341I am still trying to decide whether I would advise a young man to become a knight. The warm feeling it gives one in the pit of the stomach is fine, but oh God those interviewers. They came around like flies, and practically all of them half-wits. I was asked by one of them what my latest book was about. ‘It’s a Jeeves novel’, I said. ‘And what is a Jeeves novel?’ he enquired.

Jan 29. 1975

On February 3rd, 1975, he wrote a letter to Ernestine Bowes-Lyon:

Everything is more or less calm now, except that hundreds of fan letters keep coming in. One of them was addressed to ‘His Royal Highness PGW.’

Feb 3. 1975

This is the last of his published letters. P.G Wodehouse died on Valentine’s Day, aged 93.

HP

 

Wodehouse’s women: in the eye of the beholder

girl on the boatWodehouse offers so much more to female readers than he is usually given credit for. A few months ago, I responded to criticism of Indian Summer of an Uncle by Janet Cameron (see my case for the defence). I feel sad that Cameron’s cursory appraisal of perceived gender issues has blinded her to the exquisite joys of his work. So today, I want to talk about why Wodehouse is a great writer of, and for, women.

First, Wodehouse presents readers with heroines who are full of pep and ginger;  independent, sometimes feisty, characters who frequently outsmart the men. What a refreshing change this makes from the kind of insipid, helpless females we so often see in romantic fiction (often created by women writers).

And I am thrilled to find other female readers who feel the same. In her excellent piece P.G. Wodehouse, Feminist’, Marilee Scot discusses Wodehouse heroine Joan Valentine, who appears in Something Fresh (1915). Marilee says,

“…the woman has already had an adventurous life: she’s worked a variety of jobs (including magazine-writing), lives alone in a London flat, introduces herself to the young man she’ll eventually marry, and has excellent ideas for scarab-stealing.”

My favourite Wodehouse heroine, Jane Hubbard (The Girl on the Boat, 1921) is a crack shot with an elephant gun. Nor are feminine youth and beauty prerequisites for romance in Wodehouse’s world. His women find love regardless of age, class, shape or size. ‘Plus-sized’ Maudie Stubbs is a widow of mature age, a butler’s niece, former barmaid, and Detective Agency proprietress. She is touchingly reunited with former flame ‘Tubby Parsloe’ (now Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe) who returns her affection, preferring her to the young woman he’d been about to marry. In Galahad at Blandings (1964), Lord Emsworth’s nephew Wilfred Allsop falls in love with his Uncle’s ‘pig-girl’ Monica Simmons, whose solid build and agricultural occupation could hardly be less feminine. Wilfred Allsop objects strongly when his friend Tipton ‘Tippy’ Plimsoll points this out.

“I’m sorry you think she looks like an all-in wrestler,’ he said stiffly. ‘To me she seems to resemble one of those Norse goddesses. However , be that as it may, I love her, Tippy. I fell in love with her at first sight.’ Recalling the picture of Miss Simmons in smock and trousers with a good deal of mud on her face, Tipton found this difficult to believe, but he was sympathetic.”

In Wodehouse’s art, as in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This puts him above most writers I know, male or female. who rarely take the trouble to create ‘unattractive’ female characters, let alone make them central figures in romance. Of course Wodehouse offers plenty of attractive women too. All this makes Wodehouse a terrific writer of, and for, women (Terry Pratchett is another) and it’s hardly surprising to learn that he has a large and enthusiastic female following. His fans include Dr Sophie Ratcliffe from the University of Oxford, who edited P. G. Wodehouse: A life in Letters. Fittingly, she dedicated the book:

For all Wodehouse’s heroines,

imaginary and real, especially Leonora.

A visit to P G Wodehouse’s Emsworth

emsworth streetscapeThis summer I visited the Hampshire town of Emsworth, where P.G Wodehouse once lived. He first arrived at the invitation of Herbert Westbrook, who was teaching at Emsworth House School. Westbrook is described in Sophie Ratcliffe’s ‘P.G.Wodehouse, A Life in Letters’ as “handsome, charismatic, and permanently broke.” He is forever associated in my mind with the character Ukridge and, for some reason, the novel I most associate with Emsworth is Love Among the Chickens (1906).

Wodehouse lived for a time at Emsworth House School, run by Baldwin King-Hall and his sister Ella. The school is mentioned in Mike (1909) and provided the setting for The Little Nugget (1913). Sadly the building no longer exists.

Wodehouse dedicated the Indiscretions of Archie (1921) to Baldwin King-Hall:

Dedication to

      B.W. KING-HALL

                                              My Dear Buddy

        We have been friends for eighteen years. A considerable

proportion of my books were written under your hospitable

roof.  And I have never dedicated one to you. What will

 be the verdict of Posterity on this? The fact is, I have 

become rather superstitious about dedications. No sooner

do you label a book with the legend :

TO

MY BEST FRIEND

X

Then X cuts you in Piccadilly,  or you bring a lawsuit

against him. There is a fatality about it.  However I can’t

imagine anyone quarrelling with you, and I am getting more

attractive all the time, so let’s take a chance.

 

Yours ever

P.G. Wodehouse

Ella King Hall married Westbrook and there is some suggestion that he may have been Wodehouse’s rival for her affection. She later became Wodehouse’s literary agent in the UK. 

‘Threepwood’

Wodehouse moved from his lodgings at the school and rented a house nearby called Threepwood’, which he later bought. The blue plaque is faintly visible from the road. The names Threepwood and Emsworth should be familiar to Wodehouse fans –indeed the signs around town are almost a Blandings Who’s Who.

Wodehouse also had family in Emsworth, in the shape of his Uncle Walter and Aunt. They lived for a time in Havant Road and presumably ensured that young Plum lived up to familial expectations. This may well have extended to churchgoing. Which of Plum’s many ecclesiastical stories, I wonder, were inspired by his time on the pews here?

Wodehouse's Uncle Walter's house
Uncle Walter’s house

St James Church, Emsworth
St James Church, Emsworth

Wodehouse was a keen sportsman in his youth, and maintained an exercise regime throughout his life that included his famous ‘Daily Dozen’ exercises, and regular walking. So I particularly enjoyed strolling the coastal path at the end of Beach Road and into the town, knowing Plum had ambled this way before me.

Emsworth walk
Coastal Path, Emsworth

My tour of Emsworth was guided by notes graciously supplied by N.T.P Murphy, who mentions that George Bevan from A Damsel in Distress stays at the Crown Hotel. A Damsel in Distress is set in the fictional fishing and oyster town of Belpher, which is clearly based on Emsworth. I was unable to get a decent photograph of the Crown’s exterior, but I did spend several very pleasant hours at the bar.

Emsworth boats

Emsworth harbour

I shall certainly return to Emsworth to visit the highly recommended Emsworth Museum, which was closed on the day of my visit. The town also celebrates its association with Wodehouse, hosting a P.G Wodehouse Festival that should attract Plumtopians for years to come.

Emsworth by the water

More details about Wodehouse’s life and associations with Emsworth can be found in Christine Hewitt’s lovely article for the P G Wodehouse Society (UK) . There is also a Wodehouse page at Emsworth Online.

HP