Tag Archives: Strychnine in the Soup

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

Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party for P.G. Wodehouse

HPartyAgatha Christie’s novel Hallowe’en Party, the 39th outing for Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, was first published In November 1969.

Christie dedicated it:

To P. G. Wodehouse — whose books and stories have brightened my life for many years. Also, to show my pleasure in his having been kind enough to tell me he enjoyed my books.

In February 2015, many of Agatha Christie’s letters were published to mark the 125th anniversary of her birth. They included a letter from P.G.Wodehouse, thanking Christie for the dedication.

Wodehouse and Christie were mutual admirers of each other’s work, and had begun corresponding fifteen years earlier, although a 1955 letter from Wodehouse to his friend Denis Mackail shows their relationship got off to a rocky start.

…I’m seething with fury. Sir Allen Lane of Penguin was over here not long ago and told me that Agatha Christie simply loved my stuff and I must write to her and tell her how much I liked hers. So with infinite sweat I wrote her a long gushing letter, and what comes back? About three lines, the sort of thing you write to an unknown fan. ‘So glad you have enjoyed my criminal adventures’ – that sort of thing.

The really bitter part was that she said the book of mine she liked best was The Little Nugget –1908 production. And the maddening thing is that one has got to go on reading her, because she is about the only writer today who is readable.

(Sophie Ratcliffe’s ‘P.G.Wodehouse: A Life in Letters’)

But as Wodehouse himself wrote, in ‘Strychnine in the Soup’ (Mulliner Nights): “There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.” Despite this inauspicious beginning, Wodehouse and Christie continued corresponding until the early 1970s (Wodehouse died in 1975). As prolific and popular writers, they had much in common. They discussed their methods, their work, and in later years, their ailments.

In one letter, Wodehouse wrote to Christie:

I often wonder how you write, — I mean do you sit upright at a desk? I ask because I find these days I can’t get out of an arm chair and face my desk, and when I write in an arm chair I have the greatest difficulty in reading what I have written. This may be because I have a deckchair, a Boxer and one of our seven cats sitting on me. But oh, how I have slowed up. It’s terrible.

(Sophie Ratcliffe’s ‘P.G.Wodehouse: A Life in Letters’)

Agatha Christie’s letters to P.G. Wodehouse are contained in the Wodehouse archives, which I was privileged to view in 2016. Among the treasures I discovered during my visit, was a letter from Agatha Christie dated 15 October 1969, telling Wodehouse of her dedication of Halowe’en Party to him.

Other letters from Christie recount her pleasure on finishing a novel, frustrations with proof readers’ corrections, and her delight that their waxworks were ‘…sitting side by side in Madam Tussauds’ in 1974. These letters, many of them handwritten, were among the Wodehouse archives acquired by the British Library last year.

This will be welcome news for Wodehouse readers who are also fans of Agatha Christie – of whom there are many. A 2014 poll in the Fans of P.G. Wodehouse Facebook group suggests Agatha Christie is the Number 1 author Wodehouse lovers read when not reading Wodehouse.

I am happy to count myself among them. I started reading Agatha Christie in my early teens — a natural progression from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series, which I had collected and read many times over as a child. By the time I encountered my first Wodehouse story, in my 21st year, I had a solid grounding in the culture and era in which he wrote, and the crime genre he so admired (which he often incorporated into his work). Having also read my allotted share of Shakespeare and Chaucer by this time, I was not frightened by the complexity of Wodehouse’s style, or his extensive literary, classical and biblical references.

Agatha Christie needs no endorsement from me — she is the top selling novelist of all time. But I particularly recommend her books to people wanting to prepare younger readers for enjoying Wodehouse at a later age.

Of course, I shall take it as read that some of you were child geniuses, devouring Wodehouse novels from the age of five, and that your own child began (under your expert tutelage) to read Wodehouse — and possibly Shakespeare — in the womb. Top stuff, old Bean! However, the average modern child is likely to be thoroughly put off Wodehouse, whose writing is more complex than he’s given credit for, if it’s thrust upon them too soon. I suggest these wilderness years can be productively spent reading Agatha Christie instead.

Murders are not as uncommon as you might think in the often gruesome world of Young Adult fiction. Unless your prospective younger reader is particularly sensitive, they may well appreciate the central murder in Hallowe’en Party — of a boastful thirteen year old called Joyce, during a children’s party.

Christie also created some terrific young heroines, try Cat Among the Pigeons, and The Secret Adversary.  When the time comes to move on to Wodehouse, the adventures of Joan Valentine in Something Fresh, and Eve Halliday in Leave it to Psmith, will make great places to start.

In fact, I think I’ll finish with a dash of Joan Valentine and Ashe Marson now.

To set the scene for you, Ashe is struggling to come up with a plot for his new mystery story, which he has decided to call ‘The Wand of Death’, when he is interrupted by a girl (Joan Valentine).

‘I am sorry for your troubles,’ said Ashe firmly, ‘but we are wandering from the point. What is a wand of death?’

A wand of death?’

‘A wand of death.’

The girl paused reflectively.

‘Why, of course it’s the sacred ebony stick stolen from the Indian temple which is supposed to bring death to whoever possesses it. The hero gets hold of it, and the priests dog him and send him threatening messages. What else could it be?’

Ashe could not restrain his admiration.

‘This is genius. I see it all. The hero calls in Gridley Quayle, and that patronizing ass, by the aid of a series of wicked coincidences, solves the mystery, and there I am with another month’s work done.’

She looked at him with interest.

‘Are you the author of “Gridley Quayle”?’

‘Don’t tell me you read him?’

‘I do not read him. But he is published by the same firm that publishes “Home Gossip”, and I can’t help seeing his cover sometimes while I am waiting to see the editress.’

Ashe felt like one who meets a boyhood’s chum on a desert island. Here was a real bond between them.

‘Do the Mammoth publish you too? Why we are comrades in misfortune — fellow-serfs. We should be friends. Shall we be friends?’

‘I should be delighted.’

(From: Something Fresh, 1915)

May all your pumpkins be prize-winners this Halloween.

HP

 

Win a copy of new Wodehouse release, ‘Highballs for Breakfast’

Highballs Jacket.jpgThere are moments when one needs a drink. Are there moments, indeed, when one doesn’t?’

Barmy in Wonderland (1952)

I’m excited to offer Plumtopia readers the chance to win a copy of the new PG Wodehouse release, Highballs for Breakfast, courtesy of Penguin Random House. To enter, simply reply by comment to this post telling us what drink would you be known by at the Anglers’ Rest.

Mr Mulliner, one of PG Wodehouse’s beloved narrators, recounted around forty stories from the bar-parlour of the Anglers’ Rest, where inmates are referred to by their drink, rather than by name.

From the moment the Draught Stout entered the bar-parlour of the Anglers’ Rest, it had been obvious that he was not his usual cheery self. His face was drawn and twisted, and he sat with bowed head in a distant corner by the window, contributing nothing to the conversation which, with Mr Mulliner as its centre, was in progress around the fire. From time to time he heaved a hollow sigh.

A sympathetic Lemonade and Angostura, putting down his glass, went across and laid a kindly hand on the sufferer’s shoulder.

‘What is it old man?’ He asked. ‘Lost a friend?’

‘Worse,’ said the Draught Stout. ‘A mystery novel. Got half way through it on the journey down here, and left it in the train.’

Strychnine in the Soup (1932)

This is a wonderful device, because a person’s choice of drink can be revealing. A Tankard Of Stout, suggests a solid, hearty soul, who can be relied upon for conversation. An Absinthe On The Rocks suggests a character on the precipice –of making an ass of themselves at the very least. And what might we make of the aforementioned Lemonade and Angostura? Wodehouse may not have gone in for deep character analysis, but even his most lightly drawn character can provide food (or in this case drink) for thought.

My own preference, for any psychologists taking notes, depends on the occasion and the establishment. If pressed, my extensive personal research in the hostelries of Great Britain leads me to nominate a Pint of Porter as my moniker.

What drink would you be known by at the Anglers’ Rest?
Reply by comment to this piece by 15 December 2016 for a chance to win a copy of Highballs for Breakfast, kindly provided by publishers Penguin Random House. The lucky winner will be chosen by the usual Plumtopia panel (self and cat) after a thoroughish tasting process at Plumtopia HQ.

If you can’t wait, Highballs for Breakfast is already available in bookstores and online from Amazon. I’ve got my copy and I’m looking forward to sharing my review with you shortly.

Cheers!

HP

 

The Truth About George

1927 Meet Mr. Mulliner mycopyI asked my eight year old daughter to share her favourite Wodehouse romance and, after much umming and ahhhhing, she chose ‘The Truth About George’. In this short story (from Meet Mr. Mulliner) Mr Mulliner recounts the ordeal of his nephew George Mulliner, who must overcome his stammer in order to declare his love for Susan Blake.

Many Wodehouse couples are brought together through a common interest  — it might be golf, Tennyson’s poems, or a shared love of mystery novels, for ‘there is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature’ (‘Strychnine in the Soup’). In the case of avid cruciverbalists George Mulliner and Susan Blake, it is a love of crossword puzzles.

…George was always looking in at the vicarage to ask her if she knew a word of seven letters meaning ‘appertaining to the profession of plumbing’, and Susan was just as constant a caller at George’s cosy little cottage, being frequently stumped, as girls will be, by words of eight letters signifying ‘largely used in the manufacture of poppet-valves’. The consequence was that one evening, just after she had helped him out of a tight place with the word disestablishmentarianism, the boy suddenly awoke to the truth and realised that she was all the world to him — or, as he put it to himself from force of habit, precious, beloved, darling, much-loved, highly esteemed or valued.

In an effort to cure his stammer, George consults a specialist —‘…a kindly man with moth-eaten whiskers and an eye like a meditative cod-fish’ — who advises him to speak to three complete strangers a day. I won’t spoil the fun by recounting George Mulliner’s disastrous pursuit of this advice. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, you have a treat in store (the text is available free online from Internet Archive).

Instead, I will skip straight to the part where George asks:

“Will you be my wife, married woman, matron, spouse, help-meet, consort, partner or better half ?”

To which Susan replies:

“Oh, George!” said Susan. “Yes, yea, ay, aye ! Decidedly, unquestionably, indubitably, incontrovertibly, and past all dispute!”

The reader is left with the happy impression of a well-suited couple looking forward to a congenial married life with barely a cross word between them.

For more on the theme of Wodehouse and crosswords, see Alan Connor’s excellent piece — Top 10 crosswords in fiction, no 9: PG Wodehouse’s The Truth About George  — for The Guardian’s Crossword Blog. I also understand (courtesy of The Wodehouse Society mailing list) that Connor’s recent book “The Crossword Century” also includes a chapter on this subject.

Connor’s blog piece features an image of John Alderton, who played George Mulliner in the BBC Wodehouse Playhouse television series. It is a fine adaptation, recorded shortly before Wodehouse’s death, and includes an introduction from the author himself. You can watch it via You Tube.

Enjoy!
HP

What do Wodehouse lovers read when not reading 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 much 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.

P G Wodehouse (‘Strychnine in the Soup’ in Mulliner Nights)

I recently asked the ‘Fans of P G Wodehouse’ Facebook community about their favourite authors – who they like to read when not curled up with Plum’s latest. The response was a staggering 370 comments (and counting) listing over 250 different authors. I’ve collated the replies and can now reveal the top 50 authors these Wodehouse lovers named as their favourites. I start today with the top 5.

[click image for source link]
1. Agatha Christie

Christie and Wodehouse had much in common: they were contemporaries, prolific writers, and masters of their respective genres with huge audiences for their work. They both had problems with income tax, and were embroiled in personal scandals that continue to attract media speculation long after their deaths. In their lifetimes they were mutual fans, and Agatha Christie dedicated her 1969 Poirot novel  Hallowe’en Party:

“To P. G. Wodehouse — whose books and stories have brightened my life for many years. Also, to show my pleasure in his having been kind enough to tell me he enjoyed my books.”

Wodehouse was an enthusiastic reader of crime stories, as Maggie Schnader discusses in her excellent piece: ‘On P.G. Wodehouse and Crime Fiction: Or, Wodehouse Writes a Thriller?’ , and Wodehouse’s plots are brimming with criminal activity – from burglary, fraud and impersonation through to assault and battery. Mickey Finns abound, and even Jeeves knows how to handle a cosh! Some of Wodehouse’s best ‘crime’ stories have been collected in a volume called Wodehouse on Crime.

With Christie and Wodehouse among the world’s most loved (and translated) writers, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see her feature so highly among Wodehouse readers.  She is certainly one of my favourites.

2. Douglas Adams

People sometimes say to me, “Do you ever aspire to write a serious book?” And my practiced glib answer to that is, “No, my aspirations are much greater than that. I aspire to write like P.G. Wodehouse.”        (Writing like P.G. Wodehouse)

Douglas Adams was open in his admiration for Wodehouse, calling him ‘the greatest comic writer ever’, and Wodehouse’s influence is clear in his wonderfully funny style. He contributed a Foreword to a modern edition of Wodehouse’s last novel, Sunset at Blandings, which was included in ‘The Salmon of Doubt.’

Master? Great genius? Oh yes. One of the most blissful joys of the English language is the fact that one of its greatest practitioners ever, one of the guys on the very top table of all, was a jokesmith. Though maybe it shouldn’t be that big a surprise. Who else would be up there? Austen, of course, Dickens and Chaucer. The only one who couldn’t make a joke to save his life would be Shakespeare….

What Wodehouse writes is pure word music. It matters not one whit that he writes endless variations on a theme of pig kidnappings, lofty butlers, and ludicrous impostures. He is the greatest musician of the English language, and exploring variations of familiar material is what musicians do all day.

Adams’ Introduction to Sunset at Blandings

Many modern readers of Wodehouse (myself included) read Douglas Adams before we discovered Wodehouse. Some have even come to Wodehouse on the strength of Adams’ recommendations – so it’s little wonder that Adams is so highly regarded among the modern Wodehouse-loving public.

3. Terry Pratchett

‘Susan hated Literature. She’d much prefer to read a good book.’

Terry Pratchett (Soul Music)

Susan’s feelings on ‘Literature’ are in sympathy with views expressed by many a Wodehouse hero. As a huge Terry Pratchett fan, I was delighted to discover Pratchett is a popular author among fellow Wodehouse fans – and with good reason. There is much to enjoy in Pratchett’s wit and style, and like Wodehouse, Terry Pratchett is a superb creator of strong female characters. The following exchange ( for example) would not be out of place in Wodehouse:

“The female mind is certainly a devious one, my lord.”
Vetinari looked at his secretary in surprise. “Well, of course it is. It has to deal with the male one.”

Terry Pratchett (Unseen Academicals)

Terry Pratchett has also been a fitting winner of the Bollinger Wodehouse prize, awarded to authors who best capture the ‘comic spirit’ of Wodehouse. Many Wodehouse fans would agree!

4. Jane Austen

“It is not everyone,’ said Elinor, ‘who has your passion for dead leaves.”

 Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility)

Elinor Dashwood might as easily have been speaking to Madeline Bassett, or indeed to thousands of modern females who delight in the romance of Jane Austen, but don’t ‘get’ the jokes. In a world where the commercialisation of Jane Austen has depreciated her work through ill-conceived adaptations for the soupy ‘bosoms and bonnet’ brigade, it is heart-warming to know there are still many – men and women – who read and admire Austen for her sharp, satirical humour.

Douglas Adams, in his introduction to Sunset at Blandings (cited above) also included Austen in his list of greatest writers. Oddly enough, Wodehouse wasn’t a great fan of Jane Austen. One can only presume he started with the ‘wrong’ book.

5. Jerome K. Jerome

“It would not be a good place for the heroine of a modern novel to stay at.  The heroine of a modern novel is always “divinely tall,” and she is ever “drawing herself up to her full height.”  At the “Barley Mow” she would bump her head against the ceiling each time she did this.”    Jerome K. Jerome (Three Men in a Boat)

Wodehouse, who preferred his heroines pint-sized, might well have approved. He would certainly have been familiar with Jerome K. Jerome’s much-loved classic ‘Three Men and a Boat’, which was published in 1889 when young Plum was still in sailor suits. Was Wodehouse a fan? Either the record is silent on the matter, or it’s a record I couldn’t find. Experts please advise.

Three Men in a Boat is a work often cited by Wodehouse readers. I read it following a recommendation from a fellow Plum fan several years ago, and I recall attracting unwanted attention while reading it on The Tube – as my feeble attempts to suppress laughter resulted in a fit of bodily heaving and shaking. Here is a classic excerpt:

[click image for source link]
I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch – hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into – some fearful, devastating scourge, I know – and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms – discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it – wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance – found, as I expected, that I had that too, – began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically – read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee….I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.I went to my medical man. He is an old chum of mine, and feels my pulse, and looks at my tongue, and talks about the weather, all for nothing, when I fancy I’m ill; so I thought I would do him a good turn by going to him now. “What a doctor wants,” I said, “is practice. He shall have me. He will get more practice out of me than out of seventeen hundred of your ordinary, commonplace patients, with only one or two diseases each.” So I went straight up and saw him, and he said:“Well, what’s the matter with you?”

I said:

“I will not take up your time, dear boy, with telling you what is the matter with me. Life is brief, and you might pass away before I had finished. But I will tell you what is NOT the matter with me. I have not got housemaid’s knee. Why I have not got housemaid’s knee, I cannot tell you; but the fact remains that I have not got it. Everything else, however, I HAVE got.”

These five authors were the indisputable (and deserving) favourites of our group, but if you think these choices reflect rather predictable reading tastes, think again!  The reading lists of Wodehouse fans are incredibly diverse, and I look forward to sharing more with you over the coming days and weeks.

You might also like to join the ‘Fans of P G Wodehouse‘ Facebook community (which is just one of many excellent Wodehouse groups) as well our new Facebook bookclub ‘The Wood Hills Literary Society’. We look forward to meeting you.

HP

Next in the series: Five more favourite writers of Wodehouse readers

HP