Tag Archives: The Little Nugget

P.G. Wodehouse reading list: the school stories

‘Sit down, Lorimer,’ he said.

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

A Prefect’s Uncle (1903)

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

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

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

Wodehouse school stories reading list

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

Notes on the series

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

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

 Over Seventy

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

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

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

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

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

He said, “Ah!”

The Wire-Pullers (A Cricket Story)

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

Mike nodded. A sombre nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if somebody had met him in 1812 and said, “So, you’re back from Moscow, eh?”

Mike and Psmith

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

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

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

George Orwell In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse:

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

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

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

More in this series:

HP

A 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.

 

5 books by P.G. Wodehouse for Father’s Day

Unlike the male codfish which, suddenly finding itself the parent of three million five hundred thousand little codfish, cheerfully resolves to love them all, the British aristocracy is apt to look with a somewhat jaundiced eye on its younger sons.

from: Blandings Castle and Elsewhere (1935)

So too, my own father has looked with a somewhat jaundiced eye on my enthusiasm for Wodehouse. For I made the mistake, many years ago, of introducing him to Wodehouse without first taking the time to consider what Jeeves refers to as the ‘Psychology of the individual’. I simply grabbed a book from my shelf at random and shoved it at him with hearty confidence.

The book in question was The Little Nugget (1913). It’s one of Wodehouse’s earlier novels and few people would rank it among his best, but I’m fond of it and had no inkling that it would fail to grip dear old Pa. But grip it didn’t. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t touched Wodehouse again, but with this experience now in the distant past, I feel the time is ripe to try again.

With well over 100 books by or about Wodehouse to choose from, if you’re looking for a Father’s Day gift for your Dad,  whether he’s new to Wodehouse or already a fan, there’s plenty to choose from.

Here are five suggestions to get you started.

Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse

1. The Clicking of Cuthbert

Sporting gifts for Dad is one of the commercialised world’s biggest clichés, but if your sports-loving Dad has a sense of humour, this collection of golf stories is a terrific choice. Wodehouse enjoyed golf and his affection for the game shines through in these stories, which are among the best he ever wrote. No understanding of golf is required.

George Perkins, as he addressed the ball for the vital stroke, manifestly wobbled. He was scared to the depths of his craven soul. He tried to pray, but all he could remember was the hymn for those in peril on the deep, into which category, he feared, his ball would shortly fall. Breathing a few bars of this, he swung.

From: The Rough Stuff in The Clicking of Cuthbert (1922)

2. The Inimitable Jeeves

The Inimitable Jeeves makes a great introduction to Wodehouse and the Jeeves and Wooster stories. It’s a collection of connected stories rather than a traditional novel, making it a good choice for busy Dads, or those with a short attention span. I particularly recommend the short stories to commuters – they’re an ideal length and will put a spring your step for the rest of the day.

I’m not much of a ladies’ man, but on this particular morning it seemed to me that what I really wanted was some charming girl to buzz up and ask me to save her from assassins or something. So that it was a bit of an anti-climax when I merely ran into young Bingo Little, looking perfectly foul in a crimson satin tie decorated with horseshoes.

 From: The Inimitable Jeeves (1923)

cover3. Uncle Fred in the Springtime

If your Dad is a genial old soul who enjoys reminiscing about his youth with a twinkle in his eye, try a dash of Uncle Fred. But be warned, Pongo Twistleton’s Uncle Fred doesn’t just reminisce. He acts on his impulses, especially when Pongo’s Aunt Jane isn’t looking. In Uncle Fred in the Springtime, he and his long-suffering nephew visit Blandings Castle as imposters (there are wheels within wheels).  And while being Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton, 5th Earl of Ickenham, might save our hero from prosecution if his identity is revealed, it won’t save him from Aunt Jane.

‘Don’t blame me, Pongo,’ said Lord Ickenham, ‘if Lady Constance takes her lorgnette to you. God bless my soul, though, you can’t compare the lorgnettes of to-day with the ones I used to know as a boy. I remember walking one day in Grosvenor Square with my aunt Brenda and her pug dog Jabberwocky, and a policeman came up and said the latter ought to be wearing a muzzle. My aunt made no verbal reply. She merely whipped her lorgnette from its holster and looked at the man, who gave one choking gasp and fell back against the railings, without a mark on him but with an awful look of horror in his staring eyes, as if he had seen some dreadful sight. A doctor was sent for, and they managed to bring him round, but he was never the same again. He had to leave the Force, and eventually drifted into the grocery business. And that is how Sir Thomas Lipton got his start.

From: Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939)

Bring on the Girls by P.G. Wodehouse

4. Bring on the Girls

If your Dad enjoys Wodehouse’s fiction, I strongly recommend this biographical volume by Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, Bring on the Girls: The Improbable Story of Our Life in Musical Comedy, with Pictures to Prove it. The Broadway musicals of Wodehouse, Bolton and Jerome Kern were enormously successful (2017 marks the centenary of Wodehouse having five original productions on Broadway) and Wodehouse and Bolton became lifelong friends. Bring on the Girls is a highly entertaining account of their career, written with the same panache you’d expect of any Wodehouse work.

At the outset it would have seemed that conditions for an early meeting were just right. Wodehouse was born in Guildford, Surrey, England, and almost simultaneously Bolton was added to the strength of Broxbourne, Herts. As the crow flies, Guildford and Broxbourne are not much more than twenty miles apart, and it is quite possible that the two infants, destined to collaborate for forty years, may often have seen the same crow engaged in checking the distance.

From: Bring On The Girls (1953)

Ukridge by P.G. Wodehouse5. Ukridge

For my own Dad, I’ve selected Ukridge. It’s a controversial choice perhaps, as Ukridge is one of Wodehouse’s most divisive characters. He is certainly a scoundrel who abuses the bonds of family and friendship, but he goes about his business with a hearty, almost infectious optimism – the big, broad, flexible outlook, he calls it. And Wodehouse’s joyous narration may appeal to anyone who has been repeatedly ‘touched for a fiver’ by an acquaintance lacking in both shame and moral compass. Wodehouse knew the feeling I suspect (Ukridge was inspired by a real person). He presumably made good on his ‘investment’ in the creation of Ukridge.

If the leading incidents of S.F. Ukridge’s disreputable career are to be given to the public – and not, as some might suggest, decently hushed up – I suppose I am the man to write them.

Ukridge (1924)

Finally, for the Wodehouse-loving Father who has almost everything, the Wodehouse expert and collector Tony Ring has recently parted with some rare gems from his collection, and these are available for sale from Noel Pearson’s Rare Books.

These are a few of my suggestions. What about yours?

Dads — please tell us what’s on your Wodehouse wish-list.   

Happy reading and cheers to all Fathers, including my own!

Honoria

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