Tag Archives: The Pothunters

P.G. Wodehouse recommends: A Reading List for World Book Day

‘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’ (Mulliner Nights)

To celebrate World Book Day, I’ve put together a little reading list of some of the books featured in Wodehouse’s writing.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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‘… I’m in the middle of a rather special book. Ever read Great Expectations? Dickens, you know.’

‘I know. Haven’t read it, though. Always rather funk starting on a classic, somehow. Good?’

‘My dear chap! Good’s not the word.’

The Pothunters (1902)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

adventures_of_sherlock_holmes

‘Mr. Downing had read all the Holmes stories with great attention, and had thought many times what an incompetent ass Doctor Watson was; but, now that he had started to handle his own first case, he was compelled to admit that there was a good deal to be said in extenuation of Watson’s inability to unravel tangles.’

Mike and Psmith (1909)

‘His book was The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and the particular story, which he selected for perusal was the one entitled, “The Speckled Band.” He was not a great reader, but, when he read, he liked something with a bit of zip to it.’

Indiscretions Of Archie (1921)

Tennyson’s Idylls of the King 

She looked down. “Have you been reading? What is the book?”

“It’s a volume of Tennyson.”

“Are you fond of Tennyson?”

“I worship him,” said Sam reverently. “Those–” he glanced at his cuff–“those Idylls of the King! I do not like to think what an ocean voyage would be if I had not my Tennyson with me.”

“We must read him together. He is my favourite poet!”

“We will! There is something about Tennyson….”

“Yes, isn’t there! I’ve felt that myself so often!”

The Girl on The Boat (1922)

A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain

‘Out of a library which was probably congested with the most awful tosh, he had stumbled first pop upon Mark Twain’s Tramp Abroad, a book which he had not read since he was a kid but had always been meaning to read again; just the sort of book, in fact, which would enable a fellow to forget the anguish of starvation until that milk-train went.’

Mr Mulliner Speaking (1929)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

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‘You cannot copyright an idea, and times have become so hard for thriller-writers that they are after any possible new murderer like a pack of wolves.

You see, the supply of murderers is giving out. They have all been used so often. You cannot even be sure of the detective’s friend flow. Ever since Agatha Christie’s Roger Ackroyd we keep a very sharp eye on that friend. It is very lucky for Doctor Watson that he belonged to the pre-Christie era.’

Louder and Funnier (1932)

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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What does a fellow’s face matter anyway?’ said Joey Cooley.

‘Exactly.’

‘Looks don’t mean a thing. Didn’t Frankenstein get married?’

‘Did he?’ said Eggy. ‘I don’t know. I never met him. Harrow man, I expect.’

Laughing Gas (1936)

Das Kapital by Karl Marx

What a curse these social distinctions are. They ought to be abolished. I remember saying that to Karl Marx once, and he thought there might be an idea for a book in it.

Quick Service (1940)

Spinoza’s Ethics

‘Bertie! This is amazing! Do you really read Spinoza?’

It’s extraordinary how one yields to that fatal temptation to swank. It undoes the best of us. Nothing, I mean, would have been simpler than to reply that she had got the data twisted and that the authoritatively annotated edition was a present for Jeeves. But, instead of doing the simple, manly, straightforward thing, I had to go and put on dog.

‘Oh, rather,’ I said, with an intellectual flick of the umbrella. ‘When I have a leisure moment, you will generally find me curled up with Spinoza’s latest.’

Joy in the Morning (1947)

And not forgetting:

The complete works of William Shakespeare

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‘Beginning by quoting from Polonius’s speech to Laertes, which a surprising number of people whom you would not have suspected of familiarity with the writings of Shakespeare seem to know, Mr Pott had gone on to say that lending money always made him feel as if he were rubbing velvet the wrong way, and that in any case he would not lend it to Pongo, because he valued his friendship too highly.’

Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939)

‘From start to finish of every meal she soliloquized. Shakespeare would have liked her.’

The Mating Season (1949)

‘His blood pressure was high, his eye rolled in what they call a fine frenzy, and he was death-where-is-thy-sting-ing like nobody’s business.’

Jeeves in the Offing (1960)

This little compilation merely scratches the surface of literary reference in Wodehouse’s work, providing further proof, if further proof is needed, that the great comic master offers much more than a light read — he’s educational!

Happy Reading!

HP

Cover Image: P.G. Wodehouse’s reading chair and library by Honoria Plum

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

What’s up with you today? Nothing — now that I’m reading Wodehouse.

‘What’s up with you today?’ he asked.

He could hardly have chosen a worse formula. The question has on most people precisely the same effect as that which the query, ‘Do you know where you lost it?’ has on one who is engaged in looking for mislaid property.

‘Nothing,’ said Reade. Probably at the same moment hundreds of other people were making the same reply, in the same tone of voice, to the same question.

The Pothunters (1902)

I started reading The Pothunters yesterday. It’s a habit of mine, every so often, to set about re-reading the complete works of P.G. Wodehouse in order of publication, starting with The Pothunters (1902) — his first published novel. Invariably I get distracted from my purpose, somewhere between A Prefect’s Uncle and Love Among the Chickens. Sometimes, it’s the distractions of life. ‘Life!’ as Douglas Adams’ paranoid android Marvin says — ‘Don’t talk to me about life.’

More often it is Wodehouse who distracts me. I pick up The Mating Season or Pigs Have Wings, or possibly Mulliner Nights, in search of a quotation and end up reading the whole thing. Life goes on, time passes, until one day I begin with The Pothunters all over again. Fortunately, it’s a dashed enjoyable book.

I picked it up yesterday in an odd sort of mood. Life has been a bit of strain lately and I’ve been identifying with the aforementioned Marvin more than ever.

‘The first ten million years were the worst,’ said Marvin, ‘and the second ten million years, they were the worst too. The third ten million years I didn’t enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline.’

Douglas Adams (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe)

So I turned to Wodehouse, as I often do, as a soothing balm in troubled times.The therapeutic power of great comic writing has long been undervalued by self-appointed literary elites, who look down their noses at ‘light’ fiction, and sneer at those who read for pleasure. Even sensible reviewers and book bloggers often struggle when it comes to reviewing Wodehouse, and other comic writing. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen Wodehouse novels ‘reviewed’ with a few sentences along the lines of — ‘I enjoyed it, but as a light comic novel, there isn’t much I can say about it.’ Others stick like glue to Stephen Fry’s view that ‘you don’t analyse such sunlit perfection.’

Is it any wonder that I have these odd moods? There is plenty to be gained from analysing Wodehouse. Why does his writing make us happy? What is is about his world and characters that appeal to us? Are there lessons we can take from his writing to make the world a better place? What can emerging writers learn from Wodehouse — so that his legacy extends to include future generations of writers who bring sunshine into our souls?

It’s all part of the Plumtopian vision — to inhabit a world where the healing balm of Wodehouse is liberally applied.

She melted quite perceptibly. She did not cease to look like a basilisk, but she began to look like a basilisk who has had a good lunch.

The Girl on the Boat

HP