Tag Archives: The Strand

A Centenary of My Man Jeeves

100 Banners (1)My Man Jeeves was published 100 years ago in May 1919.

Jeeves–my man, you know–is really a most extraordinary chap. So capable. Honestly, I shouldn’t know what to do without him. On broader lines he’s like those chappies who sit peering sadly over the marble battlements at the Pennsylvania Station in the place marked “Inquiries.” You know the Johnnies I mean. You go up to them and say: “When’s the next train for Melonsquashville, Tennessee?” and they reply, without stopping to think, “Two-forty-three, track ten, change at San Francisco.” And they’re right every time. Well, Jeeves gives you just the same impression of omniscience.

My Man Jeeves

May 2019 marks 100 years since the publication of My Man Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse’s first Jeeves story collection.

Well, sort of. It’s complicated.

Wodehouse chronology always is, because many of his works were published in magazine format on both sides of the Atlantic before appearing in book form — sometimes under different titles, and sometimes with significant revisions to the text.

My Man Jeeves is a classic example. Published only in the UK, the earliest story in the collection is Absent Treatment, which was first published in March 1911 in The Strand Magazine (UK). This story, along with several others included in My Man Jeeves, had previously been included in a 1917 short story collection, The Man With Two Left Feet.

Some of the stories from My Man Jeeves were later reworked by Wodehouse and included in the short story collection Carry On, Jeeves, published in 1925 in the UK and 1927 in the US. For fans reading their way through the Jeeves and Wooster saga, I usually suggest starting saving My Man Jeeves last, for this reason.

On the other hand, no great harm will befall you by starting your Wodehouse reading journey with My Man Jeeves –and it’s packed full of classic Wodehouse.

The first story, Leave it to Jeeves, picks up from where Extricating Young Gussie (also included in The Man with Two Left Feet) left off. Bertie and Jeeves are having an extended stay in America, giving Aunt Agatha time to cool off over Bertie’s failure to keep cousin Gussie from a career on the stage.  Jeeves dutifully performs his consultant-in-residence act for a string of Bertie’s New York pals.

In Leave it to Jeeves, he assists Bruce ‘Corky’ Corcoran to butter up (and eventually gain financial independence from) a difficult, but oofy, uncle.

It was great stuff. The more I read, the more I admired the chap who had written it and Jeeves’s genius in putting us on to the wheeze. I didn’t see how the uncle could fail to drop. You can’t call a chap the world’s greatest authority on the yellow-billed cuckoo without rousing a certain disposition towards chumminess in him.

The volume is also littered with some of Wodehouse’s best-known quotations – of the variety often flung about the internet. Like these treats from Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest.

Lady Malvern was a hearty, happy, healthy, overpowering sort of dashed female, not so very tall but making up for it by measuring about six feet from the O.P. to the Prompt Side. She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season.

And

“What ho!” I said.

“What ho!” said Motty.

“What ho! What ho!”

“What ho! What ho! What ho!”

After that it seemed rather difficult to go on with the conversation.

I appreciate that, as someone who flings a fair amount of Wodehouse quotation about the internet myself, I’m hardly in a position to criticise others. But I do feel Wodehouse’s stuff is always better in its natural habitat of his original work.

If you’ve never read My Man Jeeves, or haven’t re-read it in a while, do pick it up for a commemorative thumb through. You won’t be disappointed.

A word on sources and a debt of gratitude 

Fortunately for us, a number of people (brainy coves) have devoted long hours to researching and sharing their encyclopaedic Wodehouse knowledge, including the complex publication histories of his work.

I’m indebted, whenever I write anything on the subject, to exceptional online bibliographies compiled by Neil Midkiff and the late Terry Mordue.  The entire gang of geniuses responsible for the Madame Eulalie website are heroes of mine –I’ll bet they know all about that next train to Melonsquashville.

“How does he do it, Bertie?” he said. “I’ll tell you what I think it is. I believe it’s something to do with the shape of his head. Have you ever noticed his head, Bertie, old man? It sort of sticks out at the back!”

Jeeves And The Hard-Boiled Egg in My Man Jeeves

I am also grateful, beyond anything mere words can  express, for my copy of Eileen McIlvaine’s P G Wodehouse: A Comprehensive Bibliography and Checklist — a cherished gift from US Wodehouse Society friends David and Katy McGrann.

While I’m on the subject of gratitude, I must also mention the personal kindness and support of friends in the UK and Dutch Wodehouse societies (during my time in the Northern h.). I miss you very much.

Reading Wodehouse is not only a joy and a privilege, it brings wonderful people together.

That includes YOU! Thank you for reading Plumtopia.

HP

And now, I’ll be taking My Man Jeeves on a centenary binge about town, which you can follow on Twitter — please join in with your own images if you’re so inclined. #MyManJeeves100

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Happy New Year: Snifters with Ukridge at the Coal Hole

Coal Hole and steps
Ukridge took snifters at the Coal Hole in ‘The Debut of Battling Billson’. Image by Honoria Plum

N.T.P. Murphy identifies the Coal Hole in The Strand (in A Wodehouse Handbook, Volume One ) as one of four remaining London pubs mentioned in Wodehouse’s writing. It is mentioned in ‘The Debut of Battling Billson’, after long-suffering narrator James Corcoran meets Ukridge at the Gaiety Theatre.

‘Hallo, laddie!’ said Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, genially. ‘When did you get back? I say, I want you to remember this tune, so that you can remind me of it tomorrow, when I’ll be sure to have forgotten it. This is how it goes.’ He poised himself flat-footedly in the surging tide of pedestrians and, shutting his eyes and raising his chin, began to yodel in a loud and dismal tenor. ‘Tumty-tumty-tumty-tum, tum, tum, tum,’ he concluded. ‘And now, old horse, you may lead me across the street to the Coal Hole for a short snifter….’

(Ukridge, 1923)

Ukridge leads Corky down the steps to the cellar bar and, over a couple of tawny ports, outlines his latest scheme of managing a champion boxer. During a recent visit to London, I followed his example, leading my family down the same steps and through the back entrance, immediately next to the Savoy Theatre stage door.

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Stage Door Johnnies (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Coal Hole is in the heart of Wodehouse’s West End. The Savoy Theatre was very much of Wodehouse’s time, opening in October 1881, five days before his birth. It’s owner, theatre impresario and hotelier Richard D’Oyly Carte, was father to Rupert D’Oyly Carte, whom Wodehouse credited as the inspiration for the character of Psmith (the D’Oyly Carte family believe Wodehouse confused Rupert with his brother, Lucas). The Savoy Theatre was home to the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, which the young Wodehouse greatly admired. Wodehouse would later have one of his own plays, Brother Alfred (written with Herbert Westbrook), produced by Lawrence Grossmith at the Savoy in 1913.

The Gaiety Theatre (demolished in 1956) was famous for its musical comedies and chorus girls, including the ‘Gaiety Girls’ who shocked society by marrying into wealth and aristocracy. They were also a great source of material for the young Wodehouse, who worked for The Gaiety as a stand-in lyric writer (see Murphy’s Handbook for juicy details). His writing is bursting with actresses (like Cora ‘Corky’ Pirbright), chorus girls (Sue Brown, Billy Dore) and former stage dames who’ve put their past behind them, like Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Julia.

There are some things a chappie’s mind absolutely refuses to picture, and Aunt Julia singing ‘Rumpty-tiddley-umpty-ay’ is one of them.

(Extricating Young Gussie, 1915)

874817Wodehouse’s long association with the theatre is most remembered for his contribution as a Broadway lyricist, working in collaboration with Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton. For an account of his theatrical career, Wodehouse and Bolton’s 1954 memoir Bring on the Girls is terrific fun.

There are also references in Wodehouse’s fiction that are clearly drawn from his experiences in the theatre. George Bevan, hero of A Damsel in Distress, is a good example.

‘You aren’t George Bevan!’

‘I am!’

‘But—Miss Plummer’s voice almost failed her – ‘But I’ve been dancing to your music for years! I’ve got about fifty of your records on the Victrola at home.’

George blushed. However successful a man may be he can never get used to Fame at close range.

‘Why, that trickly thing – you know, in the second act – is the darlingest thing I ever heard. I’m mad about it.’

‘Do you mean the one that goes lumty-lumty-tum, tumty-tumty-tum?’

‘No the one that goes ta-rumty-tum-tum, ta-rumty-tum. You know! The one about Granny dancing the shimmy.’

‘I’m not responsible for the words, you know,’ urged George hastily. ‘These are wished on me by the lyricist.’

‘I think the words are splendid. Although poor popper thinks it’s improper, Granny’s always doing it and nobody can stop her! …’

A Damsel in Distress (1919)

Similar sentiments were politely concealed by my long-suffering family, who stood by the entrance to the Coal Hole as I indulged my habit of talking to strangers — on this occasion, a charmingly odd bird, who genially informed us that he hailed from outer space. I ought to have invoked the Ukridge spirit by inviting him to join our party, before touching him for a fiver, or at the very least a glass of port (poor Corky is touched for two rounds of tawny in ‘The Debut of Battling Billson’). Sadly, Ukridge’s big, broad, flexible outlook deserted me at the critical moment.

We took the steps down into the quiet, wood panelled cellar bar. It was easy to imagine this cosy haven attracting thirsty theatre goers, cast and crew. Its intimate atmosphere offers patrons the potential for raucous conversation, intimacy or solitude, according to the mood and occasion. A friendly barmaid directed us to explore the main bar on the floor above, with its entrance directly onto the Strand, abaft the Savoy and (presumably) opposite the old Gaiety. The two bars probably attracted different clientele, but Ukridge was a man who mixed in a wide variety of social circles and I wondered at his choice of the cellar over the grander bar. But as a slightly shabby Colonial, Ukridge’s tastes suited me perfectly well.

My snifter at the Coal Hole was short, but instructive, and it seems a fitting way to toast the end of another year of writing Plumtopia. I’d like to close this final piece for 2015, by raising a glass of the old tawny to you, readers and friends. Thanks for your support and encouragement.

Best wishes to you all for 2016!

HP

Coal Hole cellar bar
The Coal Hole cellar bar (Image by Honoria Plum)

 

Getting started with Bertie and Jeeves: a chronological challenge

New Wodehouse readers sometimes ask which of the Jeeves stories they should read first. Opinion on the matter is divided; some people recommend ‘Carry On, Jeeves’ (1925) whereas I suggest ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ (1923). Both are excellent. The question is a matter of chronology.  This piece explores these starting points in more detail.

Readers looking for a more complete reading list, with suggestions for getting started, may find this reading list for the Jeeves and Bertie Wooster stories helpful.

Beginning with ‘Carry On, Jeeves’

Carry On Jeeves (1925) is a collection of short stories, beginning with ‘Jeeves Takes Charge’, in which Jeeves enters Bertie’s employment, cures his hangover, and disentangles him from an engagement with the unsuitable Florence Craye.

…he floated noiselessly through the doorway like a healing zephyr. That impressed me from the start. Meadowes had had flat feet and used to clump. This fellow didn’t seem to have any feet at all. He just streamed in.

This is followed by several stories which had appeared in an earlier collection called ‘My Man Jeeves’ (1919). Set mainly in America, the original stories featured a chap called Reggie Pepper. In Carry On Jeeves, Wodehouse revised the stories to include Bertie Wooster, who had made his debut in ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ (1923) and firmly established himself as a narrator.

However Carry On Jeeves also includes new stories that follow on from events in The Inimitable Jeeves, ‘The rummy affair of old Biffy’ and ‘Without the Option’. Both feature Honoria Glossop and her father Sir Roderick, the eminent ‘nerve specialist’.

One of the things that get this old crumb so generally disliked among the better element of the community is the fact that he has a head like the dome of St. Paul’s and eyebrows that want bobbing or shingling to reduce them to anything like reasonable size. It is a nasty experience to see this bald and bushy bloke advancing on you when you haven’t prepared the strategic railways in your rear.

These Glossops are notorious among Wodehouse readers, but unless you’ve read ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ you won’t have met them. Although Wodehouse can generally be enjoyed out of order, these particular stories are better if you’re familiar with the characters already, and ‘The rummy affair of old Biffy’ gives away the plot of the earlier story.

There are similar issues with ‘Clustering around young Bingo’. This is a very successful reworking of the Reggie Pepper story, ‘Rallying Round Old George’. George has been replaced with young Bingo Little, whose love life featured heavily in ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’. If you read ‘Carry On, Jeeves’ first, you’ll find out who Bingo eventually marries. This may not spoil your enjoyment of ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’, but it will spoil the surprise.

Beginning with ”The Inimitable Jeeves’

Chronologically, the events of ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ take place sometime between the first and the sixth chapters of ‘Carry On, Jeeves.‘  But it would be pedantic and unnecessary to read the stories in that order. ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ makes an excellent introduction to the saga because no prior knowledge is required to enjoy and fully understand the stories. There are no plot spoilers or references to past events. Reading ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ first won’t diminish your enjoyment of ‘Carry On, Jeeves’. The Inimitable Jeeves’ also introduces many of the saga’s recurring characters.

For modern readers who are unaccustomed to reading short stories, ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ is also a more seamless collection than ‘Carry On Jeeves’. The stories, mostly published during 1922 in  Cosmopolitan (US) and  The Strand (UK) magazines, are more closely interconnected than the collection in ‘Carry On, Jeeves’.

Other possible beginnings

If you have a particular mania for chronological correctness, you could begin with the aforementioned My Man Jeeves (1919). Getting your hands on a copy may not be so easy, and as Wodehouse revised most of it for ‘Carry On, Jeeves’ there really isn’t much point. This is a volume best left for the Wodehouse fanatics (the ranks of whom, you may soon be joining).

At the risk of complicating things further, a purist might scoff at the sort of slacker who begins with My Man Jeeves, when the first Jeeves story, ‘Extricating Young Gussie’, was published much earlier, in 1915 (not to be confused with the other ‘first’ Jeeves story, ‘Jeeves Takes Charge’, which was not the first written, but recounts Bertie and Jeeves’ first meeting). ‘Extricating Young Gussie’ appeared in the 1917 collection ‘The Man with Two Left Feet‘ and there is some question as to whether the Bertie who appeared here was a Wooster or a Mannering-Phipps. Do read it, if you can find a copy, but it’s not essential reading for the new Wodehouse reader.

Perhaps the most common approach to reading Wodehouse is to start with whichever book you happen to chance across and be perfectly content to devour the rest of them in whatever order you seize upon them. Many people have read Wodehouse this way, especially those of us who collected our books second-hand in the days before internet booksellers and modern reprintings of his work.

So to the modern reader seeking advice, I recommend ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’, but it’s advice you should feel free to ignore.

HP

References and further reading
The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)
Madam Eulalie (annotations)
My reading list for the Jeeves and Bertie Wooster stories