Tag Archives: Valentine’s Day

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

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 

Your favourite Wodehouse romance

wodehouse romances

Each February, Plumtopia celebrates great romances from the world of P.G. Wodehouse to commemorate to anniversary of his death on St Valentine’s Day 1975.

Who are your favourites?

This year, I’d love to know who your favourite couples are from the world of Wodehouse romance — and what you love about them.

Please share your favourite Wodehouse romances by commenting on this post, via Twitter @honoriaplum, or in the Fans of PG Wodehouse Facebook group. If you’d like to write more on the subject, I would be proud to feature, reblog or link to your piece.

I’ll collate, analyse and ponder upon the responses this Valentine’s day (frankly, I shall have nothing better to do) and share some of my own favourites.

Happy flitting and sipping!

HP

 

The Romances of Bertie Wooster

3 PG Wodehouse covers

“Bertie, it is imperative that you marry.”

“But, dash it all…”

“Yes! You should be breeding children to…”

“No, really, I say, please!” I said, blushing richly. Aunt Agatha belongs to two or three of these women’s clubs, and she keeps forgetting she isn’t in the smoking-room.”

The Inimitable Jeeves

Once again, Plumtopia is celebrating the romances of P.G. Wodehouse to commemorate the anniversary of his death on St Valentine’s Day 1975.

Today’s subject: the romances of Bertram Wilberforce Wooster. It’s a potentially controversial choice because Bertie is best known — celebrated even– as one of literature’s bachelors. Despite numerous engagements and entanglements, he always manages to slip the wedding knot.

Bertie’s romances, if we can call them that, are mostly unwanted entanglements brought about by Aunt Agatha’s efforts to marry him off, or his own chivalric code.

In Right Ho, Jeeves, Bertie makes it clear that “…the thought of being engaged to a girl who talked openly about fairies being born because stars blew their noses, or whatever it was, frankly appalled me.” But when Madeline Bassett offers to marry him, Bertie is helpless to refuse her.

 “ … I can never forget Augustus, but my love for him is dead. I will be your wife.”

Well, one has to be civil.

“Right ho,” I said. “Thanks awfully.”

Right Ho, Jeeves

Wodehouse was playing with a well-established romantic tradition, just as the great romantic satirist Jane Austen had done a century earlier.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice)

Like Bertie Wooster, Jane Austen’s leading men had their difficulties with unwanted entanglements. In Sense and Sensibility, Edward Ferrars’ sense of chivalric obligation prevents him from breaking his engagement to the conniving Lucy Steele, and it takes an accident to save Captain Wentworth from an entanglement with Louisa Musgrove in Persuasion.

Austen also served up a smorgasbord of revolting relations. Mr Darcy’s Aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is every bit as scaly and intimidating as Bertie’s Aunt Agatha.

“I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet: I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased.”

Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice)

Jane Austen’s heroes have much more to lose from an unsuitable marriage than Bertie, because they have true love loitering in the wings. Wodehouse frequently used reluctant love-triangle plots of this kind in the Blandings series and stand alone novels, but never with Bertie Wooster. The introduction of a Mrs Wooster to the home would have broken up Wodehouse’s winning Jeeves and Wooster double act, so Bertie remained a bachelor, with an inexhaustible supply of chums to play romantic lead.

Without the inducement of ‘true love’ to motivate Bertie, Wodehouse set about making his prospective spouses and their relations as ghastly as possible. The reader (unless a misogynist) could hardly sympathise with Bertie’s predicament otherwise. Wodehouse so excelled as a creator of ghastly characters (both m. and f. of the s.) that Bertie’s release from suffering is always a satisfactory happy ending.

Bertie’s prospective wives were not always repulsive. He willingly proposed to Pauline Stoker (in Thank You, Jeeves) and was as mad as a wet hen when Pop Stoker cancelled their engagement under advisement from Sir Roderick Glossop. After Pauline’s affections transferred to Bertie’s pal “Chuffy” Chuffnell, the pair remained on terms of sufficient chumminess as to give Chuffy and Pop Stoker the distinct impression that the old love-light lingered.

“I am assuming that you wish to marry my daughter?”

Well, of course … I mean, dash it … I mean, there isn’t much you can say to an observation like that. I just weighed in with a mild “Oh, ah’.

Thank You, Jeeves

We know Bertie was not opposed to marriage, or the opposite sex. He willingly proposed to Florence Craye (albeit inadvisably) and intended to propose to Roberta Wickham — before the infamous episode of the water bottle and the poker changed his mind. But he never seemed to find the right girl.

When I asked fellow Wodehouse readers on Facebook and Twitter, which of the women in Bertie’s life would have made the best marriage partner, Pauline Stoker and Roberta Wickham ranked clear favourites. But a substantial portion objected to the idea of Bertie marrying at all. It seems his creator’s determination to continue writing about Bertie’s bachelor days have led many fans to consider Bertie a confirmed bachelor for life – with the inimitable Jeeves by his side.

We wish them well.

HP

 

The Great Wodehouse Romances: The true romance of PG & Ethel Wodehouse

church_o_the_transfiguration_lc-uszc4-2657_crop_vertical
The Little Church ‘Round the Corner (East 29th Street New York) where PG and Ethel Wodehouse were married (1914). Image Source: Wikipedia.

 
Each February at Plumtopia I take a break from my usual pontifications to celebrate some of the ‘Great Romances’ from P.G. Wodehouse’s work, to mark the anniversary of his death on St Valentine’s Day, 1975. This year, I’d like to break with the formula a little by touching on the great romance of Wodehouse’s own life — his wife Ethel.

Wodehouse biographer Frances Donaldson wraps up their courtship in a sentence: ‘They met on 3 August 1914 and on 30 September they were married.’ They met on one of Wodehouse’s frequent visits to New York, and were married at The Little Church Round The Corner. Ethel Wayman (nee Newton) was a young widow, also visiting New York from England. Like so many of his fictional heroines, she was a woman of spirit, energy and determination. An extrovert and unlike her husband in character, Ethel nonetheless understood his needs and protected him from the practical demands of life, so that Wodehouse was free to write, walk and engage with the world as it suited him.

They seem to have lived in perfect sympathy with one another. Wodehouse said, in an interview with Gerald Clarke ( P. G. Wodehouse, The Art of Fiction No. 60 in the PARIS REVIEW ):

‘I think a writer’s life is the ideal life’.

It was Ethel who made this life possible, and Wodehouse depended on her. It’s tempting to see their relationship reflected, in typically self-depreciating style, throughout Wodehouse’s writing.

“… she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”

 The Adventures of Sally (1922)

Wodehouse’s love for Ethel was genuine and life-long. Writing to her on the occasion of their 59th wedding anniversary, Wodehouse pays tribute to the Great Romance of his own life.

My precious angel Bunny whom I love so dear.

Another anniversary! Isn’t it wonderful to think that we have been married for 59 years and still love each other as much as ever except when I spill my tobacco on the floor, which I’ll never do again!

It was a miracle finding one another. I know I could never have been happy with anybody else. What a lucky day for me when you agreed with me when I said ‘Let’s get married’!

The only thing that makes me sad is your health. How I wish there was something I could do. What is so extraordinary is that you come to me in pain and not having slept and you look just as beautiful as you did fifty-nine years ago. But how I wish that you could get a good sleep.

I wish I could say all the things I would like to say, but really they can all be said in one sentence – I LOVE YOU.

Bless you
Your Plummie

(P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters edited by Sophie Ratcliffe)

Wishing you all very Happy Ever Afters of your own.

HP

Honeysuckle Cottage by Wodehouse: an antidote to Valentine slush and nonsense

He held rigid views on the art of the novel, and always maintained that an artist with a true reverence for his craft should not descend to goo-ey love stories, but should stick austerely to revolvers, cries in the night, missing papers, mysterious Chinamen, and dead bodies — with or without gash in throat.

From ‘Honeysuckle Cottage’

1927 Meet Mr. Mulliner mycopyThis firm opinion belongs to mystery writer James Rodman, a cousin of Mr Mulliner. But then he inherits Honeysuckle Cottage from his Aunt, the romance novelist Leila J. Pinckney , and her house begins to exert a sinister romantic influence over him.

First, he inserts an unwelcome female into the novel he is writing:  ‘…the most beautiful girl he had ever beheld. A veritable child of Faerie.’

James stared at the paper dumbly. He was utterly perplexed. He had not had the slightest intention of writing anything like this. To begin with, it was a rule with him, and one which he never broke, to allow no girls to appear in his stories. Sinister landladies, yes, and naturally any amount of adventuresses with foreign accents, but never under any pretext what may be broadly described as girls. A detective story, he maintained, should have no heroine. Heroines only held up the action and tried to flirt with the hero when he should have been busy looking for clues, and then went and let the villain kidnap them by some childishly simple trick.

It’s important (as always) not to attribute the views of the character to his creator — P. G. Wodehouse allowed plenty of girls in his stories, often as the central character.

The situation at Honeysuckle Cottage deteriorates further when a girl arrives:

She was an extraordinarily pretty girl. Very sweet and fragile she looked as she stood there under the honeysuckle with the breeze ruffling a tendril of golden hair that strayed from beneath her coquettish little hat. Her eyes were very big and very blue, her rose-tinted face becmingly flushed. All wasted on James though. He disliked all girls, and particularly the sweet, droopy type.

This sickly-sweet specimen of femininity is struck by a passing car and must be nursed back to health at Honeysuckle Cottage.

In some of his stories (Bachelors Anonymous being a notable example) Wodehouse often shows avowed bachelors the error of their ways — converting them to the kind of fellows who slap other fellows’ backs and urge them to marry. James Rodman is made of stern stuff, but he is sorely tested.

Now that the girl was well enough to leave her bed, she spent her time sitting in a chair on the sun-sprinkled porch, and James had to read to her — and poetry, at that; and not the jolly, wholesome sort of poetry the boys are turning out nowadays, either — good, honest stuff about sin and decaying corpses — but the old-fashioned kind with rhymes in it, dealing almost exclusively with love.

Tempted though I am to tell you what happens, this story’s too good to spoil for those of you who might not have read it. All I will say is that it makes excellent Valentine’s reading for anyone who shares James Rodman’s distaste for romantic slush.

One of the curses of being female is the assumption, made by almost everyone, that we are inherently wired to enjoy romance novels (and what passes for romantic comedy at the movies). Weak female characters, in need of a decent meal and a shot of gumption abound. Heroines are painfully self conscious or smugly self-reliant, always beautiful, with a tendency to take themselves far too seriously.

Happily, Wodehouse offers us a third way — where the romance can coexist with intelligence and humour.

HP

On this day: P.G. Wodehouse died 14 February 1975

usborne wodehouse at work to the endP.G Wodehouse had double citizenship, British and American. He became Sir Pelham Wodehouse at the age of ninety-three, receiving a knighthood in the 1975 New Year’s Honours list. A month and a half later he died, of a heart attack, in a hospital on Long Island, near his home in Remsenburg. He was sitting in a chair, with a three-quarters-finished new Blandings novel in typescript and autograph notes around him. He had gone into hospital for tests to establish a cause, and indicate a cure, for a troublesome skin rash. He had been working right to the end.

Richard Usborne in Wodehouse at Work to the End (1976)

Some forty years later, P.G. Wodehouse is remembered and revered by readers around the world. The anniversary of his death each Valentine’s Day always seems a fitting occasion to celebrate the life and work of an author who gave us so much to love.

2015 marks one hundred years since the publication of the first Blandings novel, Something Fresh (published in the US as Something New). It’s a firm favourite of mine. I also wonder if Wodehouse’s writer-hero Ashe Marson is semi-autobiographical, for apart from being a writer, Ashe’s daily routine includes a series of fitness exercises (much like Plum’s own ‘daily dozen’).

The Larsen Exercises, invented by a certain Lieutenant Larsen, of the Swedish Army, have almost every sort of merit. They make a man strong, supple, and slender. But they are not dignified. Indeed, to one seeing them suddenly and without warning for the first time, they are markedly humorous. The only reason why King Henry, of England, whose son sank with the White Ship, never smiled again, was because Lieutenant Larsen had not then invented his admirable exercises.

So complacent, so insolently unselfconscious had Ashe become in the course of three months, owing to his success in inducing the populace to look on anything he did with the indulgent eye of understanding, that it simply did not occur to him, when he abruptly twisted his body into the shape of a corkscrew, in accordance with the directions in the lieutenant’s book for the consummation of Exercise One, that he was doing anything funny.

At the start of Something Fresh Ashe is observed, mid-contortion, by an attractive onlooker called Joan Valentine. Joan is one of my favourite Wodehouse heroines — a gossip column writer with a varied career history including shop work, typewriting, the stage, working as a governess and lady’s maid (anyone who tells you Wodehouse only wrote about upper class twits is talking through their hat). In the course of the novel, she makes a fine attempt at scarab stealing. Although she was much admired by the Hon Freddie Threepwood, it’s Ashe who wins her heart in the end.

‘…What are you doing?’

Ashe paused for a moment to reply.

‘I am kissing you,’ he said.

‘But you mustn’t. There’s a scullery-maid or something looking out of the kitchen window. She will see us.’

Ashe drew her to him.’Scullery-maids have few pleasures,’ he said. ‘Theirs is a dull life. Let her see us.’

Being one of the world’s workers myself, I find this consideration for the scullery-maid commendable.

This steamy-stuff is as close as Wodehouse gets to sex in his writing, which some commentators seem to feel requires explanation. I don’t. The kiss is a time-honoured way for authors, playwrights and filmmakers to mark the happy conclusion of a romantic plot. One doesn’t need to be prudish to see that dabbling in the erotic would have alienated part of his audience, without adding anything of value to his work. It is also mistaken to assume that the absence of sex makes Wodehouse’s work sexless.

Take this example from ‘Rodney Fails to Qualify’, a golfing story contained in The Heart of a Goof :

“Have you ever read The Love that Scorches, by Luella Periton Phipps? ” she asked.

I said I had not.

“I got it out of the library yesterday,” said Jane, dreamily, “and finished it at three this morning in bed. It is a very, very beautiful book. It is all about the desert and people riding on camels and a wonderful Arab chief with stern, yet tender eyes, and a girl called Angela, and oases and dates and mirages, and all like that. There is a chapter where the Arab chief seizes the girl and clasps her in his arms and she feels his hot breath searing her face and he flings her on his horse and they ride off and all around was sand and night, and the mysterious stars. And somehow — oh, I don’t know ”

She gazed yearningly at the chandelier.

“I wish mother would take me to Algiers next winter,” she murmured, absently. “It would do her rheumatism so much good.”

In this example, Wodehouse expertly handles both sex and humour with a light touch, in keeping with his established style and the reserved Englishness of his characters. But it is certainly not sexless.

Happy Valentine’s reading everyone!

HP

Who is your Wodehouse dream date?

As Valentine’s Day approaches, it seemed fitting to revisit this 2013 piece, ‘Wodehouse’s men: objects of desire’ — looking at the men in Wodehouse’s world in search of a mate.

Who is your Wodehouse dream date?

Plumtopia

Psmith Cover of the Bietti edition of Leave it to Psmith (1936) courtesy of Wikipedia.

I’d like to take a short break from my series exploring Wodehouse on Women  to share a remarkable piece entitled 111 Male Characters Of British Literature, In Order Of Bangability by Carrie Frye, in which Ms Frye lists 111 fictional characters she finds sexually desirable enough to take to her bed. Almost as astonishing as her stamina, is the fact that she includes not one, but three Wodehouse characters in her list of male sex objects. These are, in order of appearance:

Gussie Fink Nottle (at 106)

Bertram Wooster (at 87)

– Jeeves (at 65)

Gussie’s inclusion in the list defies belief, as does Jeeves, who at 65 ranks above the virile and irresistible Flashman.  Ms Frye gives her source for these appearances, as Right-Ho Jeeves and the story Extricating Young Gussie

View original post 482 more words

The romances of P.G. Wodehouse

This Valentine’s Day will mark the 40th anniversary of P.G. Wodehouse’s death — a fitting date to commemorate the great romantic-comedy writer.

Last February, Plumtopia marked the 39th anniversary by hosting a February theme of ‘the Great Romances of P.G. Wodehouse’. If you missed it last year, we had some wonderful contributions from various Wodehouse lovers:

Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend (by Ken Clevenger)

Piggy, Maudie and A Seasoned Romance and Bertie Wooster Needs Your Opinion  both by the Inimitable Ashokbhatia

Tuppy Glossop’s One True Love – by Fiction Fan

And my own contributions: When Plum created Eve and The romances of Bingo Little: Mabel.

A good time was had by all, but this merely scratches the surface of Wodehouse’s romantic world, so I’m returning to the theme again this February.  If you would like join in by sharing a few words on your favourite Wodehouse romances, I would be delighted to post them, reblog or link to them here.

HP

 

Great Wodehouse Romances: Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend (by Ken Clevenger)

BlandingsCastle
The superb short story ‘Lord Emsworth and the Girlfriend’ was published in ‘Blandings Castle’

My heartfelt thanks to the inimitable Ken Clevenger for contributing a wonderful and very fitting first piece in this Valentine’s series dedicated to the  Great Wodehouse Romances.

* * *

Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend

by Ken  Clevenger

Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend” is the great Wodehousian romance, most worthy of a special Valentine. My starting point is the very nature of great romances. Love must blossom, however improbably. It will be heroic, idyllic, and set in the beauty of nature, but not without the odd nettle. In the end love conquers all, as someone once noted; Jeeves, perhaps?

The easy part is to recognize in this “perfect short story” that Blandings and its gardens are the bounty of nature. The nettle, perhaps I should have said thistle, as le mot juste, is A. McAllister. The hero, was ever a hero more beset by constant woes? is Clarence. His faithful companion and supporter: Beach. His opening ire, directed at “a blameless kippered herring,” makes the appearance of love seem unlikely. But as Clarence begins his wandering (pottering seems more apt but unlyrical), love appears as the heroine saves the hero from a dog-toothed fate, but not The Fete, with a commanding “Hoy!” Was ever love introduced so startlingly? And can one recall many other Wodehousian nods to mother as sweet as merely “wizened motherliness” as Gladys, the heroine, is described?

The hero’s trials include the foreign speech of the heroine, her protective bother, Ern, the usurping, ruling goddess of the castle, Connie, and the grim beast who guards these gardens and flarze. The hero’s path is stoney, not moss covered. Indeed, in his despair and struggles, at times “[h]e feels like a man who in error has kicked a favorite dog.” But in the end there is a welcome refuge, albeit normally a humble “lounge or retiring room for cattle.” And there the hero and heroine share their grim fates. Then love, and the courage to face the world unafraid in a high summer wonderland, emerge triumphant.

There is a feast, of course. The carnal nature of love is hinted at by wanton hand-holding and the greatest gift in the hero’s power is bestowed. There are classical references to Achillea, Euphorbia, Gypsophilia, Helianthus, and Thalictrum. The ancient ancestors of the hero appear to spur his courage for the final, fateful conflict. The ogre is dashed with a departing, defeated “Hphm.” The malevolent goddess is dashed too. It is, to steal a phrase, “all sweetness and light.”

* * *

More submissions on this theme are wanted. More details on the series and how to respond can be found at my original post on the  Great Wodehouse Romances.

HP

(c) The above piece was penned by Ken Clevenger and copied here with his kind permission.