Blandings Castle

By P.G. Wodehouse

Anyway, on to Blandings Castle. As the title indicates so very clearly, this book would be about Blandings Castle, that most beloved of England’s Stately Homes. Nor does the title lie, very much. Because we also get a Bobbie Wickham story, always a treat, and five Mulliner’s stories about life in Hollywood. I have never been very fond of these, and upon re-reading I found them quite weak. (Still, Wodehouse presumably gives us some inside information on early Hollywood. He was there, as a screen writer, and apparently kept being paid a lot while nobody used his scripts. Only when he gave an interview in which he gently derided the situation he was fired.)

  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Title: Blandings Castle
  • Pages: 274
  • Published: 1999 (1934)
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • ISBN: 0-14-000985-X

No, it’s the five Blandings stories that make this book worth buying in a better edition, I think. ‘The Custody of the Pumpkin’ details a pre-pig phase of Lord Emsworth. ‘Lord Emsworth Acts for the Best’ shows Lord Emsworth sporting a beard, though thankfully not for long. In ‘Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey!’ we learn how to unfailingly attract pigs. ‘Company for Gertrude’ is quite forgettable, I am sad to say. ‘The Go-getter’ is equally insipid. But ‘Lord Emsworth and the Girlfriend’ makes up the deficit. This is one of my favourites. Not only does Connie get her come-uppance, but Lord Emsworth is at his best when he bestows largesse to the deserving, and young Ernie is quite deserving of his bottle of port.

Do Butlers Burgle Banks?

By P.G. Wodehouse

Another late Wodehouse — 1968. Do Butlers Burgle Banks is sufficiently recent that it will never come out of copyright, thanks to the Mickey Mouse act. So you all will have to hope for a reprint, since it is only available second-hand nowadays.

  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Title: Do Butlers Burgle Banks?
  • Pages: 158
  • Published: 1969 (1968)
  • Publisher: Mayflower Paperbacks

It is worth hunting down, though. A slightly unconventional Wodehouse, the butler is a fine and intellectual man, a great planner and an excellent burglar. The title question must, therefore, be answered with an unreserved, ‘Yes’. Butlers do burgle banks — and that’s not a spoiler.

This Wodehouse, while not as outrageous as the average Jeeves story, features some very fine similes, too, and a few lovely situations. The only character who doesn’t quite work is Claude
Potter, a Scotland Yard sergeant on holiday.

He’s a prominent Chicago gunman. He’s been shooting people all his life, and I cannot advise you too strongly to place yourself unreservedly in his hands. Nothing but good can result from it, and it won’t hurt, if that’s what’s bothering you. No worse than a bad
cold.

With that bit of advice, I want to leave you. I mean — Wodehouse is something to read for yourself.

The Swoop! or How Clarence Saved England

By P.G. Wodehouse

I discovered this rare text at the headquarters of the Russian Wodehouse Society, that admirable body. It is a short work, and a complete send-up of Oppenheim’s series of books in which that worthy tried to stir England into vigilance and preparedness for the German/Russian/Chinese/French/Turk/Monegask menace. But especially the German menace. When reading early Oppenheim, and other turn-of-the-19th-century books like Soldiers of the Queen it becomes very clear how much people were expecting a war with Germany in the years leading up to the first world war

  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Title: The Swoop! or How Clarence Saved England
  • Published: 1909
  • Publisher: Alston Rivers

But in The Swoop! England has let its vigilance lapse so badly that only the Boy Scouts are left to defend England from nine invading armies. Fortunately, this mighty secret society is prepared.

It’s a juvenile, and it was written in 1909, which means that it is very offensive in places, with its unthinking discrimination of colour and of the Welsh.

Copies of the first edition now go for about $1500. Heineman reissued a paperback fascimile in 1993, but only 400 copies were printed, according to the Dutch Wodehouse Society.

Company for Henry (The Purloined Paperweight)

By P.G. Wodehouse

In one of his forewords in the Penguin edition of his works (the editions with the Ionicus or Riddel covers have them — makes those editions the most desirable ones), Wodehouse remarks on that saga habit of his. You write one book with an interesting set of characters, you find yourself writing another of them — saves yourself a bit of work — and then the public wants a third. And suddenly you are an author who, when he writes a book outside any series, is introduced with ‘author of the JEEVES series’ on the cover. Company for Henry, a clear post-WW-II book, is not in any series. And I think that’s something of a pity, because there are people in there that I’ve grown very fond of over the span of several re-readings. I am thinking especially of Aunt Kelly.

  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Title: Company for Henry (The Purloined Paperweight)
  • Pages: 158
  • Published: 1969 (1967)
  • Publisher: Mayflower Paperbacks

A very impoverished English nobleman, Henry Paradene. With a very nice niece, Jane. And a very useless, impecunous, but cheerful nephew Algernon (Algy) who has a friend who might be described by the right female as a baa-lamb, even though his map has been edited in the course of several boxing matches. Add an American millionaire who collects paper-weights and Aunt Kelly (if you want to know what she is, read the book), and I think that you can sketch out the plot yourself. I probably even don’t have to tell you that Paradene has a paperweight that the millionaire covets but that Paradene cannot sell because it’s entailed.

Not even when the broker’s man, from Duff and Trotter (see! at least a hint of continuity, because we know Duff and Trotter, and especially Duff, from Quick Service) appears can Paradene raise the money.

It all ends, naturally, with marriage vows being exchanged between deserving parties. That’s a given, not a spoiler. It would have been a spoiler if they hadn’t — would have spoiled the whole book for me. But then, I like my novels to resemble a musical comedy more than the grim life that is presented us by the more literary authors of our age. All this autobiography is a sad mistake, meseems.

On a more practical note: I’ve got this book, but you probably don’t. And if you try to order it online, the shops might tell you they cannot get the book for you. Try under the alternative title, The Purloined Paperweight.

Pigs Have Wings — A Blandings Story

By P.G. Wodehouse

Everyman is rumoured — I have never seen any physical evidence — of being in the process of republishing the entire Wodehouse canon in hardcover editions (minus Performing Flea, the musicals and the articles, I fear), but before those excellent people started on their ambitious project, Penguin was the publisher to go to if you wanted to get a new Wodehouse to complete your collection of second-hand Herbert Jenkins First Editions. Penguin, in their wisdom, have published Wodehouse in three formats — viz., and in chronological order from hoary to contemporary, orange-spined with Ionicus covers, orange-spined with Chris Riddell covers and, in a smaller format, varicoloured with David Hitch covers. Both Ionicus and Chris can be relied upon to produce a nice sketch if called upon. David cannot draw. Worse, far worse, was the decision to set the text with a ragged right edge. Unjustified and unjustifiable. You see, Wodehouse mixes a lot of dialogue with his exposition. And one of the visual clues a reader uses to recognize dialogue is that the right margin is rather more ragged than the right margin of the more narrative sections. Ragging every paragraph means that it is deuced hard to distinguish between dialogue and narrative. And that is what made me reluctant to read and finish my copy of Pigs Have Wings.

  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Title: Pigs Have Wings – A Blandings Story
  • Pages: 231
  • Published: 1999 (1952)
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • ISBN: 0-14-028463-X

The other thing is that it is a post-WW-II novel — see my introduction to French Leave. In Pigs Have Wings we return to Blandings Castle, always a pleasant spot to be, and nothing has changed since Jerry thought it a jolly good idea to toss a few V1’s in the general direction of London.

There are shocks to be experienced, though. Tubby Parsloe, the Matchingham bart., gets engaged twice, and one has the distinct impression that his second engagement will give results. Pigs are stolen — but that’s to be expected with a title like Pigs Have Wings. Impostors are placed in the woodwork, and booted out, and port is consumed in Beach’s pantry. And Rowling should have read the entire Blandings saga before attempting Luna Lovegood in The Order of the Phoenix (review of which will follow soon).

Formulaic, unchanging — but never stale or facile. This book is as well constructed as any of Wodehouse’s efforts, better than French Leave in any case, and Wodehouse’s use of English is of the highest uality. So: get this book, complete your collection, but avoid this particular edition like the plague. Any other (older) edition is better.

French Leave

By P.G. Wodehouse

P.G. Wodehouse’s writing career spans the greater part of the twentieth century (and a few years of the nineteenth, but those are only of interest to the real afficionados, like me, who also like books about English boys’ boarding schools). Like the twentieth century, his career can thus be divided in pre-WW-I, interbellum and post-WW-II. His first phase, acted out before he went to the United States to get rich with the serialisation of Piccadilly Jim (if I remember correctly) and with the production of books and lyrics for many well-received musicals, was one where he produced more serious stuff. Stories and novels that were sometimes not even very funny, just moving, like The man with two left feet, or Psmith
Journalist
, which is very funny, but which is also a strongly-worded j’accuse addressed at the corrupt elite of pre-WW-I New York. The interbellum is his golden period: wonderful books, wonderful language, wonderful humour — a beaker overflowing with happiness. After the second world war, his work began to show signs of becoming over-formulaic, and, despite his protestations that he would always write of Edwardian England, he allowed the deplorable spirit of the fifties to enter the world he depicted in his books. (Where he didn’t his books became so detached from the world, that they might as well have been filled with helium instead of ink.) French Leave is a post-WW-II book. But a very refreshing one.

  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Title: French Leave
  • Pages: 206
  • Published: 1974 (1956)
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • ISBN: 0-14-012451-9

Right, now I’ve almost said everything I thought I had to say in the introduction (did you reach the end? Thought not.), I’m at a loss to continue. French Leave is, as Wodehouse noted in his ninety-second year when he penned down the introduction, was his hope for inclusion in the list of hundred-best-books-titled-French-Leave, and was written when Wodehouse was living in the United States, his income-tax problems apparently resolved and his relationship with Great Britain soured because of those radio talks of his during the second world war. French Leave, I hasten to say, is not one of the more formulaic post-WW-II novels.

Even so, without wanting to give anything away from the plot, I must say that I felt the Master had lost some of his touch. I mean — there are three sisters, all three beautiful, all three young. And only one gets married! At least, in the book. Sister number two shuffles off to marry a boring lawyer-type person, a weak solution if I ever saw one, and we never learn whether she succeeds, and sister number one never marries on account of being a prig. Well, I feel Wodehouse could have unprigged her with a flick of his little finger, hitching her up to the Marquis.

I hadn’t mentioned the Marquis, had I? Nicolas Jules St. Xavier Auguste, Marquis de Maufringneuse et Valerir-Moberanne is one of the most interesting rogues in Wodehouse’s works. If I tell you that he starts out as a clerk in the third Bureau of the Ministry des Dons Legs and ends up as a Head Waiter in a New York hotel, with a dose of handbag-pinching in between, you might become interested enough to want to read the book for yourself. Do so, I cordially advise you. Search it out and curl up with it.

Oh, and sister number three? She marries the Marquis’ son. After some very interesting complications. (Even though one of the complications looks a lot like one of the complications in Pigs Have Wings, to be spoken of in this place very shortly.) I should make a catalogue of Wodehouse complications. Might come in useful if I start on my society drama set in Andal.

Piccadilly Jim

Piccadilly Jim

By P.G. Wodehouse

Piccadilly Jim is one of the early Wodehouses; and also a very fine title. That the book failed to grab me this re-reading has everything to do with being tired out with flu, rather overwrought with family matters and shaken by being within two weeks of losing my job, and not with the excellent work of Plum.

The young American newspaper hack Jimmy Crocker has moved to England with his father and socially ambitious stepmother (nicely modelled on some real woman who moved to London to conquer Society after failing to do so in New York; I’ve only forgotten who she was.) Jimmy makes rather a spectacle of himself in the London night-life.

So much so that his stepmother’s sister goes to England to fetch the boy back, so he can be kept quiet and out of the news. Her husband’s niece, Ann, had been at the receiving end of a practical joke by Jimmy, and never wants to see him again.

The thing is, at the end Ann and Jimmy get married. There is one problem with this story; the Jimmy as he’s painted wouldn’t ever have been that cruel to Ann. And the Ann as painted would never have stooped to marry Jimmy just because he’s nice and adventurous.

Anyway, read it for yourself. Go buy a paper copy, or download the book from Project Gutenberg.


Currently reading:
Multatuli, Max Havelaar,
John M. Ford, The Dragon Waiting,
Dimitri Obolensky, The Byzantine Commonwealth,
E.R. Eddison, A Fish Dinner in Memison,
P.C Hooft, Warenar,
E.R. Eddison, Mistress of Mistresses,
Hope Mirrlees, Lud in the Mist,
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog).

Just added: Nothing.

Just discarded: Nothing yet, but I’m very close to dropping John Ford’s The Dragon Waiting. I dislike his prose, and I don’t believe his alternate history.

Joy in the Morning

By P.G. Wodehouse

Joy in the Morning is one of the perfect pearls Wodehouse has given the world. I was given my copy by Adrian Morgan’s mother, when they made a stop with us when they toured Europe.

  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Title: Joy in the Morning
  • Pages: 256
  • Published: 1987 (1947)
  • Publisher: Arena
  • ISBN: 0-09-950240-2

And I still reread Joy in the Morning fairly often. It’s that famous episode in the Jeeves-Wooster saga where Bertie Wooster visits the rural leper colony Steeple Bumpleigh, home to the broken-bottle eating Aunt Agatha, who, thankfully does comes on-stage in this book.

As usual, the Russian Wodehouse Society has a capsule plot summary, and a list of all main protagonists.

What more to add? It’s a gem — polished, rounded, not a word too much, perfectly plotted… I wish I knew how Wodehouse did it. (By writing a thirty-thousand word outline for a ninety thousand word book, and by dint of much exercise, of course. But apart from that.)


Currently reading:
Multatuli, Max Havelaar,
John M. Ford, The Dragon Waiting,
Dimitri Obolensky, The Byzantine Commonwealth,
E.R. Eddison, A Fish Dinner in Memison,
P.C Hooft, Warenar,
E.R. Eddison, Mistress of Mistresses,
Hope Mirrlees, Lud in the Mist,
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog).

Just discarded: John Dickson Carr,The Emperor’s Snuff Box (it’s a badly written, misogynistic, dated, badly constructed murder mystery where nobody is sympathetic), Freeman Wills Crofts Golden Ashes (too yawn-inducing, I’m afraid).

The Man with Two Left Feet

By P.G. Wodehouse

A collection of Wodehouse juvenilia, this. Excellent juvenilia, written with love and fun. But also redolent of the trappings of a market that no longer exists: the humorous mainstream magazine story.

  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Title: The Man with Two Left Feet
  • Pages: 222
  • Published: 1978 (1917)
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN: 0 14 00.1601 5

The Man with Two Left Feet contains the following stories:

  • Bill the Bloodhound
  • Extricating Young Gussie (a Wooster story, this, but without Jeeves)
  • Wilton’s Holiday
  • The Mixer — I
  • The Mixer — II
  • Crowned Heads
  • At Geisenheimer’s
  • The Making of Mac’s
  • One touch of Nature
  • Black for Luck
  • The Romance of an Ugly Policeman
  • A Sea of Troubles
  • The Man with Two Left Feet

(Summaries are provided at The Russian Wodehouse Society).

Those people who are mainly attracted to the verbal flippancy of the later Wodehouse won’t think overmuch of this collection. But I’m rather fond of the human sketches in the last story ‘The Man with Two Left Feet’, or of the ‘Romance of an Ugly Policeman’. These are leisurely paced stories, eminently suitable for reading on a warm summer evening. And the grin, chuckle or even the guffaw is never very far away, either.


Currently reading: Multatuli, Max Havelaar, John M. Ford, The Dragon Waiting, Dimitri Obolensky, The Byzantine Commonwealth, John Dickson Carr, The Emperor’s Snuff Box, E.R. Eddison, A Fish Dinner in Memison, Freeman Wills Crofts Golden Ashes, P.C Hooft, Warenar, Dorothy L. Sayers, Busman’s Honeymoon, David Liss, The Coffee Trader

Just discarded: nothing yet, although I’m pretty sure that I won’t finish The Emperor’s Snuff Box.

Carry On, Jeeves

By P.G. Wodehouse

“I was sent by the agency, sir,” he said. “I was given to understand that you required a valet.”
I’d have preferred an undertaker; but I told him to stagger in.

  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • Published: 1980 (1925)
  • Pages: 235
  • ISBN:: 0 14 00.1174 9

Carry On, Jeeves is a collection of Jeeves and Wooster stories; what’s more, it’s the collection of the first Jeeves and Wooster stories. The first story is the one where Jeeves enters the employment of Bertram Wooster, and the other stories give us the details on the various episodes Bertie keeps referring to in the rest of his works.

It’s in this book that we learn how Anatole came to enter the employment of Aunt Dahlia (Clustering round young Bingo), where we see Bertie being sentenced to a fiver by the beak of Bosher Street (Without the option), where the engagement with Florence Graye falls through (Jeeves takes charge) and finally the gastly entanglement with the Girl’s school (Bertie changes his mind).

The stories are clearly quite early; the extreme fluency that is such a hall-mark of the later Jeeves and Wooster stories is not really there, especially not in the stories that are set in New York; but there’s also a freshness about many situations (like the memoirs that should be stolen; an idea that Wodehouse has reused later, in Summer Lightning).

The one story I do not care for at all is the last one: Bertie Changes his Mind. It’s written from the viewpoint of Jeeves, and that might sound interesting, but it isn’t really. I much prefer to view Jeeves through the eyes of Bertie, who is a far more fluent prattler. A long stretch Jeeves is extremely tiring.

Anyway, if you’ve never read a Jeeves and Wooster story before, you start here, because the events depicted in this volume are referred to time and again in the later works. Those books are readable enough in their own light, and you work out what happened soon enough, but the joy of recognition is particularly pleasant.

The “Spectator” has, on the occasion of the republication of Wodehouse’s complete works (in hardback, but sadly unavailable in the Netherlands) published a very fine article: The music of the language by Philip Hensher. He argues that Wodehouse’s mastery lies in his mastery of the language; and that is true. But there’s more. The fine men and women that people his books are just as sheerly enticing.