‘Goodbye to All Cats’

honoria plum:

I am looking forward to reading George Simmers’ chapter on Wodehouse and the Great War. For now though, here is what he has to say on the subject of cats.

Originally posted on Great War Fiction:

I’ve written a chapter for a forthcoming collection of critical essays on P. G. Wodehouse. (I’ll be sure to relay full information here when there is firm news about publication date and details.)

My piece is on Wodehouse and the Great War – which might sound to some people like one of those thesis subjects imagined by parodists of academia, like ‘Jane Austen and the French Revolution’ , but looking at Wodehouse in relation to the War really does reveal some quite interesting things about his early work, and his attitude to his writing . I think so, anyway.

The publisher’s reader seems fairly happy with my chapter, too, but sent one little note. Did I know ‘Goodbye to All Cats?’

I didn’t, but the echo of Graves in the title had me interested. A bit of quick research revealed that this was a story in the 1936 collection Young…

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Eggs! Eggs! Damn all eggs!

This Lord Worplesdon was Florence’s father. He was the old buster who, a few years later, came down to breakfast one morning, lifted the first cover he saw, said ‘Eggs! Eggs! Damn all eggs!’ in an overwrought sort of voice, and instantly legged it for France, never to return to the bosom of the family. This, mind you, being a bit of luck for the bosom of the family, for old Worplesdon had the worst temper in the county.

From ‘Jeeves Takes Charge’ (Carry On, Jeeves)

Once again, Wodehouse gets to the nub of human nature. Many is the time that I have felt precisely as old Worplesdon did on this occasion, and I were as oofy a specimen as he, I’d have legged it to France myself long before now. Generally I have to be content with taking my passport with me on the bus-ride  to work.

But shortly, I shall be emulating Worplesdon as I have a ticket to France. I speak little French,  so I expect to experience the same ‘furtive shame’ and ‘shifty, hangdog look’ as Monty Bodkin, practising his French at the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes in The Luck of the Bodkins. With Monty’s assistance, I feel I have mastered Garçon‘ and l’addition, and I shall do my best with:

”Er, garçon, esker-vous avez un spot de l’encre et une piece de papier – note-papier, vouz savez – et une enveloppe et une plume?’

And if, like Monty, I meet a Frenchman wanting to practice his English, who replies with a ‘‘Right ho, m’sieur’ (or, unless I’ve omitted to wax my moustache, ‘madam‘) , I shall hug him like a brother. But after I have acclimatised and relaxed into the French way of life, I shall be speaking French like a pro, and will be muttering ‘Oeufs! Oeufs! Merde tous les oeufs!’ with the best of them

But I can’t sit here chatting to you all day. I have essential pre holiday research to do.

Pre holiday research: French Leave and a bottle of Les Mougeottes

Pre holiday research: French Leave and a bottle of Les Mougeottes

HP

(c) Copyright. My original writing and photographs are subject to copyright. You are welcome to copy them with permission, acknowledging me as the author.

The four seasons of Wodehouse

honoria plum:

Reading this marvellous line in Carry on Jeeves:

‘It was one of those still evenings you get in the summer, when you can hear a snail clear its throat a mile away.’ (in Jeeves Takes Charge)

 

reminded me of this previous piece on Wodehouse through the seasons.

Originally posted on Plumtopia: The world of P.G. Wodehouse:

1939 Uncle Fred in the SpringtimeIt is commonly understood that, far from representing a bygone age, P.G. Wodehouse created an  idealised England that never really existed. Personally, I remain determined to find fragments of Wodehouse in reallife, and last October I immigrated to England in search of Plumtopia.

I arrived in time for a glorious Autumn my favourite season. Surprisingly, Wodehouse sets only one novel in Autumn (that I can recall).

I reached out a hand from under the blankets, and rang the bell for Jeeves.
‘Good evening, Jeeves,’
‘Good morning, sir’
This surprised me.
‘Is it morning?’
‘Yes, sir.’
‘Are you sure? It seems very dark outside.’
‘There is a fog, sir. If you will recollect, we are now in Autumn – season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.’
‘Season of what?’
‘Mists, sir, and mellow fruitfulness.’

The Code of the Woosters (1938)

Autumn 2012 in Berskhire

After a stunning Autumn – mellow and…

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Wodehouse’s Women: Doctor Sally

Image Source: http://apenguinaweek.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/penguin-no-1370-doctor-sally-by-pg.htmlAs Doctor Sally begins, we meet Sir Hugo Drake, nerve specialist and keen golfer, who is impressed by the sight of a golf ball in flight, that plops superbly upon the green of the devilish eighteenth hole. I say impressed. What Wodehouse says is: ‘The stout man congealed like one who has seen a vision.’ Sir Hugo toddles off in admiration to find the golfer responsible, to congratulate him on a magnificent shot.

It was not the pro. It was not a man at all. It was a girl – and a small girl, at that. That she was also extremely pretty seemed of slight importance to Sir Hugo. He was not a man who paid much attention to women’s looks. What mattered to him was that he stood in the presence of a female who could handle a mashie like that.

Upon introduction, he also discovers that Sally is a Doctor.

‘Good God!’ You’re not a doctor?’

‘Yes, I am. Smith – Sally Smith. Doctor Sally Smith.’

‘Good God!’ exclaimed Sir Hugo again.

The suspicion of a shadow passed over the girl’s face. She was always meeting men who exclaimed ‘Good God!’ or it’s equivalent, when informed of her profession, and she disliked it. It seemed to her that they said it in the voice a small boy would use on being introduced to a circus freak. The male mind did not appear to be able to grasp immediately the fact that a woman doctor need not of necessity be a gargoyle with steel-rimmed spectacles and a washleather complexion.

Re-reading Doctor Sally, I was reminded of criticism levelled against P.G. Wodehouse for his supposed misogynist portrayal of women, discussed previously in ‘The Case for the Defence.’ Wodehouse also seems to have developed (astonishingly and incorrectly) some reputation as a writer enjoyed by more men than women.  Some Wodehouse fans argue that he should be excused any hint of misogyny on account of the era in which he wrote. This position irks me because I find nothing misogynistic in his treatment of women at all.

Among the cast of Wodehouse males we find a range of attitudes toward women. Some of these are outdated or unchivalrous – but such characters exist to be ridiculed, not admired. And they always compare unfavourably to Wodehouse’s heroines. Wodehouse also offers some more passionate, broad-minded chaps who love women and marry them often. In Doctor Sally, we meet Lord Tidmouth, a pleasant fellow who is attracted to fiery women. We meet him here, between engagements:

Lord Tidmouth liked peace and quiet. Women, in his experience, militated against an atmosphere of quiet peace. Look at his second wife, for instance. For the matter of that, look at his third and fourth.

Wodehouse sometimes employed paternal behaviour toward women (needing a father’s permission to marry, for example) in his plots as obstacles for his heroes and heroines to overcome along the path to romantic happiness. They ought not be considered evidence of Wodehouse’s own attitudes. 

As I’ve argued here before, Wodehouse offers more to the female reader than many male authors of his era. In 1932, when Doctor Sally was published in novel format, English women had been entitled to vote for just 4 years (behind the more egalitarian countries of the age, but they got there in the end). The novel Doctor Sally was closely based on Wodehouse’s earlier play Good Morning, Bill! which ran for 136 performances at The Duke of York’s Theatre (London) in 1927, a year before voting rights were extended to women.

Wodehouse’s Dr Sally Smith is an independent, professional woman. There is no mention of stern fathers or inherited wealth. She isn’t enticed by Bill Bannister’s marriage proposal, although he is a handsome and pleasant representative of English landed gentry  Sally enjoys her work as a doctor, is a first-rate golfer, and breezes through the novel with attractive confidence.  There is none of that sappy Bridget Jones-style pining for male attention that has so infected modern literature that  it has had to be quarantined as a separate genre (chick-lit). It seems some modern female writers are not quite so endowed with feminist principles as Wodehouse’s women.

My only quibble – and it is a minor one – is that Wodehouse made Dr Sally Smith so attractive. It’s rather hard on us lady gargoyles to find so few role models within the pages of romantic fiction. But Wodehouse is hardly the only writer to create a beautiful leading-lady, and in the course of his long writing career, he offered us a smorgasbord of romantic heroines with varying degrees of outward beauty. In Wodehouse’s world, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Sally’s pleasing outer crust is of no importance to her future Uncle-in-law, Sir Hugo Drake. Nor is her social status. He is won over by her personal merits and accomplishments.

‘William, you have made me a very happy man. What did you say your handicap was, my dear?’

‘Six – at Garden City.’

‘Six – at Garden City! Wonderful! What the Bannisters need,’ said Sir Hugo, ‘is a golfer like you in the family.’

He toddled off, rejoicing, to his breakfast.

And so too, shall I.

Further Reading

The play Good Morning, Bill!  has been published in the collection: Wodehouse: Four Plays. For more on Wodehouse’s theatre career, grab a copy of The Theatre of P.G. Wodehouse by David A. Jasen. And if you’re not familiar with Wodehouse’s autobiographical account of his life as a Broadway lyricist time, you should correct this omission at the earliest opportunity by reading Bring on the Girls! written with Guy Bolton.

You can read more posts on this subject by selecting ‘Wodehouse’s Women’ from the Categories menu on the right hand side of this page. And for more on Doctor Sally, try this little piece from the critic ‘Bully‘.

HP

(c) Copyright. My original writing is subject to copyright. You are welcome to copy, with permission, acknowledging me as the author.

The Romances of Bingo Little: Mabel

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lyons_Corner_House_recreation,_Museum_of_London.JPG)

Image adapted from original photograph by Kim Traynor

I confess I have a soft spot for the romantic Bingo Little. When we first meet him in The Inimitable Jeeves,  Bertie warns us about his habit of falling in love.

Ever since I have known him – and we were at school together – he has been perpetually falling in love with someone, generally in the spring, which seems to act on him like magic. At school he had the finest collection of actresses’ photographs of anyone of his time; and at Oxford his romantic nature was a byword.

The first of Bingo’s romances to be chronicled by Bertram Wooster involves a Mabel, a waitress in a tea-and-bun shop. Described by Bertie as ‘rather a pretty girl’, Mabel attracts the attention of both Bingo and Jeeves. At the end of the proceedings, she and Jeeves have ‘an understanding’.

We know very little about Mabel, except that she has dubious taste in gents neck wear, having given Bingo a crimson satin tie covered in horseshoes. This may explain why we hear no more about her as the potential Mrs Jeeves. But Mabel must have been more than a pretty face to have attracted Jeeves to the point of ‘an understanding’. What is her story, I wonder?

If you’ll permit me to speculate, I imagine Mabel as a country girl in former service at a large house, who has come to London in search of something better – work, romance, adventure?  The dashing young Bingo appears to have impressed her, but Jeeves orchestrates an end to his rival’s hopes. How did her affair with Jeeves end? Did Jeeves later revise his opinion of Mabel as an suitable partner (as he seems to have done with her predecessor)? It is difficult to imagine him wedded to a woman with dubious taste in menswear. Jeeves could certainly have contrived circumstances so that Mabel would cancel the fixture, but it would hardly be to his credit to do so twice. Let us give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it is Mabel who ends the affair.

Why does Mabel cast Jeeves aside, then? Perhaps she is keen to travel – to establish herself on the New York stage, or ingratiate herself with a rich Australian Uncle? Or does the pretty waitress become embroiled in a new love triangle, in which Jeeves loses out to someone more dashing, less stuffy, or socially well-connected? It’s all very well for Bingo’s uncle and Rosie M. Banks, who are both rolling in the stuff, to cast aside outdated class snobbery in favour of marrying for love – but neither of them have had to support themselves in London on a waitress’s salary.

I’d like to think of Mabel as having intellectual qualities we didn’t see in her brief appearance in The Inimitable Jeeves, but there is little evidence to suggest this from our brief encounter with her:

‘Hallo, Mabel!’ he said, with a sort of gulp.

‘Hallo!’ said the girl.

‘Mabel,’ said Bingo, ‘this is Bertie Wooster, a pal of mine.’

‘Pleased to meet you,’ she said. ‘Nice morning.’

‘Fine,’ I said.

‘You see I’m wearing the tie,’ said Bingo.

‘It suits you beautiful,’ said the girl.

 

And this is it. Our brief encounter with Mabel, the waitress, is at an end.

We wish her well.

HP

 

(c) Copyright. My original writing and photographs are subject to copyright. You are welcome to copy them with permission, acknowledging me as the author.

Introducing Monty

Image source: http://www.thesoundtracktoyourlife.co.uk/product,7016,Speaking_Personally%3A_P.G._Wodehouse.html

Wodehouse with cat

I did wonder whether or not to introduce our new cat to you, even if he is to be called Monty in honour of Wodehouse’s Monty Bodkin. After all, you’re here to immerse yourself in all things Wodehouse, not read about the family pet. But then I was flicking through Richard Usborne’s After Hours With P.G Wodehouse, and came across the following passage:

The Wodehouse’s have adopted, and been lavish angels to, a dogs’ and cats’ shelter and home in Speonk. Ethel drove me to see it on my way back to the station: kennels and cages for puppies and dogs, kittens and cats brought in by sad owners hoping to get them adopted; or collected as strays. A vet presides, with a girl assistant. Both in white coats. Ethel is the Lady Bountiful, bringing bones and bits of treats for them . . . more than a hundred all told, and great is the barking and miaowing when she passes down the alleys. In Speonk and Remsenburg the name Wodehouse isn’t widely recognised as belonging to one of the greatest humorists and busiest writers in our language. But it is known as being on the notice board: THE P.G. WODEHOUSE SHELTER FOR CATS AND DOGS’.

Richard Usborne, originally published in The Guardian (1971)

So perhaps it’s not so out of keeping with the spirit of Wodehouse that I introduce Monty, who was found as a stray and adopted by our family through the local Cats and Dogs Home. I also suspect most of you will forgive the indulgence, as my 2012 blog piece Cats will be Cats still remains my third most popular post.It just goes to show what wonderful people we Wodehouse readers are.

So here’s Monty.

Monty

Monty

 

(c) Copyright. My original writing and photographs are subject to copyright. You are welcome to copy them with permission, acknowledging me as the author.

The Inimitable Jeeves (1923)

The Inimitable Jeeves 1st edition (1923) image courtesy of wikipedia

The Inimitable Jeeves 1st edition (1923) image courtesy of wikipedia

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

The Inimitable Jeeves was one of the first Wodehouse books I ever read, and one I often  recommend  to new readers. It has been included in several serious lists of ‘classic books you must read’, but don’t let that put you off – it’s terrific! The Inimitable Jeeves is a great introduction to Wodehouse’s best known characters, Bertie Wooster and his valet (or gentleman’s gentleman) Jeeves. Although it’s not the first Jeeves story – that honour goes to ‘Extricating Young Gussie’, a short story contained in The Man with Two Left Feet – The Inimitable Jeeves is one of the earliest and best collections of the saga. And it is where we first meet key personnel including Bingo Little, Honoria Glossop, her father Sir Roderick Glossop, and the romantic novelist Rosie M Banks.

A collection of connected episodes, rather than a conventional novel, The Inimitable Jeeves is a book many Wodehouse fans return to, dipping in to favourite chapters as and when the troubled soul requires soothing. The thirteenth chapter,  The Great Sermon Handicap, is particularly revered by Wodehouse readers, and a compulsory inclusion in any ‘Best of Wodehouse’ collection.

In The Inimitable Jeeves, Bertie goes through a series of personal ordeals, as well as acting as confidant in the affairs of his pal, Bingo Little.

‘Is Mr Little in trouble, sir?’

‘Well, you might call it that. He’s in love. For about the fifty-third time. I ask you, Jeeves, as man to man, did you ever see such a chap?’

‘Mr Little is certainly warm-hearted, sir.’

‘Warm-hearted! I should think he has to wear asbestos vests….’

Indeed an alternative title for The Inimitable Jeeves might have been ‘The Romances of Bingo Little’ . Although Bingo does not feature in all of the episodes, his quest for a soul mate is a recurring theme throughout the book. Wodehouse opens the proceedings with Bingo’s ill-fated romance with a waitress named Mabel and, after further disappointments, we close with his union to the celebrated novelist Rosie M. Banks.

Bertie has matrimonial problems of his own in The Inimitable Jeeves, thanks to the interference his Aunt Agatha, who feels her nephew might be improved by marriage to a suitable female. Aunt Agatha appeared previously in ‘Extricating Young Gussie’ , and remains a force throughout the saga as one of Wodehouses’s most serious-minded characters.

‘It is young men like you, Bertie, who make the person with the future of the race at heart despair. Cursed with too much money, you fritter away in idle selfishness a life which might have been made useful, helpful and profitable. You do nothing but waste your time on frivolous pleasures. You are simply an anti-social animal, a drone. 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.

First she selects Aline Hemmingway, a curate’s sister she meets while on holiday in France. Bertie is saved when Jeeves unmasks the curate Sidney Hemmingway as the notorious confidence trickster ‘Soapy Sid’. Aunt Agatha’s next candidate for the future Mrs Wooster proves more difficult to shake off; she is the formidable Honoria Glossop, and her views on Bertie are very much in keeping with his Aunt Agatha’s.

…She looked at me in a proprietary sort of way. ‘I think,’ she said, ‘I shall be able to make something of you, Bertie. It is true yours has been a wasted life up to the present, but you are still young , and there is a lot of good in you.’

‘No, really there isn’t.’

‘Oh, yes, there is. It simply wants bringing out…’

During their brief engagement, Bertie is force fed a diet of serious arts and literature ’till my eyes bubbled’. It is Jeeves once more who contrives an end to the affair, this time by convincing Honoria’s father, Sir Roderick Glossop the noted ‘nerve specialist’ , that Bertie is mentally unhinged. This particular story was one of the best adaptations of the Jeeves and Wooster television series starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Admittedly the adaptation created additional scenes, new characters (we do not meet Lady Glossop in the book, for example), and dialogue (sometimes erroneously attributed to Wodehouse by fans), but the new material is generally in keeping with the original, and expertly handled by Fry and Laurie.

I point this out because not all Wodehouse adaptations have been so well made, causing some to feel Wodehouse simply cannot be adapted for stage or screen. I don’t agree with this view myself, but I appreciate the difficulty of adapting a humourist whose masterly prose style is such an integral part of his comedy.  Take, for example,  this much quoted passage from The Inimitable Jeeves:

As a rule, you see, I’m not lugged into Family Rows. On the occasions when Aunt is calling to Aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps and Uncle James’s letter about Cousin Mabel’s peculiar behaviour is being shot round the family circle (‘Please read this carefully and send it on Jane’) the clan has a tendency to ignore me.

How do you get the joys of reading this across on the screen? In the case of the Jeeves and Wooster adaptations, they had the advantage that Bertie’s narrative could be turned into authentic sounding dialogue. We shouldn’t expect Wodehouse adaptations to match the pleasure of reading the original passage on the page, but it is possible to adapt Wodehouse well. It requires a delicate touch though, and nothing brings greater despair to the optimistic Wodehouse lover than a misguided adaptation (see Introducing Wodehouse to a modern audience for my rant on that subject).

The same problems are faced by those of us who quote Wodehouse. A well-written passage or witty one-liner shoved out into the online universe never quite captures the joy of reading the words in situ. I often struggle to select quotations to include in this blog, because a passage I love on the page often seems to lose a little of its sparkle in isolation. It seems a shame to quote a mere three sentences when the preceding seven paragraphs are also full of ripping stuff. Where does one draw the line? It’s rather like hacking off a piece of Michelangelo‘s David and plopping it on the table for inspection – without the rest of him.

But quote and adapt we do, because of the joy Wodehouse brings us. My favourite rendition of The Inimitable Jeeves is the audio book read by Simon Callow, which I’ve heard so many times that Callow’s musical voice sounds in my head whenever I read it now. Wodehouse fans have their favourite audio book narrators of course, but on the whole I think we’re incredibly lucky to have had so many excellent readers to choose from – I love them all.

I’ve digressed rather a lot, as usual. There’s much more to The Inimitable Jeeves that I haven’t mentioned: Bertie’s period of exile in America for example, or Comrade Bingo’s brief membership of the Heralds of the Red Dawn:

‘Hospitality?’ snorted the man Butt, going off in my ear like a depth-charge. He was scowling in a morose sort of manner at young Bingo and the girl, who were giggling together by the window. ‘I wonder the food didn’t turn to ashes in our mouths! Eggs! Muffins! Sardines! All wrung from the bleeding lips of the starving poor!’

‘Oh, I say! What a beastly idea!’

‘I will send you some literature on the subject of the Cause,’ said old Rowbotham. ‘And soon, I hope, we shall see you at one of our little meetings.’

Jeeves came in to clear away, and found me sitting among the ruins. It was all very well for Comrade Butt to knock the food, but he had pretty well finished the ham; and if you had shoved the remainder of the jam into the bleeding lips of the starving poor it would hardly have made them sticky.

And then there’s the incomparable ‘Purity of the Turf’, but…  I’m not going to do all the heavy spade work for you. If you haven’t read about them, you’ll just have to buzz off and read The Inimitable Jeeves for yourself. And if you have already done so, I can do no better than leave you to reflect on happy memories.

HP

 

(c) Copyright. My original writing and photographs are subject to copyright. You are welcome to copy them with permission, acknowledging me as the author.