Moments when one needs a drink (Barmy in Wonderland)

‘There are moments when one needs a drink. Are there moments, indeed, when one doesn’t?’

So says M"BarmyInWonderland" by http://www.facsimiledustjackets.com/cgi-bin/fdj455/2890.html. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Barmy in Wonderland via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BarmyInWonderland.jpg#mediaviewer/File:BarmyInWonderland.jpgervyn Potter, the Hollywood heart-throb, who leads poor Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps astray in Barmy in Wonderland (1952). But before you start quoting these sentiments as the views of the author himself, have look at what happens to the frequently pie-eyed Mervyn.

In Chapter One, he gets blotto, burns down a hotel bungalow, and induces Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps (a hotel employee) to slip a frog into his employer’s bedroom. In Chapter Five, Mervyn is already soaked when Barmy arrives at his house (for a dinner he never gets).

It was plain to him that the other, fatigued no doubt after a long day’s rehearsal, had yielded to the dictates of his lower self and for some considerable time must have been mopping up the stuff like a vacuum cleaner. If not actually ossified, he was indubitably plastered, and Barmy could only hope that he would not eventually reach the truculent stage.

Mervyn Potter does indeed reach the truculent stage. First, he creates a disturbance during the cabaret performance in the Champagne Room at the Piazza Hotel. Next he takes a late taxi to the Long Island home of his fiancé, where the occupants of the house are sleeping. Mervyn insists that Barmy ‘shin up the waterpipe’ and start breaking windows. The episode ends badly for Mervyn, who is discovered by Bulstrode the butler, sitting at the foot of the drainpipe reciting Longfellow’s Excelsior.  At this point his fiancé, Hermione Brimble,  very sensibly insists that he give up drinking.

‘I wonder, Phipps,’ he said, ‘if you have the slightest conception what it means to be on the wagon. I shall go through the world a haunted man. There will be joy and mirth in that world, but not in the heart of Mervyn Potter. Everywhere around me I shall hear the happy laughter of children as they dig into their Scotch highballs, but I shall not be able to join them. I shall feel like a thirsty leper.’

This is moving stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. I am reminded of Plug Basham’s efforts to give up drinking, as told by Galahad Threepwood in Heavy Weather:

…about two weeks later I came on him in the Strand, and he was bubbling over with quiet happiness. “It’s all right, Gally,” he said, “it’s all right, old lad. I’ve done it. I’ve won the battle.”

“Amazing, Plug,” I said. “Brave chap! Splendid fellow! Was it a terrific strain?”

His eyes lit up. “It was at first,” he said. “In fact, it was so tough that I didn’t think I should be able to stick it out. And then I discovered a teetotal drink that is not only palatable but positively appealing. Absinthe, they call it, and now I’ve got that I don’t care if I never touch wine, spirits, or any other intoxicants again.”

Unfortunately Mervyn Potter is unable to sustain this binge-free lifestyle and Hermione cancels the fixture. He gets drunk on the opening night of his latest play (in which Phipps has invested his fortune) and refuses to perform. When ‘Barmy in Wonderland’ closes, Potter is the happy star of a hit play, but his long-term future is uncertain. Whereas Barmy, who hardly touches a drop after his initial night out with Potter, is rewarded with both riches and romance.

I’m not suggesting ‘Barmy in Wonderland’ is a moral tale about the evils of drink – far from it. But it’s not quite the ringing endorsement of drinking that the original quotation (if taken as the author’s view on the subject) might suggest.  Which brings me back to my original point. Wodehouse’s characters espoused a great variety of views and opinions, often ludicrous or extreme, which makes for great comedy. We can do nothing to stop a vexatious critic from presenting these opinions as the author’s own, but we should take care not to do so ourselves.

But that’s enough from me for one day.  This blogging is thirsty business and it’s almost noon – or will be once I’ve dressed and prepared my liver for the day’s potations. I leave you with these fine sentiments from the attractive Peggy Marlowe (‘not unknown to the choruses of Broadway’) who has difficulty procuring a glass of champagne after the opening-night flop in ‘Barmy in Wonderland’ .

‘What I vote,’ said Miss Marlowe, ‘is that somebody slips me a tankard of that juice. I’m surprised you haven’t offered me any before, dreamboat,’ she went on, addressing Barmy reproachfully: ‘Who do you think I am? Volstead or someone?’

HP

(c) Copyright. My original writing at Plumtopia is subject to copyright. You are welcome to quote from my writing with permission, acknowledging me as the author.

In Search of Plumtopia

honoria plum:

It is three years today since I began this Wodehouse inspired blog, in search of Plumtopia. This was my very first piece.

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

What Ho!

I have started this blog as part of a lifelong quest for utopia.

Unfortunately, the quest hasn’t been going so well, ever since I took that wrong turn at Bass Strait. Tasmania is quite pretty in places, but I don’t fit in here. I feel much as Alice anticipated she might upon reaching the end of the rabbit hole.

‘How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downwards! The antipathies, I think -‘ 

Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll 

It has been suggested to me by some presumably well-intentioned people that my disgruntlement with life might be due to my… err… personal issues and failure to view the world with positivity. Have you thought of counselling? The message from these smugly contented souls is a simple one – Utopia is a state of mind, so the problem is you!

I’ve…

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Getting started with Bertie and Jeeves: a chronological challenge

1919 My Man JeevesNew Wodehouse readers sometimes ask which of the Jeeves stories they should read first. Opinion on the matter seems to be divided into two camps; many people recommend ‘Carry On, Jeeves’, whereas I usually suggest ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ (1923). Both are excellent. The difficulty is a matter of chronology.

Today’s writers and publishers make it easy for readers to progress from ‘book one’ of a series in a logical and predictable manner, through its various instalments, to the series conclusion. Many modern series are well planned in advance. Others feature recurring characters in separate stories (crime fiction leaps to mind) which can be read in any order, although the chronologically-inclined reader can read them in order of publication to avoid ‘spoilers’. And modern readers are so accustomed to ‘the novel’ that it’s the only form of fiction most of us ever read.

Many readers are surprised to discover Carry On, Jeeves and The Inimitable Jeeves are collected short stories (although some of the later Jeeves books are novels). Wodehouse was writing in the halcyon days of the short story, and he was a master of  that format.  With a terrific number of magazines publishing fiction, writers like the young Wodehouse could earn sufficient income from writing to pay the bills, while developing his craft and audience. Authors like Wodehouse (Conan-Doyle is another example) would later revise their stories for publication in book form.

Most of the early Jeeves stories were collected under the title ‘My Man Jeeves’ (1919) – some featuring a chap called Reggie Pepper. By 1923, when ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ was published, Bertie Wooster is firmly established as narrator. In the 1925 collection, ‘Carry On, Jeeves’, Wodehouse reworked some of the earlier stories into the new and improved Wooster narrative. He also included new stories that follow on from events in The Inimitable Jeeves.

Beginning with ‘Carry On, Jeeves’

1925 Carry On Jeeves (orange penguin classic)This seems the logical starting point for many people. It opens with the ‘first’ Jeeves story (‘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 the revised early stories from ‘My Man Jeeves’, set mainly in America.  Then Wodehouse gives us two wonderful new stories: ‘The rummy affair of old Biffy’ and ‘Without the Option’. Both feature Bertie’s ex-fiancé 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 – 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’. Old George has been replaced with young Bingo Little, whose love life featured heavily in ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’. If you happen to read ‘Carry On, Jeeves’ first, you’ll know all about the woman Bingo eventually marries. This may not spoil your enjoyment of ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’, but it will spoil the surprise.

Beginning with ”The Inimitable Jeeves’

1923 The Inimitable Jeeves mycopy 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 the best introduction to the saga, in my view, because no prior knowledge is required to enjoy and fully understand the stories. Importantly, there are no plot spoilers or references to past events. Indeed, this book introduces many of the saga’s recurring characters. Reading ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ first does nothing to diminish the enjoyment of ‘Carry On, Jeeves’, and some stories in that collection are arguably more enjoyable for being read second.

For the modern reader, less accustomed to short stories, ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ is 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‘. By all means read it, if you 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
Madam Eulalie (annotations)
The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)

(c) Copyright. My original writing at Plumtopia is subject to copyright. You are welcome to quote from my writing with permission, acknowledging me as the author.

‘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.