‘What’s up with you today?’ he asked.
He could hardly have chosen a worse formula. The question has on most people precisely the same effect as that which the query, ‘Do you know where you lost it?’ has on one who is engaged in looking for mislaid property.
‘Nothing,’ said Reade. Probably at the same moment hundreds of other people were making the same reply, in the same tone of voice, to the same question.
I started reading The Pothunters yesterday. It’s a habit of mine, every so often, to set about re-reading the complete works of P.G. Wodehouse in order of publication, starting with The Pothunters (1902) — his first published novel. Invariably I get distracted from my purpose, somewhere between A Prefect’s Uncle and Love Among the Chickens. Sometimes, it’s the distractions of life. ‘Life!’ as Douglas Adams’ paranoid android Marvin says — ‘Don’t talk to me about life.’
More often it is Wodehouse who distracts me. I pick up The Mating Season or Pigs Have Wings, or possibly Mulliner Nights, in search of a quotation and end up reading the whole thing. Life goes on, time passes, until one day I begin with The Pothunters all over again. Fortunately, it’s a dashed enjoyable book.
I picked it up yesterday in an odd sort of mood. Life has been a bit of strain lately and I’ve been identifying with the aforementioned Marvin more than ever.
‘The first ten million years were the worst,’ said Marvin, ‘and the second ten million years, they were the worst too. The third ten million years I didn’t enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline.’
Douglas Adams (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe)
So I turned to Wodehouse, as I often do, as a soothing balm in troubled times.The therapeutic power of great comic writing has long been undervalued by self-appointed literary elites, who look down their noses at ‘light’ fiction, and sneer at those who read for pleasure. Even sensible reviewers and book bloggers often struggle when it comes to reviewing Wodehouse, and other comic writing. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen Wodehouse novels ‘reviewed’ with a few sentences along the lines of — ‘I enjoyed it, but as a light comic novel, there isn’t much I can say about it.’ Others stick like glue to Stephen Fry’s view that ‘you don’t analyse such sunlit perfection.’
Is it any wonder that I have these odd moods? There is plenty to be gained from analysing Wodehouse. Why does his writing make us happy? What is is about his world and characters that appeal to us? Are there lessons we can take from his writing to make the world a better place? What can emerging writers learn from Wodehouse — so that his legacy extends to include future generations of writers who bring sunshine into our souls?
It’s all part of the Plumtopian vision — to inhabit a world where the healing balm of Wodehouse is liberally applied.
She melted quite perceptibly. She did not cease to look like a basilisk, but she began to look like a basilisk who has had a good lunch.
The Girl on the Boat
The beautiful spring weather we’ve been enjoying in Somerset, reminded me that it is nearly always spring or summer in Wodehouse’s world. Yesterday was a day so fine, it could have been written to order by Wodehouse himself.
It was a glorious morning of blue and gold, of fleecy clouds and insects droning in the sunshine. What the weather-bulletin announcer of the British Broadcasting Corporation, who can turn a phrase as well as the next man, had called the ridge of high pressure extending over the greater part of the United Kingdom south of the Shetland Isles still functioned unabated. Rabbits frisked in the hedgerows. Cows mused is the meadows. Water voles sported along the river-banks. And moving a step higher in the animal kingdom, the paying guests at Sir Buckstone Abbott’s country seat, Walsingford Hall in the county of Berkshire, were all up and about, taking the air and enjoying themselves according to their various tastes and dispositions.
You can read more about the four seasons of Wodehouse here.
Added to the meteorological delights of yesterday, Robert Webb, who plays Bertie Wooster in the current tour of Perfect Nonsense, appeared on BBC Radio 4 to help commemorate the completion of Everyman’s 15 year project to make the complete works of PG Wodehouse available — for the first time. A great day for Wodehouse fans indeed!
A fabulous tale of discovering Wodehouse from Bill De Herder.
Originally posted on Bill De Herder - Author Page:
P.G. Wodehouse became my hero years before I would be capable of reading any of his novels. Growing up in Goodrich, the local Public Broadcasting System tower was in my backyard. And we had no cable. We had a large antenna on the roof, but the little TV in my bedroom had bunny ears, and it pretty much only picked up PBS. It was hard not to pick up PBS. Even the radio would pick up audio of the backyard tower’s broadcasts. And on weekend nights, PBS would broadcast a lot of British television: Are You Being Served?, Keeping up Appearances, Poirot, and, my personal favorite, Jeeves and Wooster.
Jeeves and Wooster starred Stephen Fry (who is also an extremely talented writer) and Hugh Laurie (who wrote The Gun Seller, which I think is really good). Jeeves was Wooster’s valet, and the premise of the…
View original 228 more words
‘…he [Barmy] would have been the first to agree that he had never been one of those brainy birds whose heads bulge out at the back. Some birds bulged and some birds didn’t, you had to face it, he would have said, and he was one of the birds who didn’t. At Eton everyone had called him Barmy. At Oxford everyone had called him Barmy. And even in the Drones Club, a place where the level of intellect is not high, it was as Barmy that he was habitually addressed.’
Barmy in Wonderland (1952)
Cyril “Barmy” Fotheringay-Phipps (pronounced Fungy), a member of Wodehouse’s famed Drones Club, stars in two stories of his own.
‘Tried in the Furnace’ is a short story from Young Men in Spats (1936 UK edition), and a great favourite of mine. Barmy and fellow Drone Pongo Twistleton-Twistleton retire to the country to rehearse their act for a Drones smoking-concert. When they both fall under the spell of Angelica Briscoe, it tests the bonds of friendship as well as the lengths to which a chap will go to prove his love. Angelica, daughter of the Rev P.P. Brisco, enlists Pongo’s help with the local School Treat, while Barmy is conscripted to oversee the annual village Mother’s outing:
“No sooner were they out of sight of the vicarage than they began to effervesce to an almost unbelievable extent . . . a very stout Mother in a pink bonnet picked off a passing cyclist with a well directed tomato, causing him to skid into a ditch. Upon which all sixteen Mothers laughed like fiends in hell . . .”
I have reread this episode half a dozen times and it never fails to bring on a case of hysterics.
Barmy eventually finds love in America, in the 1952 novel Barmy in Wonderland (based on George S. Kaufman’s play ‘The Butter and Egg Man’). As the story opens, we learn the astonishing news that Barmy is gainfully employed as a hotel clerk, although his intellectual capabilities do not seem to have been improved by the experience.
‘Cyril Phipps was tall and willowy, a young Englishman of the type so common in the Drones Club, Dover Street London, an institution of which… he remained a member in good standing. His disposition was intensely amiable, his hair the colour of creamery butter and his face one of those open, engaging faces which arose the maternal instinct in women…’Barmy in Wonderland . But in the opinion of Barmy’s employer, J.G. Anderson, Barmy has ‘…an I.Q. somewhat lower than that of a backward clam – a clam, let us say, which had been dropped on its head when a baby…’
Barmy in Wonderland
Happily, Barmy manages to win the love of Eileen ‘Dinty’ Moore, a street-wise Irish-American dame who promises to add a much needed dash of common sense to the blood of the Fotheringay-Phipps. For more snippets from ‘Barmy in Wonderland’, have a look at my piece ‘Moments when one needs a drink’.
Ashokbhatia delights us once more. This piece is just the thing for those of us who need some joyous reading before we turn our attention, post Easter holiday, back to the rigours of life and work. Thank you, Ashokbhatia!
Originally posted on ashokbhatia:
Some residents of Plumsville may like to join me in recalling our pre-adolescence days. Our first ever encounter with Cupid’s arrows. The time when innocence slowly started giving way to half-baked romances of a transient nature. The neighborhood crush and the chance encounters. The classroom and the furtive glances. The one-sided affections. The attempts at showcasing gallantry and modesty. The unfulfilled desire to share tips on demystifying Romeo and Juliet. The relentless yearning for companionship. The possibility of a picnic where the presence of a certain person made our hearts go all of a twitter.
A more sinister restlessness crept in when we got infatuated with someone within the dark confines of a cinema hall. Posters of an upcoming movie featuring the adored person invariably got more attention than any text-book at hand. Sneaking off to a matinée, while giving a skip to the homework assigned, was also attempted…
View original 1,376 more words
In approximately 25 minutes, I will be heading off to explore P.G. Wodehouse locations in Shropshire, on route to the wedding of a Wodehouse lover called Bill. To mark the occasion, I’d like to share my favourite ‘Wodehouse’ poem — presented as the work of Lancelot Mulliner in ‘Came the Dawn’. I wanted this to be read at my own wedding, but the celebrant bucked.
DARKLING (A Threnody)
By L. BASSINGTON MULLINER
(Copyright in all languages, including the Scandinavian)
Like a corpse’s withered hands,
Waving against the blacker sky:
Bitter like the tang of half-remembered sins;
Bats wheeling mournfully through the air,
And on the ground
And nameless creeping things;
And all around
I am a bat that wheels through the air of Fate;
I am a worm that wriggles in a swamp of Disillusionment ;
I am a despairing toad;
I have got dyspepsia.
from: Came the Dawn (Meet Mr Mulliner)
It was a great pleasure for me to read this piece at ‘The Random Book Review’ (great blog) and find the reviewer ‘discovered’ Richmal Crompton via Plumtopia.
This excellent review, and its well-chosen quotations, show why ‘Just William’ is a favourite among Wodehouse fans. I can’t wait to read it myself.
Originally posted on The Random Book Review:
William. Just William. More William. William Again. Still William. Lately, whenever anybody says ‘William’, all I can think of is Richmal Crompton and her (yes it’s a lady!) beautiful creation. I discovered the author on this post on Plumtopia (heaven for the Wodehouse lover); authors that Wodehouse fans like. Anyway, turns out I had a really old copy of William the Fourth lying unread on my shelf (no idea when I bought it..maybe it was the one I stole from my uncle), and couldn’t resist. After the first story, I thought it was for children. After a second and a third, I changed my mind. It’s for everyone..and especially for those lost Wodehouse souls, who still live somewhere in the beginning of the twentieth century, steeped in the scent of fading nostalgia. (See? I can write portry too)
William Brown is a eleven-year old boy in 1920s England…
View original 606 more words
There is always something fun going on at Ashokbhatia’s blog. This is one of my favourites.
Originally posted on ashokbhatia:
We live in times when the only feline creatures we happen to know are from the realm of cat-toons. We know Doraemon, Felix, Garfield, Tom and Top Cat, to name just a few. Their eccentricities we adore. Their haughtiness we endure. Their ingenuity makes our spirits soar. Their ruthless manner in handling mice of all kinds we ignore. To put it simply, in a world dominated by TV and internet, they have become a part of folklore.
Now, one does not mean to offend any of these personalities whose intrinsic felineness is rather unmistakable. But there are several others from the realm of literature who are no less admirable. They were born in times when the printed word was ruling the roost. They have left an indelible impression on the minds and psyches of several generations. They have exemplified the traits of bosses and the bossed-over alike. Surely, once in…
View original 1,729 more words
Norman Murphy’s credentials as the finest writer on Wodehouse since the sad death of Richard Usborne need no affirmation from me. This, dash it, is the man who found out exactly where Blandings Castle is. Such an act of benevolent scholarship assures his immortality. A new book from him is always a treat.
Stephen Fry (Foreword)
As Stephen Fry so aptly puts it in his Forword to The P.G. Wodehouse Miscellany (Literary Miscellany), a new book from N.T.P Murphy is always a treat for Wodehouse fans. My copy of this latest release arrived in last Friday’s post and I’ve had a happy week devouring it.
For anyone unfamiliar with N.T.P. Murphy, the dust jacket to this volume says:
A lifelong Wodehouse fan, in 1981 he published his first book on Wodehouse that showed how many of his characters and settings were based on real people and places. Since then he has published three more Wodehouse-based books. He was also the founding chairman of The P.G. Wodehouse Society (UK).
Murphy is also the (UK) Wodehouse Society ‘Remembrancer’, conjuring in my mind an image that is part chronicler, part raconteur — part Galahad Threepwood, part ‘Oldest Member’. I was privileged to meet Norman Murphy in 2013 when I attended one of his legendary guided ‘Wodehouse walks’ in London. I vividly recall his uniquely engaging manner and expert-knowledge holding our group enthralled on a hot summer’s day. The ‘Miscellany’ is written in the same agreeable style, and Murphy’s voice resounds clearly in my head while reading it.
Like it’s author, The P.G. Wodehouse Miscellany (Literary Miscellany) is a treasure. For those of us from generations and cultures vastly different from Wodehouse’s own, this book helps bridge the gap between our world and the one Wodehouse and his characters inhabited. Murphy has dedicated years of research to filling this gap — visiting far flung locations and interviewing scores of people — and answering the important questions we Wodehouse readers ask. Where is Blandings Castle? Was Aunt Agatha modeled on anybody? Did the Drones club really exist? Was there a Junior Ganymede? Murphy reveals all in the Literary Miscellany. The service he has rendered us (and future generations), in doing so ought not be underestimated.
The book includes a well-chosen selection of quotations, extending beyond the familiar lines so often quoted in this ‘information age’. I was pleased to find this favourite:
She melted quite perceptibly. She did not cease to look like a basilisk, but she began to look like a basilisk who has had a good lunch.
(The Girl on the Boat)
In addition to providing an excellent summary of Wodehouse’s life and work, this Miscellany is sure to become the definitive geographical tour guide for readers who (like me) enjoy visiting Wodehouse locations. Let us hope it also becomes the authoritative source for journalists and other commentators, so that we can look forward to fewer errors of fact or ill-informed opinions on the infamous Berlin broadcasts.
Hats off to N.T.P Murphy and The History Press for making this volume available. You can order a copy directly from The History Press or Amazon (where you’ll also find Murphy’s other Wodehouse works).
On a personal note, I would like to thank Norman Murphy for including this blog — Plumtopia — in his list of Recommended Wodehouse Websites on p188. I feel greatly honoured to be included (but I would have said all these lovely things about the book anyway).
(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.
Victoria Madden has written a lovely piece about discovering Plumtopia (and Ashokbhatia ) at her Moulders Lane blog. I was so delighted, I had to share it here. If you can read it whilst sipping tea on the lawn, even better.
Originally posted on Moulders Lane:
I got into blogging almost by accident: I was writing a book and it occured to me – I still don’t know how, I’m a complete techno-idiot – that putting my ideas online would help me get a better perspective on what I was writing. After many diversions I ended up with three, inter-related blogs: one of which you are now reading.
When someone actually posted a (very nice) comment on an article I’d written here that mentioned P. G. Wodehouse, I had a feeling of slight alarm. I spent two or three months looking at it doubtfully, then took the plunge and rather gingerly added it to my post. More time passed.
It finally occurred to me to wonder who this person from the Internet was who’d left such an astute and gratifying comment – and more particularly, how they’d found my post. I followed the link like Alice…
View original 423 more words