One of my favourite Wodehouse stories and excellent Valentine’s reading.
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 decend 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’
This 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…
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Each February our theme at Plumtopia is the Great Wodehouse Romances, to mark the anniversary of P.G. Wodehouse’s death on St Valentine’s Day, 1975.
Here’s one I prepared earlier.
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…
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Hot on the heels of yesterday’s piece on The Code of Woosters it seemed fitting to revisit Mr Ashok Bhatia’s five part series on the subject.
Most of us love Bertram Wilberforce ‘Bertie’ Wooster. Unlike some goofy female characters who would not mind taking ‘a whack at the Wooster millions’, we do not love him for his money. We love him for his self-less attitude and simplicity.
Some of us pity him for being ‘mentally negligible’. His tendency to keep getting into one soup or the other often makes us feel superior to him. Whenever he gets stuck, Jeeves rallies around. He keeps pulling him and his pals out of the kind of predicaments they keep facing from time to time. If ever Bertie’s pride gets hurt and he decides to untangle an issue all by himself, disaster lurks around the corner.
All through, Bertie’s actions are governed by The Code of the Woosters which is essentially about never letting a pal down. However, I do believe that there are several finer shades to it. Each…
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The Code of the Woosters was one of Stefan Nilsson’s suggestions for including a book by P.G. Wodehouse in your 2016 Reading Challenge – as a 20th Century Classic. A classic it most certainly is, not just in the eyes of Wodehouse readers. The Code of the Woosters frequently pops up in literary lists of ‘books you must read’, as a shining example of classic Wodehouse.
Its plot and characters are arguably Wodehouse’s best known. The story opens with Bertie sipping one of Jeeves’ famous hangover cures, the morning after a binge honouring Gussie Fink-Nottle. Bertie’s respite is curtailed by a visit to his Aunt Dahlia.
Little knowing, as I crossed that threshold, that in about two shakes of a duck’s tail I was to become involved in an imbroglio that would test the Wooster soul as it had seldom been tested before. I allude to the sinister affair of Gussie Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, old Pop Bassett, Stiffy Byng, the Rev. H. P. (‘Stinker’) Pinker, the eighteenth-century cow creamer, and the small brown leather-covered notebook.
Bertie is propelled to Totleigh Towers, lair of Sir Watkyn Bassett and his soupy daughter Madeline, where he must wade knee-deep in a stew of Aunts, amateur dictators, policemen’s helmets and silver cow-creamers. To say nothing of the dog Bartholomew.
Among Wodehouse enthusiasts, devotion to The Code of the Woosters borders on the cultish. Perfectly sensible people who previously had no earthly use for cow creamers, find themselves squealing with delight when they meet one. In serious cases, fans have been known to collect them, to display proudly on the mantelpiece abaft their statue of the Infant Samuel at Prayer. Once the enthusiast reaches this stage, it is advisable to join one of the excellent P.G. Wodehouse societies where similarly afflicted subjects gather in gangs and kid ourselves that such behaviour is normal. One devotee, Mr Ashok Bhatia, has gone a step further in trying to de-codify the Code of the Woosters .
The Code of the Woosters has been adapted multiple times for television and radio. And since 2013, has been going about on the stage under a false name – as Perfect Nonsense – with great success. The continued popularity of this story almost 80 years after its original publication, and its inclusion by literary list-makers as exemplifying Wodehouse at his best, assures this novel’s place as a 20th Century Classic.
The Code of the Woosters is also where you’ll find some of Wodehouse’s most quoted lines:
He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.
Quoting Wodehouse is all very well in moderation, but nothing compares to reading his words in situ. If you are looking for a book by P.G. Wodehouse to include in your 2016 Reading Challenge, it’s a great place to start.
How to enter my 2016 Mini Reading Challenge
Just read a book by P.G. Wodehouse in 2016 and post a comment to the original challenge page (link below), telling us:
• which P.G. Wodehouse book you read in 2016; and
• which reading challenge and category you included it under.
You don’t have to be actively participating in any other reading challenge to enter.
For details and to enter, visit:
The 2016 Mini Reading Challenge: include a book by P.G. Wodehouse.
At around this time each year, we bookworms launch ourselves with relish into a new year of reading challenges. If you’re participating, you may have a few books notched up already. This year, I’m throwing a little side challenge — to include a book by PG Wodehouse in your 2016 reading. If the challenge isn’t enough to tempt you, I’m also offering a book prize. Read on for details.
For those uninitiated in the concept, an annual reading challenge is usually a list of categories – your challenge being to read a book in each one. The underlying idea is to expand your literary diet beyond your favourite genre. There are multiple book challenges you can attempt, as a quick Internet search will reveal. Popular examples include:
- POPSUGAR 2016 Ultimate Reading Challenge
- Around the Year in 52 Books (Goodreads)
- Modern Mrs Darcy’s 2016 Reading Challenge
WordPress book blogger rakioddbooks has helpfully combined the first two challenges into a long list.
You’re unlikely to find Wodehouse specified on any reading challenge list. The popular examples listed here don’t specifically include comedy, romance, short story collections or school stories either. As a Wodehouse blogger with a terrible memory, I have a professional responsibility to read and re-read as much Wodehouse as possible (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). So throughout 2016, I’ll be looking for cunning ways to include as much Wodehouse in my 2016 challenge reading as possible.
Why not join me, and include a dash of Wodehouse in your 2016 reading too?
Following last year’s Fatty O’Leary competition, I’ve developed a taste for prize-giving. This year I’m offering a £10 book voucher to whoever comes up with the most creative way to include a book by P.G. Wodehouse in their 2016 reading challenge.
How to enter
Simply post a comment to this piece, telling us:
- which P.G. Wodehouse book you read in 2016; and
- which reading challenge and category you included it under.
If you’ve written a review, please share that with us too.
You don’t have to be actively participating in a reading challenge to enter, as long as you have read (or re-read) the book in 2016, and can tell us which reading challenge and category you would categorise the book under.
The winner will be chosen by the usual committee (self and cat) and announced in December. First prize is a book voucher worth £10. I also have a mystery Wodehouse book prize, which I’ll be giving away during the year.
For more discussion about books
Join our Facebook book club, The Wood Hills Literary Society. As the name suggests, the group was started by Wodehouse fans, wanting to read, share and discuss books beyond Wodehouse (our name comes from Mrs Smethurst’s literary society in The Clicking of Cuthbert). We’ve incorporated some reading challenge categories in our monthly reading themes. New members are always welcome.
If you were lucky enough to receive the gift of Wodehouse this Christmas, you may wish to heed a few words of advice from the author before diving in on a Wodehouse reading binge. In his introduction to The World of Jeeves omnibus (1967), Wodehouse warns against reading too much Bertie and Jeeves in one sitting. Instead he advises taking the stories in measured doses, and prescribes the following menu for a day’s reading:
JEEVES AND THE HARD-BOILED EGG.
Cauliflower au gratin
JEEVES AND THE KID CLEMENTINA.
Chicken en casserole.
JEEVES AND THE OLD SCHOOL CHUM
JEEVES AND THE IMPENDING DOOM.
The World of Jeeves (Introduction) 1967
Such willpower does not come easily to us all. If you’re a glutton for food as well as literature, why not extend this feast to include some of Anatole’s mouth-watering dishes? Victoria Madden has applied her schooling in the French language to decipher Anatole’s menu from The Code of the Woosters for our enjoyment.
Happy browsing, and indeed sluicing!
After an amusing discussion at Baker’s Daughter blog on food in books and eating the Enid Blyton way, and a prompt from that witty Wodehouse fan the Old Reliable Ashokbhatia, I have polished up my A level French and scoured the internet to bring you this Wodehousian feast. Aficianados will recall it is the menu put together by Bertie in The Code of the Woosters after he anticipates being jugged in lieu of Aunt Dahlia:
‘Bertie! Do you mean this?’
‘I should say so. What’s a mere thirty days in the second division? A bagatelle. I can do it on my head. Let Bassett do his worst. And, ‘ I added in a softer voice, ‘ when my time is up and I come out into the world once more a free man, let Anatole do his best. A month of bread and water or skilly or whatever they…
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P.G. Wodehouse received his knighthood in the 1975 New Year’s Honours List. His letters from that time, published in Sophie Ratcliffe’s P.G.Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, suggest he had a busy time with press interviews and filming introductions for a new BBC Television Series (to be called Wodehouse Playhouse).
Reflecting on his first month of knighthood, Wodehouse wrote:
I am still trying to decide whether I would advise a young man to become a knight. The warm feeling it gives one in the pit of the stomach is fine, but oh God those interviewers. They came around like flies, and practically all of them half-wits. I was asked by one of them what my latest book was about. ‘It’s a Jeeves novel’, I said. ‘And what is a Jeeves novel?’ he enquired.
Jan 29. 1975
On February 3rd, 1975, he wrote a letter to Ernestine Bowes-Lyon:
Everything is more or less calm now, except that hundreds of fan letters keep coming in. One of them was addressed to ‘His Royal Highness PGW.’
Feb 3. 1975
This is the last of his published letters. P.G Wodehouse died on Valentine’s Day, aged 93.
N.T.P. Murphy identifies the Coal Hole in The Strand (in A Wodehouse Handbook, Volume One ) as one of four remaining London pubs mentioned in Wodehouse’s writing. It is mentioned in ‘The Debut of Battling Billson’, after long-suffering narrator James Corcoran meets Ukridge at the Gaiety Theatre.
‘Hallo, laddie!’ said Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, genially. ‘When did you get back? I say, I want you to remember this tune, so that you can remind me of it tomorrow, when I’ll be sure to have forgotten it. This is how it goes.’ He poised himself flat-footedly in the surging tide of pedestrians and, shutting his eyes and raising his chin, began to yodel in a loud and dismal tenor. ‘Tumty-tumty-tumty-tum, tum, tum, tum,’ he concluded. ‘And now, old horse, you may lead me across the street to the Coal Hole for a short snifter….’
Ukridge leads Corky down the steps to the cellar bar and, over a couple of tawny ports, outlines his latest scheme of managing a champion boxer. During a recent visit to London, I followed his example, leading my family down the same steps and through the back entrance, immediately next to the Savoy Theatre stage door.
The Coal Hole is in the heart of Wodehouse’s West End. The Savoy Theatre was very much of Wodehouse’s time, opening in October 1881, five days before his birth. It’s owner, theatre impresario and hotelier Richard D’Oyly Carte, was father to Rupert D’Oyly Carte, whom Wodehouse credited as the inspiration for the character of Psmith (the D’Oyly Carte family believe Wodehouse confused Rupert with his brother, Lucas). The Savoy Theatre was home to the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, which the young Wodehouse greatly admired. Wodehouse would later have one of his own plays, Brother Alfred (written with Herbert Westbrook), produced by Lawrence Grossmith at the Savoy in 1913.
The Gaiety Theatre (demolished in 1956) was famous for its musical comedies and chorus girls, including the ‘Gaiety Girls’ who shocked society by marrying into wealth and aristocracy. They were also a great source of material for the young Wodehouse, who worked for The Gaiety as a stand-in lyric writer (see Murphy’s Handbook for juicy details). His writing is bursting with actresses (like Cora ‘Corky’ Pirbright), chorus girls (Sue Brown, Billy Dore) and former stage dames who’ve put their past behind them, like Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Julia.
There are some things a chappie’s mind absolutely refuses to picture, and Aunt Julia singing ‘Rumpty-tiddley-umpty-ay’ is one of them.
(Extricating Young Gussie, 1915)
Wodehouse’s long association with the theatre is most remembered for his contribution as a Broadway lyricist, working in collaboration with Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton. For an account of his theatrical career, Wodehouse and Bolton’s 1954 memoir Bring on the Girls is terrific fun. There are also references in Wodehouse’s fiction that are clearly drawn from his experiences in the theatre. George Bevan, hero of A Damsel in Distress, is a good example.
‘You aren’t George Bevan!’
‘But—Miss Plummer’s voice almost failed her – ‘But I’ve been dancing to your music for years! I’ve got about fifty of your records on the Victrola at home.’
George blushed. However successful a man may be he can never get used to Fame at close range.
‘Why, that trickly thing – you know, in the second act – is the darlingest thing I ever heard. I’m mad about it.’
‘Do you mean the one that goes lumty-lumty-tum, tumty-tumty-tum?’
‘No the one that goes ta-rumty-tum-tum, ta-rumty-tum. You know! The one about Granny dancing the shimmy.’
‘I’m not responsible for the words, you know,’ urged George hastily. ‘These are wished on me by the lyricist.’
‘I think the words are splendid. Although poor popper thinks it’s improper, Granny’s always doing it and nobody can stop her! …’
A Damsel in Distress (1919)
Similar sentiments were politely concealed by my long-suffering family, who stood by the entrance to the Coal Hole as I indulged my habit of talking to strangers — on this occasion, a charmingly odd bird, who genially informed us that he hailed from outer space. I ought to have invoked the Ukridge spirit by inviting him to join our party, before touching him for a fiver, or at the very least a glass of port (poor Corky is touched for two rounds of tawny in ‘The Debut of Battling Billson’). Sadly, Ukridge’s big, broad, flexible outlook deserted me at the critical moment.
We took the steps down into the quiet, wood panelled cellar bar. It was easy to imagine this cosy haven attracting thirsty theatre goers, cast and crew. Its intimate atmosphere offers patrons the potential for raucous conversation, intimacy or solitude, according to the mood and occasion. A friendly barmaid directed us to explore the main bar on the floor above, with its entrance directly onto the Strand, abaft the Savoy and (presumably) opposite the old Gaiety. The two bars probably attracted different clientele, but Ukridge was a man who mixed in a wide variety of social circles and I wondered at his choice of the cellar over the grander bar. But as a slightly shabby Colonial, Ukridge’s tastes suited me perfectly well.
My snifter at the Coal Hole was short, but instructive, and it seems a fitting way to toast the end of another year of writing Plumtopia. I’d like to close this final piece for 2015, by raising a glass of the old tawny to you, readers and friends. Thanks for your support and encouragement.
Best wishes to you all for 2016!
Once you, or a loved one, have embarked upon the pleasures of Wodehouse, the seasonal gift giving possibilities are considerable. Likewise, a dash of Wodehouse can make the ideal gift for those poor souls of your acquaintance who have yet to read his healing prose. So here’s a timely guide to assist you (and anyone you might forward this to, as a gentle hint) with your seasonal gift-giving decisions.
Wodehouse for first timers
I often give Wodehouse books to new readers, with mixed results. The trick is to tailor your choice to what Jeeves calls ‘the psychology of the individual’. If you want to start your intended reader on the Jeeves stories, my recommendation (discussed in a previous post ) is The Inimitable Jeeves. But with the Everyman (Overlook) Library editions making Wodehouse’s lesser known works widely available, you needn’t start with Jeeves.
If your intended recipient is a fan of detective stories, Wodehouse’s world is full of shady activities, from impersonation through to pig-napping. Why not start them off with Sam the Sudden, or Piccadilly Jim? Or the first Blandings novel, Something Fresh — it’s a particular favourite of mine, now available in a special 100th Anniversary edition. For romance with a female central character, try The Adventures of Sally or French Leave. For sports enthusiasts, try Wodehouse on golf in The Clicking of Cuthbert, or cricket in Wodehouse at the Wicket (compiled by Murray Hedgcock). You’ll find further gift ideas for introducing Wodehouse to new readers below.
Wodehouse for enthusiasts
The task of collecting and reading your way through the published works of Wodehouse has never been easier, thanks to the aforementioned Everyman’s Library. If money is no object you can complete the set very quickly, but it’s a bit like eating a box of chocolates in one sitting. Acquiring Wodehouse in smaller bites over a longer period allows readers to savour the pleasures of anticipating and enjoying each book on its own merits. It also allows friends and family to contribute with gifts they know will be appreciated. To avoid duplication, keep a list of the titles you already have. Try this list of the Everyman editions as a starting point.
For serious enthusiasts, including those who have collected all the Wodehouse they can get their hands on, there are other ways to bring sweetness and light into their lives. Here are a few suggestions.
Recent releases on the subject of Wodehouse
2015 has been a magnificent year for Wodehouse releases! As mentioned (in an earlier piece on the Seattle Wodehouse Society convention) John Dawson and the Globe Reclamation Project team have spent the last two years researching, transcribing and evaluating material written during Wodehouse’s time at the Globe newspaper. John spoke passionately in Seattle about his quest to uncover more of Wodehouse’s work, the result of which is a wealth of ‘new’ Wodehouse material, made available to us all in: P.G. Wodehouse in the Globe Newspaper Volumes 1 & 2 . This is a non-profit undertaking and a discount is available to Wodehouse Society members.
2015 also saw the release of N.T.P. Murphy’s The P.G. Wodehouse Miscellany (see my previous post on this book for a summary) . It’s available in Kindle and Hardcover (at £7.49) formats from Amazon or as an ebook from Kobo (see below). I’ve found this nifty little volume to be a valuable reference in the few short months since its release, and expect it will quickly establish itself as a ‘must have’ for Wodehouse enthusiasts.
Volume 1 of N.T.P. Murphy’s A Wodehouse Handbook (revised edition) has recently been released as an ebook, making it widely available for £6.47. This is welcome news indeed for those of us who’ve seen the price of second hand copies rise to ten times that figure online. It’s available to purchase and download from Kobo Books . You (or your gift recipient) will need the Kobo’s e-reader software, which is free to download from their website.
Wodehouse Society Membership.
Why not give the gift of membership? For a modest annual fee, members can attend society gatherings and receive a quarterly journal to keep them up to date on all things Wodehouse. Find out more from:
- The Wodehouse Society (US) Membership costs $25. Have a look at their Regional Chapters page to find your nearest group.
- The P G Wodehouse Society (UK) Membership costs £22 for a full year (£11 for 6 months if you join between December-February). The society holds meetings and social evenings in London, as well as occasional outings in the other locations.
- A list of other Wodehouse Societies is available from the UK Society website.
For younger readers who may not be ready for their first Wodehouse, I recommend The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (recommended age 10+) or Guards! Guards! for adult readers. Terry Pratchett was a fitting winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction and I’d recommend his books generally to Wodehouse fans.
My daughter is currently enjoying the Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens (Puffin Books recommend for ages 7-12). Set in a 1930s English girls’ boarding school, each book involves the girls in solving a murder. The crimes are more sordid than those solved by the Famous Five or Nancy Drew of my childhood, but no more so than Harry Potter or other popular modern favourites. They’re written in an engaging style that doesn’t underestimate young reader’s intelligence, and provide a good introduction to the period. All this should help when your youngster moves onto Wodehouse. The fourth book in the series, Jolly Foul Play, is due out in March 2016.
Film, Television and Audiobook adaptations
Not all Wodehouse lovers enjoy seeing his work adapted. For those of us who do, some adaptations are difficult to find (unaccountably the BBC telemovie Heavy Weather is not available on DVD), while others are best avoided. Personally, I don’t think you can go wrong with the Wodehouse Playhouse series. P.G. Wodehouse introduces several episodes himself.
The most popular adaptation is probably the Jeeves and Wooster television series starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. The series introduced many new readers to Wodehouse, making it a good choice not only for Wodehouse readers, but also for friends you’d like to introduce to Wodehouse. Yes, yes, I know it’s not the same as a book, but you have to consider the psychology of the individual.
As an enormous fan of audiobooks, I’d highly recommend including Wodehouse audiobooks in your collection, or giving them as a gift. There have been various narrators – all of them good in my view, although Jonathan Cecil is a favourite. A Wodehouse audiobook would make a wonderful gift, especially for someone who may be incapacitated, ‘getting on’ in years or (as in my case) a recovering insomniac.
For a really special gift, find out if there is a Wodehouse stage adaptation playing at a theatre near you.
Miscellaneous gift ideas
I had many more ideas to share, but Christmas will have come and gone before a full list could be completed (if you’ve already done your shopping, you’ll at least be in time for the January sales). Here are a few more suggestions for the Wodehouse lover in your life:
- A silver cow creamer
- Spats and a Homburg hat, or a well-fitted Topper
- A tightly rolled umbrella
- Dahlias or Chrysanthemums
- A Berkshire sow
- Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire
- A statue of the Infant Samuel at Prayer
In the spirit of Plumtopia, I end with another Wodehouse wishlist, from Mr Ashok Bhatia -– A Plum Wish List for Santa this Christmas!
— a reminder of the joy Wodehouse brings to readers all year round. In the case of Wodehouse, that cliché about gifts that keep on giving, really does apply.
Happy Christmas everyone!
Hot on the heels of yesterday’s top five, this piece completes the top ten list of authors endorsed by Wodehouse readers. Some surprises, I thought. Since writing this piece, I have read a good deal of Saki and am grateful to have ‘discovered’ his stuff via Wodehouse lovers.
In my last piece, I revealed the top top five authors Wodehouse lovers in the ‘Fans of P G Wodehouse’ Facebook community named as their favourites (when not reading Wodehouse). No doubt you’re itching to know who else our Plum chums love to read, so I’m here to share the next five most popular authors named. As these five were almost equally popular, I’ve listed them chronologically.
Charles Dickens (b. 1812)
‘She dotes on poetry, sir. She adores it; I may say that her whole soul and mind are wound up, and entwined with it. She has produced some delightful pieces, herself, sir. You may have met with her ‘Ode to an Expiring Frog,’ sir.” ‘
Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers
Dickens has both fans and detractors among our Wodehouse loving fraternity. As someone who reads for escapist pleasure, I sympathise with those who avoid…
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