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Great Wodehouse Romances: When Plum created Eve

Rupert (or Ronald) Psmith was one of Wodehouse’s earliest heroes. He made his memorable first appearance in 1908 in a school story serialised in The Captain as ‘The Lost Lambs’, better known to many readers under the 1953 title Mike and Psmith. Alongside his bosom school chum Mike Jackson, Psmith (the P is silent as in pshrimp) made a successful transition from school stories to adult fiction in two further novels, Psmith in the City (1910) and Psmith Journalist (1915), before his final appearance in Leave it to Psmith (1923).

It is clear from comments in the growing Wodehouse Facebook community that my own love for this character is shared by many others, so it seems apt that when Wodehouse cast him as a romantic lead, he created Eve.

She was a girl of medium height, very straight and slim; and her fair hair , her cheerful smile, and the boyish suppleness of her body all contributed to a general effect of valiant gaiety, a sort of golden sunniness – accentuated by the fact that, like all girls who looked to Paris for inspiration in their dress that season, she was wearing black.

Leave it to Psmith

Aside from her outward charms, Eve Halliday is also an attractive character. She is one of Plum’s independent heroines, with no stern father or serious minded aunt to misguide her.  The prospect of pinching Lady Constance Keeble’s necklace (in aid of a good cause) does not faze her. She also shows herself to be a loyal friend, with an intelligent mind and an elegance of manner that make her a fitting mate for one of Plum’s most beloved characters.

Psmith agrees:

“This,” said Psmith, “is becoming more and more gratifying every moment. It seems that you and I were made for each other. I am your best friend’s best friend and we both have a taste for stealing other people’s jewellery. I cannot see how you can very well resist the conclusion that we are twin-souls.”

“Don’t be silly.”

“We shall get into that series of ‘Husbands and Wives Who Work Together’.”

At the end of Leave it to Psmith, the couple are engaged and Psmith is hired to replace The Efficient Baxter as Lord Emsworth’s secretary. Although Wodehouse later adapted the story (with Ian Hay) for the stage, he never revisited the Psmiths after their marriage. One possible explanation for this, given by Wodehouse biographer Frances Donaldson, is that Wodehouse could not envisage Psmith without a substantial income. Donaldson also suggests that Leave it to Psmith was written ‘only after much badgering’ by Plum’s daughter Leonora, to whom the book is also dedicated.

Another explanation has been given, by some brainy cove whose name escapes me for the moment (I have a feeling it was Plum himself, but cannot find the reference), is that Wodehouse found it difficult to envisage suitable plots for Psmith after his marriage. Having found his niche as a writer of romantic comedies, Wodehouse had little use for a married hero (Bertie Wooster was kept notably single). Although we are treated to a few short stories centred on the married life of Bingo and Rosie Little, these are exceptions.

The fate of the Psmiths after marriage continues to be a topic for speculation among Wodehouse readers. We want more of them! I have often thought of writing a little homage myself – along the lines of Sebastain Faulks, but presumably without the advance.

Perhaps like the Molloys (Dolly and Soapy, to their friends) the Psmiths might build on their early forays in the necklace pinching business and turn their capable minds to crime. They would excel I am sure, provided they could overcome any moral objections. I see their criminal activities confined to pinching only from those who have the stuff in piles, coupled with a propensity to share their ill-gotten gains with the needy, combining the debonair style of Raffles with the generosity of Robin Hood.

Perhaps more plausibly, I can also imagine the Psmiths entering the crime detection business. From almost the first moment, when Psmith meets Mike Jackson in the common room at Sedleigh, there is something Holmesian about him. Wodehouse was a great fan of Arthur Conan-Doyle, and it is Psmith, not Sherlock Holmes, who first utters the phrase ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’  (in Psmith Journalist). Psmith has the perfect partner in Eve, who promises to be every bit as capable as Agatha Christie’s delightful Tuppence Beresford.

Plotting out the next few chapters in their lives, I see Psmith becoming the unexpected recipient of a modest inheritance (a distant Aunt, or perhaps a rich Uncle in Australia) that would enable the Psmiths to purchase a detective agency. They would excel in the detection business, although they may have to fight off some underhanded skulduggery from a competing agency run by Percy Pilbeam.

Great wealth may never be theirs, unless the Psmiths have the good fortune to recover a Maharaja’s ruby, or compromising letters for a wealthy heiress – enough to secure a modicum of comfort and keep the wolves at bay. They may have tough times, but the enterprising Psmiths have the necessary wherewithal to make a success of things without having to fall back on the fish business.

HP


18 Comments

  1. ashokbhatia says:

    Great analysis!
    If I may supplement this with the case of the heroine in Ring for Jeeves who is also of medium height, bans the banns when noticing her lover coming out from another lady’s room in the wee hours of the morning, but returns to protect the hero from being whipped blue by her own father!

  2. ashokbhatia says:

    Reblogged this on ashokbhatia and commented:
    If you are a Plum fan and wish to delve deeper into the psychology of the individual, Plumtopia is the site to head to!

  3. Undine says:

    “Leave it to Psmith” is one of my favorite Wodehouse books. A great analysis, and, I agree, Psmith and Eve would have made a great Tommy & Tuppence-like team.

    And thanks very much for the link, by the way!

  4. […] my own contributions: When Plum created Eve and The romances of Bingo Little: […]

  5. riz says:

    PSmith invigorated my mental tissues and restored my faith in humanity. What a character.

  6. What a lovely article – and an even lovelier outline for the further adventures of the Psmiths.

    Have you ever come across the rather splendid film ‘The Thin Man’, whose premise is on similar lines to your projected story? I love it for the interaction of the married hero and heroine; though, slightly depressingly, the trailers for the later films show the wonderful Nora in a pinny in a suburban home, rather than with a cocktail in a bar, as social values change in the 1940s.

    I read ‘Leave It To Psmith’ as a teenager, one school summer holidays, and it remains one of my favourite, possibly my favourite, of the Wodehouse novels.

  7. Mrs. Psmith says:

    I want this movie filmed, even if it as to be done at revolver-point or under threat of the throwing of sooty dead bats onto the studio’s gleaming white flannels.

  8. ashokbhatia says:

    Wonder if any of the Hollywood movie moghuls have started working on this juicy project. As to Bollywood, a favourite of mine is ‘Bunty aur Babli’, where the hero and the heroine collaborate on grand pinching schemes, get married, decide to go straight, get bored with a simple mundane life, and return to execute cleverer schemes, helping the cop who is impressed with their ingenuity! In retrospect, this one sounds pretty much on the lines of the Psmiths.

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