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Blandings Centenary: Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse

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honoria plum

honoria plum

My personal quest is the search for a life inspired by the literature of P.G Wodehouse. Plumtopia celebrates this quest with other Wodehouse fans.

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1915 Something Fresh collage

It’s a pretty special week for P.G. Wodehouse fans. June 26th will mark 100 years since the first Blandings story, Something Fresh, was serialised in the ‘Saturday Evening Post’. It was published in book form later that year (in the U.S. as Something New).

If Wodehouse had not gone on to write more Blandings stories, Something Fresh would be highly-regarded as a fine comic novel. Aside from the memorable central romance between detective fiction writer Ashe Marson and the enterprising Joan Valentine, Wodehouse gives us all the subplots and subterfuge we expect from a Blandings adventure.

And as the work that introduced characters like Lord Emsworth, Freddie Threepwood, Rupert Baxter, and Beach, Something Fresh holds a special place in many Wodehouse lovers’ hearts. It’s one of the books I often return to. The title Something Fresh seems particularly apt because the story leaps from the page, as fresh to me as when I first read it over twenty years ago.

To say that Baxter’s heart stood still would be medically inexact. The heart does not stand still. Whatever the emotions of its owner, it goes on beating. It would be more accurate to say that Baxter felt like a man taking his first ride in an express elevator who has outstripped his vital organs by several floors and sees no immediate prospect of their ever catching up with him again.

It might equally have been titled ‘Something Special’ because there is an extra ‘something’ in this novel that arguably marked a turning point in his work. Perhaps there’s an added injection of happiness in there too — it was while writing Something Fresh that P.G. Wodehouse met and married Ethel Wayman.

He recalls this time in his Preface to a later penguin edition:

Half-way through it I got married (and have been ever since) to an angel in human form who had seventy-five dollars. As I had managed to save fifty, we were fairly well fixed financially, but we felt we could do with a bit more, and by what I have always looked on as a major miracle we got it. My agent, who must have been an optimist to end all optimists, sent the story to the Saturday Evening Post and George Horace Lorimer, its world famous editor, bought it as a serial and paid me the stupefying sum of $3,500 for it, at that time the equivalent of seven hundred gleaming golden sovereigns. I was stunned. I had always known in a vague sort of way that there was money like $3,500 in the world, but I had never expected to touch it. If I was a hundred bucks ahead of the game in those days, I thought I was doing well.

After an already impressive early career, P.G. Wodehouse had arrived!

For a full and informed review of Something Fresh, I recommend the excellent Bully — one of the first and best Wodehouse related blogs. It contains plot-spoilers, so you may prefer to read Something Fresh first.

Finally, a reminder.

It’s not too late to enter my fabulous competition: win a copy of 2015 Wodehouse prize winner ‘Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party’ by Alexander McCall Smith.

To enter, just read my previous post respond with your answer to the question:  Who is your favourite large/fat/generously proportioned Wodehouse character and why? 

Competition closes July 12th 2015

Happy reading!

HP

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35 Comments

  1. Ah Blandings …. how does one persuade Auntie BBC to repeat the radio adaptations from the 1980s. These were one of my first introductions to Wodehouse and I remain not a little baffled that they are not regulars on BBC Radio 4 Extra

  2. Paul (the P is silent) says:

    SF has some of my favorite lines about Beach, such as:

    “Beach accordingly had acquired a dignified inertia that almost qualified for inclusion in the vegetable kingdom.”

    and,

    “Mr Beach’s set expression was of one who is wondering how long the strain of existence can be supported.”

    And there’s this, which connects your two recent posts:

    “To Baxter’s chagrin, this person engaged him in conversation directly he took his seat at the table. There was only one table in the room, as is customary in English inns, and it had the disadvantage that it collected those seated at it into one party. It was impossible for Baxter to withdraw into himself and ignore this person’s advances.

    “It is doubtful whether he could have done it, however, had they been separated by yards of floor, for the fat man was not only naturally talkative but, as appeared from his opening remarks, speech had been dammed up within him for some time by lack of a suitable victim.”

  3. Now I need to read something fresh, again, thanks for a great post.

  4. ashokbhatia says:

    One of my all time favourites. A reclusive lazy bum like me is perhaps justified in turning green with envy every single time he thinks of the hero who ignores London’s social climate and performs Larsen exercises out in the open. Moreover, he goes on to make a successful career in the realm of human fitness. Bravo!
    A re-blog is very much necessary and will serve at least two purposes.
    1. Health consciousness amongst our denizens would improves, simply by emulating the fine example set by the main protagonist.
    2. The so-called sterner sex would understand that the so-called delicately nurtured are just that – so called. Joan explains it beautifully when she tells Ashe that women are as tough as nails and do not need to be looked after and fussed over.

  5. Randy Cox says:

    What a coincidence. When I stopped in the public library after breakfast I found the second series of Blandings with Timothy Spall. Not to everyone’s taste of course and I will go back to the Master in due course to see where it all began.

  6. Randy Cox says:

    I have now watched the first three of the seven episodes of the second series of the TV show Blandings. Each is loosely based on one of the novels and cut down to run 30 minutes. It has been a challenge to identify the source because so much of the original novel has been left out. The episodes in the first series were based on individual short stories with one exception. I see no evidence there will be a third series.

    • Paul Kelleher says:

      As Nick Hornby once wrote:

      “Wodehouse also knew that comic material does not, on its own, suffice; he understood that on top of the comic material one has to overlay comic writing. In other words, however many amusing plot twists involving missing pigs he comes up with, it all comes to nothing if the prose is straight and plain – usually a sure sign that the author has an overwheening and misplaced confidence in the strength of his narrative. This, I’m afraid to say, is where Shakespeare went wrong with his comedies: Rowan Atkinson’s schoolmaster once brilliantly pointed out that they have ‘the joke of someone looking like someone else’, and, as you’ll know if you’ve ever had to sit through one, it’s not really enough for repeated and sustained laughter. Perhaps one of the sharpest analyses of Wodehouse’s genius came from J. B. Priestley, who once referred in a review to the ‘masterfully idiotic phrasemaking’, and this is where one draws the greatest joy from his work now. Lord Emsworth possesses ‘an intelligence about as mean as an intelligence can be without actually being placed under restraint’. A few pages later, ‘his brain, never a strong one, had tottered perceptibly on its throne’. ‘A butler,’ Lord Emsworth’s brother the Hon. Galahad Threepwood muses after he has surprised the hapless Beach, ‘is a butler, and a startled fawn is a startled fawn. He disliked the blend of the two in a single body.’

      “There is something of this quality in more or less every paragraph as well as the joke of someone looking like someone else. It’s why TV adaptations of Wodehouse’s writing will never work satisfactorily: without the filter of that prose, more or less the entire point is lost. A camera pointing at the antics of jovial halfwits is not the same as Wodehouse describing the antics of jovial halfwits. (This resistance to really successful adaptation, incidentally, is something that Wodehouse shares with Dickens, whose brilliant caricatures can only be diminished by flesh-and-blood actors.)”

      • This is very well argued!

        I’d suggest that much of the success of the ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ series’ (perhaps not so much the third one) was that they did use huge chunks of original dialogue, to which the antics of the ‘jovial halfwits’ were merely a well-placed response rather than the entire focus – as in the dreadful ‘Blandings’.

      • honoria plum says:

        Quite so. And also, the originals were written in Bertie’s voice so the narrative could be used seamlessly as dialogue.

      • Paul Kelleher says:

        I should mention the Hornby was restricted to lines from *Summer Lightning*, as this is taken from an introduction to that book. The full introduction can be found in this collection: http://www.amazon.com/Books-Movies-Rhythm-Blues-Riverhead-ebook/dp/B00FDV2GYE/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1435435257&sr=1-1&keywords=9780698156906

      • honoria plum says:

        Thanks for sharing that Paul. I was going to ask. I really enjoy Nick Hornby too. About A Boy is one of my favourite modern comedies.

      • honoria plum says:

        Terrific stuff! I’ve never seen any of those quotes either. Thanks so much. I do happen to think Wodehouse can be performed well. I saw a stage adaptation on Saturday (hence my delayed reply as I’ve been travelling) that was excellent. I will be sharing that experience soon. It isn’t the same kind of experience as reading Wodehouse, but it can still work.

        The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy adaptations are a good example of how a story can be adapted, stretched, shrunken and pulled into all kinds of weird and wonderful directions. These worked because Adams was mostly the one responsible for them. But fans have accepted and enjoyed the variations, each one making the most of the medium it’s presented in.

        Wodehouse used and reused the same material in serial and book form, on the stage, and in differing versions on either side of the Atlantic. His work was adapted for film and television during his lifetime with varying degrees of involvement. Certainly there is nothing quite like reading Wodehouse, but I am still an optimist when it comes to Wodehouse being performed. He wrote great dialogue. His plots were as convoluted as any episode of Midsomer Murders. His characters have such vim and vigour on the page, worthy of their time on screen and stage. All the elements of good drama, and great comedy, are there.

        That Wodehouse bound these elements together with a sprightly voice and masterly comic style puts his writing in another class. Without that dimension, dramatisations will always be a lesser version of the original. But there is still so much there to work with –more than enough to create fine viewing.

    • honoria plum says:

      I confess I only watched the first half of the first episode and switched off. One day I may revisit the series, but I won’t be rushing into it. I do feel it would be unfair for me to say too much more, having only seen fifteen minutes.

      On the other hand… I am not one of those high minded fans who object to adaptations and think it’s impossible to ‘do’ Wodehouse. Generally, I am easy to please.

      My general impression from the fifteen minutes I saw, was that the makers of the show were either unsound on Wodehouse, or were actively pandering to the misguided, but persistent belief that Wodehouse is all silliness. The result did his reputation no favours.

      • Great previous comment on adapting Wodehouse – well argued as always.

        Seeing his background was in theatre, and he used many of its conventions in his novels, it’s always surprised me so many adaptations of his work haven’t quite managed to pull it off.

        I think, for me, what they always miss is the right tone. (I’m thinking of the Peter O’Toole ‘Emsworth’ here: I seem to recall he played him as distinctly batty – rather than faintly puzzled by the things that other people consider interesting/important, and withdrawing in consequence.)

        I haven’t seen a whole episode either – just a short section of a couple of them. I was actually shouting at the television each time a new character came on, about how wrong they’d got it. Heaven knows where the director/producer was coming from when they decided to make it.

        ‘actively pandering to the misguided’ – that’s a great line!

      • honoria plum says:

        Thanks so much Victoria. I imagine Lord Emsworth might be a difficult character to get right. I’ve seen the Heavy Weather adaptation many times — it’s a favourite of mine. Any issues I had with O’Toole in the role initially have worn off after repeated viewings.
        Like any adaptation, Heavy Weather tinkers with the original, but it feels as though the tinkering has been done by thoughtful, loving hands who respect the material they’re working with.

        Whereas Blandings…. was a wasted opportunity.

      • I’ve only seen the ‘Heavy Weather’ adaptation once, many years ago, but you’re encouraging me now to seek it out again.

        I wouldn’t waste your time giving ‘Blandings’ another shot – it’s ridiculously heavy handed – even in the interests of a fair hearing it’d be an endurance test with gritted teeth…

      • honoria plum says:

        Thanks Victoria. I won’t be actively looking for it. I expect some well-meaning relation will probably give it to me as a gift eventually.

      • Yes, of course! Bound to!

      • I agree about ‘Blandings’ being a missed opportunity though. I wonder if they ever think of getting the P. G. Wodehouse Society in to consult??

      • honoria plum says:

        I think there was some consultation on details. I recall hearing someone had given advice on the casting of the Empress.

  7. Randy Cox says:

    It’s obvious the humor lies in the language and not in the visual.

  8. ashokbhatia says:

    Reblogged this on ashokbhatia and commented:
    Here is yet another interesting post from Plumtopia.
    The freshness of ‘Something Fresh’ is everlasting. To me, there are at least two reasons for it. One, the manner in which showcases physical fitness. Two, the independent minded Joan Valentine who speaks thus:
    ‘You look on woman as a weak creature to be shielded and petted. We aren’t anything of the sort. We’re terrors. We’re as hard as nails. We’re awful creatures. You mustn’t let my sex interfere with your trying to get this reward.’
    Enjoy!

  9. […] celebrate the recent anniversay of the first Blandings novel, I visited the charming town of Chichester to see a new stage musical adaptation of P.G. […]

  10. […] on the heels of the Blandings centenary in June comes the 100th anniversary of P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster and Reginald Jeeves, […]

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