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A Visit to the Wodehouse family archives

Side view of house.JPG

Home of Sir Edward Cazalet and his wife Camilla, Lady Cazalet

On a beautiful autumn day, I left London’s Victoria Station for the glorious Sussex countryside to visit the home of Sir Edward Cazalet, P.G. Wodehouse’s step-grandson. I had met Edward and his wife Camilla, Lady Cazalet, in London during the summer, and they generously invited me to visit their home to view the family’s archive of Wodehouse materials.

The train journey was a pleasant, uneventful affair, which did not seem, to me, to be in quite the proper Wodehouse spirit. I ought to have been playing ‘Persian Monarchs’ with a genial stranger, or thumbing through a volume of poems by Ralston McTodd. But the closest approximation I could muster was an affinity for Lord Emsworth.

Lord Emsworth, in a train moving in the direction of home, was behaving like a horse heading for his stable. He snorted eagerly, and spoke at length and with emotion of roses and herbaceous borders.

Leave it to Psmith (1923)

It did seem a pity to be traveling merely as myself, and not an imposter. There is a lot to be said for adopting an alias, particularly when your own persona is as dull as my own. Polly Pott managed to pass herself off at Blandings as Gwendolyne Glossop, daughter of the eminent nerve specialist Sir Roderick Glossop (in Uncle Fred in the Springtime). With a bit of forethought, I might have presented myself as his other daughter. But forethought was never my strong suit, and I arrived with a sheepish sense of having let the side down.

I needn’t have worried. Edward Cazalet’s deep affection for his grandfather and enthusiasm for his work ensured a mutual understanding from the start. I spent the day giddy with joy as we looked through Edward’s impressive archive of Plum’s letters and personal materials, including notes for stories and draft manuscripts in various stages of devolvement.

volumes

Much Obliged Jeeves manuscript and volumes of Wodehouse’s letters

Wodehouse’s letters include correspondence with well-known figures of the day, including Agatha Christie, Evelyn Waugh, and Richard Burton. Reading his personal correspondence with family and friends (a tremendous privilege) left a lingering impression of Plum, the man. The impression is a good one. His private letters (many of them published in Sophie Ratcliffe’s P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters) are imbued with the same qualities as his fictional work, displaying sharp wit tempered by a generous spirit.

 

The other night, having run out of ‘Murine’, Ethel squirted some stuff into her eyes which the vet prescribed for Wonder, and a quarter of an hour later complained of violent pains in the head and said that the room was all dark and she couldn’t read the print of her Saturday Evening Post. Instead of regarding this as a bit of luck, as anyone who knows the present Saturday Evening Post, she got very alarmed and remained so till next morning, when all was clear again. It just shows what a dog has to endure. Though, as a matter of fact, I believe dogs’ eyes are absolutely insensitive. I don’t think dogs bother about their eyes at all, relying mostly on their noses.

      Letter to Denis Mackail (March 28, 1946)

P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

There is also a good deal of love in them.

My darling Angel Bunny.

Gosh, how I am missing my loved one! The house is a morgue without you. Do you realise that – except for two nights I spent in NY and the time you were in the hospital – we haven’t been separated for a night for twenty years!! This morning Jed waddled into my room at about nine, and I said to myself ‘My Bunny’s awake early’ and was just starting for your room when I remembered. It’s too awful being separated like this.

Letter to Ethel Wodehouse (July 6, 1967)

P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

lawn-in-sunshineIn the afternoon, Edward took me on a walking tour of the family farm and shared memories of afternoon walks with Plum, during visits to his grandfather’s home in Remsenburg (Long Island, New York). Nature had pulled up her socks and ordered us an exceptionally fine day to compliment the rolling farmland views, and I found myself pondering as Rogers, or possibly Hammerstein, once pondered, whether somewhere in my youth or childhood I had done something good.

Edward and horse by Elizabeth Frink.JPG

Edward Cazalet (with horse sculpture by Elisabeth Frink)

plums-chair

Plum’s library and chair

This joyous feeling reached a crescendo shortly before the cocktail hour, when I visited the cosy attic in which Plum’s treasured possessions have been lovingly preserved by Edward and his family. It contains Plum’s reading chair, his hat and pipe, golf clubs — even his personal statue of the infant Samuel at Prayer. The room is lined with bookshelves containing books from Wodehouse’s own library. The remaining walls are adorned with family photographs and sporting memorabilia.

 

Never a brilliant conversationalist, I was unequal to expressing this pleasure to my hosts at the time. I simply alternated between gaping and grinning for the remainder of my visit.

infant-samuel

Plum’s personal statue of the Infant Samuel at Prayer

I don’t recall doing ‘something good’ in my youth or childhood. Or since, for that matter. But I did spend five years in Van Diemen’s Land without the usual preliminaries of having committed a crime. Perhaps my visit to the Cazalets was Fate’s way of evening out the ledger.

 

Thoroughly gruntled!

HP

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46 Comments

  1. What a completely wonderful post HP! Thanks for sharing your magical day 🙂

  2. Rhoda Baxter says:

    What a lovely post. Being able to read his personal letters sounds wonderful!

  3. This beats any train trip I’ve ever had. I feel though that the Cazalets should keep a box of the Infant Samuel at Prayer statuettes so all visitors can perform the calming ritual of smashing one into the fireplace. Bravo!

  4. Jon says:

    I’d say something pertinent, but I am cross-eyed and green with jealousy. (And, well done at getting a decent train trip out of Southern Railways).

  5. Jon says:

    … or even by the ropes.

  6. The only “g” I am adding at this time is to “&t”. Better swing back on the gripes. Mrs P. I feel reminisces of the excesses of your misspent youth might be imperfectly aligned with the high moral tone we Groans expect.

  7. Ken Clevenger says:

    Wonderful tribute to Plum and his family. A visit to Fairlawn must be like going to heaven without all the bother and expense of dying.

  8. A joyful post.
    Two questions:
    Did you learn anything about his brother Armine?
    How long had he had the statue of the Infant Samuel? Did he own it before 1924 (Honeysuckle Cottage)?

    • honoria plum says:

      What Ho, George! My research was not as thorough as it might have been on both counts. I did see a few letters in which his brothers were mentioned, but no new information about Armine leapt out at me from them, I’m afraid. I didn’t check regarding the age of the IFaP statue either.

  9. ashokbhatia says:

    I confess I am green with envy – a shade of green which is greener than that of the grass outside the place where I happen to be camping these days.

    Thank you for sharing this momentous event with Plum fans!

  10. Elin Murphy says:

    Top drawer, Honoria! Having had the pleasure of being there myself, I know the joy and honour you felt in the visit. A lovely report, nicely told, old girl.

    • honoria plum says:

      Thanks so much Elin. It’s all very well for me to write wittily about the thing now, but on the day itself I was capable of gushing like an imbecile and no more. As you’ve been there, you are well placed to understand why — it really was such a treat.

  11. Murray Hedgcock says:

    Spot on – like my very good friend Elin, I too have enjoyed the privilege of a personal viewing of the Cazalet collection, and it makes for a most treasured memory. But afterwards I wrote nothing as charmingly evocative as Honoria’s account, despite being, similarly, a graduate of Van Diemen’s Land.

  12. This is such a lovely post. Thanks for taking us along with you on this pleasant journey. 🙂

  13. ashokbhatia says:

    Reblogged this on ashokbhatia and commented:
    What happens when you come face to face with the family and the archives of someone of the stature of P G Wodehouse? You gape and

    Well, from the account provided by the singularly fortunate Honoria Glossop, you simply grin or gape. You soak in all the finer details. You come back totally refreshed and charged up to face the harsh slings and arrows of Life.

    Savour this account of hers!

  14. […] you’re in London, this is an opportunity to hear Sir Edward Cazalet share memories of his Grandfather ‘Plum’, and listen to an expert panel (including […]

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