P.G. Wodehouse reading guide: from Jeeves and Blandings to the Hidden Gems

People often come to Plumtopia looking for advice on how to get started reading P.G. Wodehouse, the Jeeves and Wooster series in particular. It’s a good question.

The short answer, is that there is no single correct approach to reading Wodehouse –and if you ask the question in one of the many online Wodehouse forums, you’ll get at least a dozen answers. Picking up the first book you come across is often as good a starting point as any, and running across occasional spoilers shouldn’t dampen your enjoyment of Wodehouse’s writing.

But the short answer isn’t particularly helpful if you’re looking for practical advice. This post, and the short series to follow, offers a guide to readers wanting to discover the joys of Jeeves and Wooster, Blandings, and the wider world of ‘hidden gems‘ that Wodehouse has to offer.

A suggested reading list for getting started is provided below, followed by some general guidance for new readers.

Reading suggestions for getting started

9781585679225_p0_v1_s192x300Jeeves & Wooster: Start your adventure with Wodehouse’s best known duo in The Inimitable Jeeves (1923). It’s not a novel, but a collection of short stories –many of them classics– from the start of the saga. If you prefer a novel, try  Right Ho, Jeeves (1934; US title Brinkley Manor). See my second piece in this series for a complete Jeeves and Wooster reading list.

Even Comrade Butt cast off his gloom for a space and immersed his whole being in scrambled eggs, only coming to the surface at intervals to grab another cup of tea.

The Inimitable Jeeves

something-freshBlandings: Blandings Castle is arguably literature’s finest Utopia. Or as Evelyn Waugh put it: ‘the gardens of Blandings Castle are the original gardens of Eden from which we are all exiled.’ Dip your toe into Paradise with the first Blandings novel Something Fresh (1915; US title Something New), or the classic short story collection Blandings Castle and Elsewhere (1935).

“Unlike the male codfish, which, suddenly finding itself the parent of three million five hundred thousand little codfish, cheerfully resolves to love them all, the British aristocracy is apt to look with a somewhat jaundiced eye on its younger sons.”

‘The Custody of the Pumpkin’ in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere

mike-and-psmithPsmith: Rupert or Ronald Psmith (the ‘p’ is silent as in pshrimp) is a favourite among Wodehouse lovers. Start with his first appearance in the brilliant school stories, currently in print as Mike and Psmith. If  you prefer an adult novel, his final outing in Leave it to Psmith (1923) is wonderful (and won’t spoil your enjoyment of the earlier stories).

Mike nodded. A sombre nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if somebody had met him in 1812 and said, “So, you’re back from Moscow, eh?”

Mike and Psmith

ukridgeUkridge: He’s the character Wodehouse readers love to hate — a blighter and a scoundrel to be sure, but his adventures are comedy gold. Start with the short story collection Ukridge (1924) or the novel Love Among the Chickens (revised in 1921).

Somebody met him in New York, just off a cattle-ship. Somebody else saw him in Buenos Ayres. Somebody, again, spoke sadly of having been pounced on by him at Monte Carlo and touched for a fiver. It was not until I settled down in London that he came back into my life. We met in Piccadilly one day, and resumed our relations where they had broken off. Old associations are strong, and the fact that he was about my build and so could wear my socks and shirts drew us very close together.

‘Ukridge’s Dog College’ in Ukridge

wodehouse-young-men-in-spatsUncle Fred: Pongo Twistleton’s Uncle Fred is a dapper old gent with a twinkle in his eye, and a penchant for adventure — a man who can adopt an alias at the drop of a hat, and frequently does. Start with his first appearance in the short story, Uncle Fred Flits By (1935), in the collection Young Men in Spats (1936). The first novel Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939) is part of the Blandings series –save this treat for later if you can.

I don’t know if you happen to know what the word ‘excesses’ means, but those are what Pongo’s Uncle Fred from the country, when in London, invariably commits.

‘Uncle Fred Flits By’ in Young Men in Spats

18053Short Stories: Wodehouse was a master of the short story format, and would be classed alongside greats like Chekhov if he hadn’t been a humourist. The Mulliner stories are outstanding. Start anywhere you like, but Meet Mr. Mulliner (1927) is the first. The Oldest Member golf stories are also terrific –try The Clicking of Cuthbert (1922; US title Golf Without Tears). No understanding of golf is required to enjoy them.

Vladimir specialized in grey studies of hopeless misery, where nothing happened till page three hundred and eighty, when the moujik decided to commit suicide.

The Clicking of Cuthbert

1585676160_lThe novels: Plot spoilers are less of a problem with Wodehouse’s ‘stand-alone’ novels, although some are connected by recurring characters. There are plenty of novels to choose from, but if you’re chronologically inclined, some good examples from his early period include Uneasy Money (1916), Piccadilly Jim (1917) and The Small Bachelor (1927).

The residence of Mr. Peter Pett, the well-known financier, on Riverside Drive is one the leading eyesores of that breezy and expensive boulevard. As you pass by in your limousine, or while enjoying ten cents worth of fresh air on top of a green omnibus, it jumps out and bites at you.

Piccadilly Jim

Where to buy them
Your local bookstore is unlikely to stock much Wodehouse (or know where to start, unless you’re lucky), but they should be able to order books for you. If your local booksellers are as lovely as mine, this adds considerably to the pleasure.

Links to books currently in print and available for purchase online have been included in the text. Out of print books are frequently available second-hand at reasonable prices. Don’t be alarmed by the price of expensive first and collectable editions. It is possible to read your way through Wodehouse cheaply, particularly if you’re happy with paperbacks and don’t mind which editions you buy. Most titles are also available as Ebooks, including those which are out of print.

Understanding the chronological challenge
Many of Wodehouse’s stories first appeared in magazines such as The Strand (UK) and The Saturday Evening Post (US), but weren’t always published in book form in the same order – or under the same titles. If you read Wodehouse in order of publication you will encounter ‘spoilers’, particularly in the Blandings series. Wodehouse also rewrote some of his early stories, so the beginning isn’t always the best place to start. It’s also helpful to know that Wodehouse’s books were often published under different titles in the UK and US.

In putting this series together, I’ve referred to many excellent online resources that exist for Wodehouse fans (such as Neil Midkiff’s outstanding short story and novel listings) and have benefitted from the invaluable advice of Wodehouse expert Tony Ring. Any errors, omissions and loony opinions that remain are entirely my own.

The next piece in the series provides a reading list for the Jeeves and Bertie Wooster stories.

Happy reading!



12 thoughts on “P.G. Wodehouse reading guide: from Jeeves and Blandings to the Hidden Gems

  1. Doug S

    I love the blog but I have to offer a mild dissent on Thank You, Jeeves. Wodehouse was a man of his time and while that doesn’t generally create a problem – indeed it is part of his charm and appeal – Thank You, Jeeves is perhaps a bit too much of his time. I think some readers are likely to be disconcerted by a novel one of whose main gag lines is Bertie in blackface. I find the novel tough going myself for that reason and others. Thus, I would not recommend it to folks just starting out with Wodehouse. And can I make a plug for the school stories? I find them funny, involving and – as I get older – poignant. They are neglected gems. Thanks for your delightful blog and please keep up the good work!!!

    1. My dear old Doug, you don’t think perhaps that old theatrical Plum was ridiculing the minstrel shows, Al Jolson et al that were popular at the time — all of them white men in black face? As Bertie said of Spode and his Black Shorts: “How perfectly foul.” Plum always had a dig at extravagant displays — putting on side (is that the term?) In any case, how might Bertie in black face with banjolele compare as a comic device with a crazed communist committing arson? How about Bertie finding a girl in his pyjamas, in his bed? How about abduction and imprisonment by a captain of industry? I mean to say, what?

    2. What Ho, Doug. Thanks for the comments. I appreciate getting your thoughts on this as it wasn’t something I had considered. I suppose that, having grown up in a B&W minstrel-free world, it seems nothing more than a historical curiosity to me. But I can readily appreciate the hurt and strength of feeling that led to the demise of this form of ‘entertainment’ (Well… I say demise, but ‘blacking up’ is still done from time to time in modern British comedy). I can certainly understand why people find it degrading.

      I don’t recall finding ‘Thank You, Jeeves’ uncomfortable reading (and I don’t think Wodehouse was being intentionally degrading by putting his characters in ‘blackface’ makeup). However, it has been several years since I last read this book –it’s not one of those favourites that I read often– so I’m going to read it again and give this further thought.

      Wodehouse was ‘of his time’ certainly, but all writers are –this isn’t particular to Wodehouse. I think (hope) most readers can tell the difference between occasional instances of outdated language (and the use of ‘blackface’ makeup in this case) and those writers who hold racist or other despicable views.

    3. Doug. I have re-read the book and I am inclined to agree that it is not for first time readers. I am going to edit this piece accordingly — so your comments won’t make sense to anyone who comes across it in future, but we’ll know you were the good egg with the sound advice

  2. Pingback: P.G. Wodehouse reading list: the Jeeves and Wooster stories « Plumtopia

  3. Pingback: P.G. Wodehouse reading list: the Blandings stories « Plumtopia

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