Lord Emsworth breathed heavily. He had not supposed that in these degenerate days a family like this existed. The sister copped Angus McAllister on the shin with stones, the brother bit Constance in the leg . . . It was like listening to some grand saga of the exploits of heroes and demigods.
‘Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend’
This piece is the third in a series of guides for readers wanting to discover the joys of P.G. Wodehouse — from the popular Jeeves and Wooster stories, and the Blandings series, to the wider world of Wodehouse ‘hidden gems’. Previous instalments in the series offered:
- an overview of Wodehouse’s work, with suggestions for new readers, and
- a reading list for the Bertie and Jeeves stories.
A reading list for the Blandings saga is offered below, followed by notes on the series.
A Blandings Reading List
- Something Fresh (1915; US title Something New)
- Leave it to Psmith (1923)
- Blandings Castle (1935)*
- Summer Lightning (1929; US title Fish Preferred)
- Heavy Weather (1933)
- Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939) featuring Uncle Fred
- Full Moon (1947)
- Pigs Have Wings (1952)
- Service with a Smile (1961) featuring Uncle Fred
- Galahad at Blandings (1965; US title: The Brinkmanship of Galahad Threepwood)
- A Pelican at Blandings (1969; US title: No Nudes is Good Nudes)
- Sunset at Blandings (1977)
The evolution of Blandings
Blandings Castle has joined Narnia, Brideshead and 221B Baker Street as a hallowed setting of English literature. Every enthusiast knows its rose garden, the terraces overlooking the lake, the steps down to the lawn where Gally sips a thoughtful whiskey, the gardens presided over by McAllister, the cottage in the West Wood suitable for concealing diamond necklaces or Berkshire pigs, and the hamlet of Blandings Parva which adjoins the estate.
N.T.P Murphy: The P.G. Wodehouse Miscellany
The much loved Blandings series features the absent-minded Lord Emsworth, his prize-winning pig the Empress of Blandings, and a changing cast of relations, staff, guests and imposters. The first Blandings novel Something Fresh, written in 1915, is one of my favourites and a great place to start. Wodehouse continued to write about Blandings for another 60 years (he was working on Sunset at Blandings when he died).
The early novels have a different atmosphere to the Blandings that emerges in Blandings Castle, in which Lord Emsworth’s prize-winning pig, the Empress of Blandings is introduced.
Blandings Castle is a short-story collection containing several classic Blandings stories, mostly written before Summer Lightning. Blandings Castle should be read before Summer Lightning to avoid spoilers. The stories are among Wodehouse’s best, and include:
- The Custody of the Pumpkin (1929)
- Lord Emsworth Acts for the Best (1926)
- Pig-Hoo-o-o-o-ey (1927)
- Company for Gertrude (1928)
- Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend (1928)
- The Go-getter (1931)
The volume also includes some fine non-Blandings short stories.
The tranquillity of Lord Emsworth’s life at Blandings is constantly under threat throughout the series: from oily villains (like Smooth Lizzie and Eddie Cootes); regrettable relatives (such as Lady Constance Keeble and younger son Freddie Threepwood); supercilious staff (Rupert Baxter); and invited guests (the revolting Duke of Dunstable).
At an earlier point in this chronicle, we have compared the aspect of Rupert Baxter, when burning with resentment, to a thunder-cloud, and it is possible that the reader may have formed a mental picture of just an ordinary thunder-cloud, the kind that rumbles a bit but does not really amount to anything very much. It was not this kind of cloud that the secretary resembled now, but one of those which burst over cities in the Tropics, inundating countrysides while thousands flee.
‘The Crime Wave at Blandings’ in Lord Emsworth and Others
Happily for Lord Emsworth, Blandings’ extended cast of heroes and heroines are equal to the challenges presented to them.
Lord Emsworth’s younger brother, the Hon. Galahad Threepwood, makes his first appearance in Summer Lightning. He and Uncle Fred (Frederick Twistleton, 5th Earl of Ickenham) put a debonair spring-in-the-step of the later novels, much as Psmith had done in the earlier Leave it to Psmith.
The final novel Sunset at Blandings was completed after Wodehouse’s death, from his draft manuscript and notes, by Richard Usborne.
When you’ve completed the novels, you may also wish to track down the remaining short stories, which can found in the following collections:
- ‘The Crime Wave at Blandings’ in Lord Emsworth and Others (1937)
- ‘Birth of a Salesman’ in Nothing Serious (1950)
- ‘Sticky Wicket at Blandings’ in Plum Pie (1966)
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
Jeeves and Wooster: Start with The Inimitable Jeeves (1923) short stories or the novel 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
Blandings: Avoid plot spoilers by starting with the first Blandings novel Something Fresh (1915; US title Something New). Or get acquainted with the (later) classic Blandings short stories in Blandings Castle (1935).
‘I never saw a man take such large mouthfuls. Did you ever see a man take such large mouthfuls, Adams?’
Adams refrained from expressing an opinion, but inwardly he was thrilling with artistic fervour. Mr Simmonds, eating, was one of his best imitations, though Mrs Adams was inclined to object to it on the score that it was a bad example for the children.
Psmith: Start with the brilliant school story, currently in print as Mike and Psmith. If you’re not a fan of the genre, try Leave it to Psmith (1923), the last Psmith novel. Reading it first shouldn’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)
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)
Uncle Fred: Start with Uncle Fred Flits By (1935), a short story from the collection Young Men in Spats (1936). The first novel Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939) is part of the Blandings series –save it for later.
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)
Short Stories: Start the Mulliner stories with Meet Mr. Mulliner (1927); and the Oldest Member golf stories with 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
The novels: Plot spoilers are less of a problem with the ‘stand-alone’ novels, although some of them are connected by recurring characters. Try Uneasy Money (1916), Piccadilly Jim (1917) or The Small Bachelor (1927) to start.
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.
Where to buy them
Your local bookstore is unlikely to stock much Wodehouse, but they should be able to order them for you –and 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 you see advertised, which are aimed at collectors. 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. And it’s 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.
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’.
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. Since 2013, it 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.
A dash of Wodehouse is always a great gift idea. This timely piece offers a few ideas to help you choose something special for the Wodehouse lover in your life — or for those poor souls of your acquaintance who have yet to discover his healing prose.
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).
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
John Dawson and the Globe Reclamation Project team have spent two years researching, transcribing and evaluating material written during Wodehouse’s time at the Globe newspaper. John spoke passionately at the Seattle convention about his quest to uncover more of Wodehouse’s work, and the result is this 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 with a discount available to Wodehouse Society members.
2015 also saw the release of N.T.P. Murphy’s The P.G. Wodehouse Miscellany . It’s available in Kindle and Hardcover from Amazon or Kobo ebook (more details 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 Murphy’s highly regarded A Wodehouse Handbook has been revised and rereleased as an ebook, available 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 enjoys 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. They’re written in an engaging style that doesn’t underestimate young readers’ intelligence, and they provide a good introduction to the period. This should help when your youngster is ready for 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 (the BBC telemovie Heavy Weather is not available on DVD) and others are best avoided. I don’t think you can go wrong with the Wodehouse Playhouse series. P.G. Wodehouse introduces several episodes himself. Another popular adaptation is the Jeeves and Wooster television series starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. This series introduced many people to the joys of Wodehouse, making it a good choice for Wodehouse fans and new readers alike.
I’d also highly recommend adding Wodehouse audiobooks to your collection, or giving them as a gift. There have been various narrators – all of them good in my view. A Wodehouse audiobook would make a wonderful gift for someone who may be incapacitated, ‘getting on’ in years or for people with reading difficulties.
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! — as 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!
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 Dickens. It seems Wodehouse was not a fan either. In a 1954 letter to Denis Mackail, he asked: ‘Do you hate Dickens’s stuff? I can’t read it.’ (Sophie Ratcliffe, A Life in Letters) And yet he must have done, because Dickens references have be spotted in the Wodehouse canon.
Take this example, from an early school story Tales of St. Austin’s (see ‘The Annotated Wodehouse’ for others):
‘Bradshaw,’ I said, as I reached page 103 without having read a line, ‘do you know any likely bits?’
Bradshaw looked up from his book. He was attempting to get a general idea of Thucydides’ style by reading Pickwick.
‘What?’ he said.
I obliged with a repetition of my remark.
‘Likely bits? Oh, you mean for the Thucydides. I don’t know. Mellish never sets the bits any decent ordinary individual would set. I should take my chance if I were you.’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘I’m going to read Pickwick. Thicksides doesn’t come within a mile of it.’
I thought so too.
Wodehouse, Tales of St. Austin’s (1903)
The choice of ‘Pickwick’ is significant here; one can hardly imagine the boys reading Bleak House or Barnaby Rudge with the same enthusiasm. Author Julie Berry suggests ‘Pickwick’ might have influenced Wodehouse more deeply. It’s a view I’m ill-qualified to judge without reading ‘Pickwick’ for myself, so I’ve acquired a copy and have added it to my reading list.
Saki (b. 1870)
“I’m living so far beyond my means that we may almost be said to be living apart.”
Saki (The Unbearable Bassington)
The stories of Hector Munro, written under the pen name Saki, are often cited as a favourite of Wodehouse readers, and if that’s not recommendation enough – Wodehouse himself was a fan. So too was the ever-reliable Christopher Hitchens:
‘At the age of 15, Noel Coward was staying in an English country house and found a copy of Beasts and Super-Beasts on a table: “I took it up to my bedroom, opened it casually and was unable to go to sleep until I had finished it.” I had a similar experience at about the same age, and I agree with Coward that H. H. Munro—or “Saki,” the author of the book in question—is among those few writers, inspirational when read at an early age, who definitely retain their magic when revisited decades later. I have the impression that Saki is not very much appreciated in the United States. Good. That means I can put into my debt many of you who are reading these words. Go and get an edition of this Edwardian master of the short story. Begin with, say, “Sredni Vashtar” or “The Lumber-Room” or “The Open Window.” Then see whether you can put the book down.’
I’ve not read any Saki, but I like what I’ve seen and plan to correct this at the earliest opportunity.
Richmal Crompton (b. 1890)
“ Readin’ all those books makes me wonder whether anyone ever dies natural.”
An author I’m sorry to say I’d never heard of until last week (and must also add to my reading list), Richmal Crompton was a contemporary of Wodehouse, a prolific author of over eighty titles, best remembered for her Just William books. They are school stories, a genre Wodehouse started in, but moved away from. I’d love to know what he made of them. Crompton also wrote novels and short stories for adults. I look forward learning more about her and her writing.
R.K. Narayan (b.1906)
“The faint aroma of gum and calico that hangs about a library is as the fragrance of incense to me. I think the most beautiful sight is the gilt-edged backs of a row of books on a shelf. The alley between two well-stocked shelves in a hall fills me with the same delight as passing through a silent avenue of trees. The colour of a binding-cloth and its smooth texture gives me the same pleasure as touching a flower on its stalk. A good library hall has an atmosphere which elates. I have seen one or two University Libraries that have the same atmosphere as a chapel, with large windows, great trees outside, and glass doors sliding on noiseless hinges.”
The choice of this Indian writer in an otherwise British ‘top ten’ line-up reflects, to some extent, Wodehouse’s large following in contemporary India. Although to be fair, R.K. Narayan is also highly regarded and deservedly popular outside his homeland. Narayan was also a Wodehouse fan, and a quick google search reveals scores of readers who are devoted readers of both – making Narayan another recommendation I’ll be adding to my list.
‘R. K. Narayan tells ordinary stories extraordinarily well… His Malgudi is like Hardy’s Wessex and P.G. Wodehouse’s Blanding (sic), far from the clamour and turmoil of urban settings, a place where life carries on at a leisurely pace and change is minimal.’
“The main aim of education should be to send children out into the world with a reasonably sized anthology in their heads so that, while seated on the lavatory, waiting in doctor’s surgeries, on stationary trains or watching interviews with politicians, they have something interesting to think about.”
Through the medium of 1970s television, I was acquainted with Leo McKern as Rumpole of the Bailey, long before I was old enough to read Mortimer’s original. Every Sunday night, the family would sit around my Grandmother’s colour television watching Rumpole and other British comedies of the era: The Two Ronnies, Dad’s Army, The Good Life, Are You Being Served. Whatever faint chance I had of understanding these shows at such a young age was wholly shattered by my inability (or anybody else’s) to hear anything above the hysterical noise emanating from my grandmother. It hardly mattered. Her frothing and squealing delighted and fascinated me far more than any television show could have done. As an adult, I’ve read most of John Mortimer’s books several times over. His wit, easy style, and nostalgic associations always make for a pleasurable read.
Until I started researching this piece however, I’d never associated Mortimer with Wodehouse, whom I discovered much later (that’s quite a story, by the way). So I was delighted to find John Mortimer was a great Wodehouse fan. Indeed, after Mortimer’s death in 2009, Edward Cazalet (Wodehouse’s grandson) said of him:
‘He never missed an opportunity of referring to “The Master”, as he called Plum when speaking to me, in terms of the highest admiration. He wrote a thorough and scholarly assessment of Wodehouse in The Best of Wodehouse (an Everyman Anthology), starting with the theme that “It is a serious fault in our approach to literature, that we do not take comedy seriously”. Then, taking comedy seriously, he went on to rank Wodehouse as one of the best writers of the first half of the 20th century.’
I can certainly recommend Mortimer to fans of Wodehouse. UK-based fans can also listen to the new BBC radio adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Rumpole. He is not Leo McKern of course, but one can hardly blame a chap for that. He is also far too young for the part, but despite my misgivings I thought he was very good.
This completes our top ten. What do you think of it? Have you discovered anything new? I look forward to sharing a third and final instalment on ‘authors Wodehouse readers also read’ very soon. Until then, happy reading!
“You are evidently fond of mystery plays.”
“I love them.”
“So do I. And mystery novels?”
“Have you read Blood on the Banisters?”
“Oh, yes! I thought it was much better than Severed Throats.”
“So did I,” said Cyril. “Much better. Brighter murders, subtler detectives, crisper clues … better in every way.”
The two twin souls gazed into each other’s eyes. There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.
P G Wodehouse (‘Strychnine in the Soup’ in Mulliner Nights)
I recently asked the ‘Fans of P G Wodehouse’ Facebook community about their favourite authors – who they like to read when not curled up with Plum’s latest. The response was a staggering 370 comments (and counting) listing over 250 different authors. I’ve collated the replies and can now reveal the top 50 authors these Wodehouse lovers named as their favourites. I start today with the top 5.1. Agatha Christie
Christie and Wodehouse had much in common: they were contemporaries, prolific writers, and masters of their respective genres with huge audiences for their work. They both had problems with income tax, and were embroiled in personal scandals that continue to attract media speculation long after their deaths. In their lifetimes they were mutual fans, and Agatha Christie dedicated her 1969 Poirot novel Hallowe’en Party:
“To P. G. Wodehouse — whose books and stories have brightened my life for many years. Also, to show my pleasure in his having been kind enough to tell me he enjoyed my books.”
Wodehouse was an enthusiastic reader of crime stories, as Maggie Schnader discusses in her excellent piece: ‘On P.G. Wodehouse and Crime Fiction: Or, Wodehouse Writes a Thriller?’ , and Wodehouse’s plots are brimming with criminal activity – from burglary, fraud and impersonation through to assault and battery. Mickey Finns abound, and even Jeeves knows how to handle a cosh! Some of Wodehouse’s best ‘crime’ stories have been collected in a volume called Wodehouse on Crime.
With Christie and Wodehouse among the world’s most loved (and translated) writers, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see her feature so highly among Wodehouse readers. She is certainly one of my favourites.
2. Douglas Adams
People sometimes say to me, “Do you ever aspire to write a serious book?” And my practiced glib answer to that is, “No, my aspirations are much greater than that. I aspire to write like P.G. Wodehouse.” (Writing like P.G. Wodehouse)
Douglas Adams was open in his admiration for Wodehouse, calling him ‘the greatest comic writer ever’, and Wodehouse’s influence is clear in his wonderfully funny style. He contributed a Foreword to a modern edition of Wodehouse’s last novel, Sunset at Blandings, which was included in ‘The Salmon of Doubt.’
Master? Great genius? Oh yes. One of the most blissful joys of the English language is the fact that one of its greatest practitioners ever, one of the guys on the very top table of all, was a jokesmith. Though maybe it shouldn’t be that big a surprise. Who else would be up there? Austen, of course, Dickens and Chaucer. The only one who couldn’t make a joke to save his life would be Shakespeare….
What Wodehouse writes is pure word music. It matters not one whit that he writes endless variations on a theme of pig kidnappings, lofty butlers, and ludicrous impostures. He is the greatest musician of the English language, and exploring variations of familiar material is what musicians do all day.
Adams’ Introduction to Sunset at Blandings
Many modern readers of Wodehouse (myself included) read Douglas Adams before we discovered Wodehouse. Some have even come to Wodehouse on the strength of Adams’ recommendations – so it’s little wonder that Adams is so highly regarded among the modern Wodehouse-loving public.
3. Terry Pratchett
‘Susan hated Literature. She’d much prefer to read a good book.’
Terry Pratchett (Soul Music)
Susan’s feelings on ‘Literature’ are in sympathy with views expressed by many a Wodehouse hero. As a huge Terry Pratchett fan, I was delighted to discover Pratchett is a popular author among fellow Wodehouse fans – and with good reason. There is much to enjoy in Pratchett’s wit and style, and like Wodehouse, Terry Pratchett is a superb creator of strong female characters. The following exchange ( for example) would not be out of place in Wodehouse:
“The female mind is certainly a devious one, my lord.”
Vetinari looked at his secretary in surprise. “Well, of course it is. It has to deal with the male one.”
Terry Pratchett (Unseen Academicals)
Terry Pratchett has also been a fitting winner of the Bollinger Wodehouse prize, awarded to authors who best capture the ‘comic spirit’ of Wodehouse. Many Wodehouse fans would agree!
4. Jane Austen
“It is not everyone,’ said Elinor, ‘who has your passion for dead leaves.”
Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility)
Elinor Dashwood might as easily have been speaking to Madeline Bassett, or indeed to thousands of modern females who delight in the romance of Jane Austen, but don’t ‘get’ the jokes. In a world where the commercialisation of Jane Austen has depreciated her work through ill-conceived adaptations for the soupy ‘bosoms and bonnet’ brigade, it is heart-warming to know there are still many – men and women – who read and admire Austen for her sharp, satirical humour.
Douglas Adams, in his introduction to Sunset at Blandings (cited above) also included Austen in his list of greatest writers. Oddly enough, Wodehouse wasn’t a great fan of Jane Austen. One can only presume he started with the ‘wrong’ book.
5. Jerome K. Jerome
“It would not be a good place for the heroine of a modern novel to stay at. The heroine of a modern novel is always “divinely tall,” and she is ever “drawing herself up to her full height.” At the “Barley Mow” she would bump her head against the ceiling each time she did this.” Jerome K. Jerome (Three Men in a Boat)
Wodehouse, who preferred his heroines pint-sized, might well have approved. He would certainly have been familiar with Jerome K. Jerome’s much-loved classic ‘Three Men and a Boat’, which was published in 1889 when young Plum was still in sailor suits. Was Wodehouse a fan? Either the record is silent on the matter, or it’s a record I couldn’t find. Experts please advise.
Three Men in a Boat is a work often cited by Wodehouse readers. I read it following a recommendation from a fellow Plum fan several years ago, and I recall attracting unwanted attention while reading it on The Tube – as my feeble attempts to suppress laughter resulted in a fit of bodily heaving and shaking. Here is a classic excerpt:
I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch – hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into – some fearful, devastating scourge, I know – and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms – discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it – wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance – found, as I expected, that I had that too, – began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically – read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee….I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.
I went to my medical man. He is an old chum of mine, and feels my pulse, and looks at my tongue, and talks about the weather, all for nothing, when I fancy I’m ill; so I thought I would do him a good turn by going to him now. “What a doctor wants,” I said, “is practice. He shall have me. He will get more practice out of me than out of seventeen hundred of your ordinary, commonplace patients, with only one or two diseases each.” So I went straight up and saw him, and he said:
“Well, what’s the matter with you?”
“I will not take up your time, dear boy, with telling you what is the matter with me. Life is brief, and you might pass away before I had finished. But I will tell you what is NOT the matter with me. I have not got housemaid’s knee. Why I have not got housemaid’s knee, I cannot tell you; but the fact remains that I have not got it. Everything else, however, I HAVE got.”
These five authors were the indisputable (and deserving) favourites of our group, but if you think these choices reflect rather predictable reading tastes, think again! The reading lists of Wodehouse fans are incredibly diverse, and I look forward to sharing more with you over the coming days and weeks.
You might also like to join the ‘Fans of P G Wodehouse‘ Facebook community (which is just one of many excellent Wodehouse groups) as well our new Facebook bookclub ‘The Wood Hills Literary Society’. We look forward to meeting you.
A poetic Christmas homage to Plum from the excellent Mr Ashok Bhatia.
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way,
Santa asked us what he may bring us the next day.
We share with you the list which made him laugh aloud Ho Ho,
You may expand it, but please do not trim it, What ho!
We want to play with Poppet the dachshund who has a dislike for cats,
He would stop in his tracks, draw back his ears and drive away the gnats.
To play with Dog Bartholomew would be no less interesting,
Perhaps just to see the superior expression on his face vanishing.
Cat Augustus will perhaps become friends with us,
He may consent to doze off on our bed with us.
We hope a permission Lord Emsworth surely gives,
To visit the royal sty where the Empress lives.
Grand-uncle Tom we want to definitely meet in his study,
To offer him some advice on his…
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All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.
The world of literature is blessed with many brilliantly conceived and well-remembered beginnings, celebrated in fitting tributes across the blogoshpere. Inspired by Albert Camus’s appreciation of the ridiculous, I have been contemplating great beginnings in humorous fiction.
Terry Pratchett, the modern master of intelligent ridiculousness, begins Hogfather on a similar theme.
Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.
The story so far:
In the beginning the universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.
One of my favourite beginnings comes from P.G Wodehouse’s Leave it to Psmith.
At the open window of the great library of Blandings Castle, drooping like a wet sock, as was his habit when he had nothing to prop his spine against, the Earl of Emsworth, that amiable and boneheaded peer, stood gazing out over his domain.
Wodehouse was a true master of the ridiculous and, despite what you may may have heard, dished out the treatment to all classes and political persuasions in equal measure. In Pigs Have Wings, he begins below stairs.
Beach the butler, wheezing a little after navigating the stairs, for he was not the streamlined young under-footman he had been thirty years ago, entered the library of Blandings Castle, a salver piled with letters in his hand.
One of the most famous first line of all time, and another favourite, comes from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
A provocatively ridiculous beginning from another author who delighted in the absurdity of human society. Jane Austen is shamefully regarded by too many as a mere romance novelist when she deserves pride of place among satirists. Perhaps this is because audiences are more familiar with (some) film and television adaptations that replace much of the humour with cleavage and bonnets.
So ends my beginning. In quoting the beginnings of others, I’m conscious that I have offered very little in the way of original thought, but I think it’s important to always begin with respect for what has gone before.