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As Valentine’s Day approaches, it seemed fitting to revisit this 2013 piece, ‘Wodehouse’s men: objects of desire’ — looking at the men in Wodehouse’s world in search of a mate.
Who is your Wodehouse dream date?
I’d like to take a short break from my series exploring Wodehouse on Women to share a remarkable piece entitled 111 Male Characters Of British Literature, In Order Of Bangability by Carrie Frye, in which Ms Frye lists 111 fictional characters she finds sexually desirable enough to take to her bed. Almost as astonishing as her stamina, is the fact that she includes not one, but three Wodehouse characters in her list of male sex objects. These are, in order of appearance:
– Gussie Fink Nottle (at 106)
– Bertram Wooster (at 87)
– Jeeves (at 65)
Gussie’s inclusion in the list defies belief, as does Jeeves, who at 65 ranks above the virile and irresistible Flashman. Ms Frye gives her source for these appearances, as Right-Ho Jeeves and the story Extricating Young Gussie
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This Valentine’s Day will mark the 40th anniversary of P.G. Wodehouse’s death — a fitting date to commemorate the great romantic-comedy writer.
Last February, Plumtopia marked the 39th anniversary by hosting a February theme of ‘the Great Romances of P.G. Wodehouse’. If you missed it last year, we had some wonderful contributions from various Wodehouse lovers:
A good time was had by all, but this merely scratches the surface of Wodehouse’s romantic world, so I’m returning to the theme again this February. If you would like join in by sharing a few words on your favourite Wodehouse romances, I would be delighted to post them, reblog or link to them here.
Another terrific contribution to the Great Romances series from the inimitable ashokbhatia.
In old age, lust gets mellowed down and wisdom acquires a brighter shade of orange. Holding hands and physical contact gets relegated to the background. Instead, common ailments and related medications and therapies rule the roost. At times, the lining of the stomach paves the way for a couple to start sharing the trials and tribulations of life together. One of the stories where P G Wodehouse puts this across succinctly is the one titled ‘Indian Summer of an Uncle.’
Uncle George is unduly attached to the pleasures of the table. The lining of his stomach is no longer in a good shape. Twice a year, his liver lodges a formal protest and he goes off to Harrogate or Carlsbad for some rest and recuperation.
He is contemplating a matrimonial alliance with a much younger Miss Rhoda Platt who happens to be a waitress at his club. Jeeves…
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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.
“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 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. But they would have enough to secure a modicum of comfort and keep the wolves at bay. Even in tough times, one suspects the enterprising Psmiths have the necessary wherewithal to succeed in life without ever having to fall back on the fish business.
The romances of Bertie Wooster
Next in the Plumtopia series on the Great Wodehouse Romances, comes this delightful poem ‘by’ Bertie Wooster on the subject of the great loves in his life. My thanks to the knowledgeable and prolific ashokbhatia for this piece.
Who would join me in facing the harsh slings and arrows of fate.
Let me be spared of someone like Madeline who gazes moodily at stars in the sky,
While I yearn for smoked salmon, cheese and wine, or some bacon and egg fry.
Honoria Glossop would be prone to slapping the backs of guests with all her might,
Nudging me to perform goofy deeds without any consideration of my own plight.
Roberta Wickham would sashay up to the altar with much aplomb,
But each moment spent with her would be like a ticking bomb.
Pauline Stoker would exhort me to swim a mile before breakfast,
And then play five sets of tennis post-lunch, leaving me gasping and aghast.
Florence Craye would like to mould me into an intellectual cove,
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the true life romance of a Wodehouse lover
In keeping with the current Plumtopia theme of Wodehouse and romance, I am delighted to share this piece by ‘wiseguy from the east ‘. It is the touching, true story of his own romance, and how P.G. Wodehouse helped his wooing.
I am keen to share as many stories from Wodehouse readers as possible in this series. Please see my introductory piece on the Great Wodehouse Romances for details.
Recently at a friend’s house I met a stand up comic, who strongly resembled the laughing Buddha figurines. He was brilliant in his repartees and had all of us in tears with his quips. He was accompanied by a very attractive young woman, obviously in love with him, and we learnt that she was defying family pressures to be his muse and life mate.
I offered them a piece of unasked advice, sharing a warning that my wife has been giving my daughters.
To explain this shared wisdom, I have to tell a story.
In my teens I was a dark skinny bespectacled gangly boy, shy and nerdy, enthusiastic but indifferent at games, and absolutely addicted to reading. This did not make me popular among the boys of my peer group, and the girls I liked were all fictional. For self preservation amongst the denizens of the jungle that is…
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My heartfelt thanks to the inimitable Ken Clevenger for contributing a wonderful and very fitting first piece in this Valentine’s series dedicated to the Great Wodehouse Romances.
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Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend
by Ken Clevenger
“Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend” is the great Wodehousian romance, most worthy of a special Valentine. My starting point is the very nature of great romances. Love must blossom, however improbably. It will be heroic, idyllic, and set in the beauty of nature, but not without the odd nettle. In the end love conquers all, as someone once noted; Jeeves, perhaps?
The easy part is to recognize in this “perfect short story” that Blandings and its gardens are the bounty of nature. The nettle, perhaps I should have said thistle, as le mot juste, is A. McAllister. The hero, was ever a hero more beset by constant woes? is Clarence. His faithful companion and supporter: Beach. His opening ire, directed at “a blameless kippered herring,” makes the appearance of love seem unlikely. But as Clarence begins his wandering (pottering seems more apt but unlyrical), love appears as the heroine saves the hero from a dog-toothed fate, but not The Fete, with a commanding “Hoy!” Was ever love introduced so startlingly? And can one recall many other Wodehousian nods to mother as sweet as merely “wizened motherliness” as Gladys, the heroine, is described?
The hero’s trials include the foreign speech of the heroine, her protective bother, Ern, the usurping, ruling goddess of the castle, Connie, and the grim beast who guards these gardens and flarze. The hero’s path is stoney, not moss covered. Indeed, in his despair and struggles, at times “[h]e feels like a man who in error has kicked a favorite dog.” But in the end there is a welcome refuge, albeit normally a humble “lounge or retiring room for cattle.” And there the hero and heroine share their grim fates. Then love, and the courage to face the world unafraid in a high summer wonderland, emerge triumphant.
There is a feast, of course. The carnal nature of love is hinted at by wanton hand-holding and the greatest gift in the hero’s power is bestowed. There are classical references to Achillea, Euphorbia, Gypsophilia, Helianthus, and Thalictrum. The ancient ancestors of the hero appear to spur his courage for the final, fateful conflict. The ogre is dashed with a departing, defeated “Hphm.” The malevolent goddess is dashed too. It is, to steal a phrase, “all sweetness and light.”
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More submissions on this theme are wanted. More details on the series and how to respond can be found at my original post on the Great Wodehouse Romances.
(c) The above piece was penned by Ken Clevenger and copied here with his kind permission.
This Valentine’s Day, it will be 39 years since the death of P.G. Wodehouse. To mark the occasion, I am hoping to post a series of pieces on love and romance in the world of P. G. Wodehouse. It’s an ambitious task and I’m eager for other Wodehouse lovers to get involved.
Specifically, I’m keen to receive pieces on the theme of Wodehouse and love. I’m especially interested in covering the great romances of Wodehouse. Who are your favourite Wodehouse couples? What makes them special? I asked Fans of P G Wodehouse on Facebook – their favourites include:
- Psmith and Eve Halliday (Leave it to Psmith)
- Bingo Little and Rosie M Banks (The Inimitable Jeeves)
- Dolly and Soapy Molloy
- Madeline Bassett and Gussie Fink Nottle*
- Madeline Bassett and Roderick Spode
- Gussie Fink Nottle and Emerald Stoker
- Stiffy Bing and Stinker Pinker
- Archie and Lucille Moffam
- Aunt Dahlia & Uncle Tom
- Sally Fairmile and Joss Weatherby
- Sally Nicholas and Lancelot ‘Ginger’ Kemp (The Adventures of Sally)
- Ashe Marson & Joan Valentine
- Ronnie Fish and Sue Brown
- Anne Benedick & Jeff Miller
- Pongo Twistleton and Sally Painter
- Aunt Constance and Jimmy Schoonmaker
- Lord Emsworth and the girlfriend
- Lord Emsworth and the Empress of Blandings
* A contentious vote, as both end up with other mates.
What do you think?
Like many of you, Eve and Psmith are a favourite of mine. I also have a soft spot for Eustace Highnet and Jane Hubbard from The Girl on the Boat (1922).
If you would like to contribute a tribute to your favourite couple, or some other aspect of the theme of Wodehouse and love, please do send it to me. By all means write at length, but even a few paragraphs would suffice. You will naturally be attributed as the author, with much thanks and gratitude. Alternatively you could write on the theme at your own blog or webpage, and paste a link in the comments so I can reblog it here at Plumtopia.
This is an ambitious undertaking, but I think even a modest response will be a wonderful way to celebrate Plum this Valentine’s Day.
Wodehouse offers so much more to female readers than he is usually given credit for. A few months ago, I responded to criticism of Indian Summer of an Uncle by Janet Cameron (see my case for the defence). I feel sad that Cameron’s cursory appraisal of perceived gender issues has blinded her to the exquisite joys of his work. So today, I want to talk about why Wodehouse is a great writer of, and for, women.
First, Wodehouse presents readers with heroines who are full of pep and ginger; independent, sometimes feisty, characters who frequently outsmart the men. What a refreshing change this makes from the kind of insipid, helpless females we so often see in romantic fiction (often created by women writers).
And I am thrilled to find other female readers who feel the same. In her excellent piece ‘P.G. Wodehouse, Feminist’, Marilee Scot discusses Wodehouse heroine Joan Valentine, who appears in Something Fresh (1915). Marilee says,
“…the woman has already had an adventurous life: she’s worked a variety of jobs (including magazine-writing), lives alone in a London flat, introduces herself to the young man she’ll eventually marry, and has excellent ideas for scarab-stealing.”
My favourite Wodehouse heroine, Jane Hubbard (The Girl on the Boat, 1921) is a crack shot with an elephant gun. Nor are feminine youth and beauty prerequisites for romance in Wodehouse’s world. His women find love regardless of age, class, shape or size. ‘Plus-sized’ Maudie Stubbs is a widow of mature age, a butler’s niece, former barmaid, and Detective Agency proprietress. She is touchingly reunited with former flame ‘Tubby Parsloe’ (now Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe) who returns her affection, preferring her to the young woman he’d been about to marry. In Galahad at Blandings (1964), Lord Emsworth’s nephew Wilfred Allsop falls in love with his Uncle’s ‘pig-girl’ Monica Simmons, whose solid build and agricultural occupation could hardly be less feminine. Wilfred Allsop objects strongly when his friend Tipton ‘Tippy’ Plimsoll points this out.
“I’m sorry you think she looks like an all-in wrestler,’ he said stiffly. ‘To me she seems to resemble one of those Norse goddesses. However , be that as it may, I love her, Tippy. I fell in love with her at first sight.’ Recalling the picture of Miss Simmons in smock and trousers with a good deal of mud on her face, Tipton found this difficult to believe, but he was sympathetic.”
In Wodehouse’s art, as in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This puts him above most writers I know, male or female. who rarely take the trouble to create ‘unattractive’ female characters, let alone make them central figures in romance. Of course Wodehouse offers plenty of attractive women too. All this makes Wodehouse a terrific writer of, and for, women (Terry Pratchett is another) and it’s hardly surprising to learn that he has a large and enthusiastic female following. His fans include Dr Sophie Ratcliffe from the University of Oxford, who edited P. G. Wodehouse: A life in Letters. Fittingly, she dedicated the book:
For all Wodehouse’s heroines,
imaginary and real, especially Leonora.