October 18, 2004

Happy Birthday, Plum!

See what I miss when I take a day off? Last Friday was the 120th annivesary of the birth of Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse. Mr. Enoch Soames, Esq., has a very nice tribute, citing large wodges of Evelyn Waugh's glowing endorsement of Wodehouse, with which endorsement I, of course, heartily concur.

Meanwhile, in an unfortunate spot of bad timing, Mr. Outer Life chose last Friday to lay into Wodehouse's The Return of Jeeves, as part of his Five Books I Should Have Liked But Didn't series. O.L. does not much appreciate Wodehouse's tinkering with the Bertie and Jeeves formula in this book. (Bertie Wooster is on hiatus here. Jeeves' temporary employer is one Bill Towchester - pronounced "Toaster". Also, the novel is written from a third person point of view, instead of Bertie's usual first person narrative.)

I must say that I don't dislike this book anywhere near as much as O.L. To me, the experiment is fairly harmless (unlike the perfectly awful "Bertie Changes His Mind"). It has enough of the charm and pedigree of Plum's non-B&J novels to scoot over the indiscretion of messing about with the tried-and-true formula that I don't spend the entire time reading it brooding on What Might Have Been. In other words, I don't see it as a mutated Bertie & Jeeves novel. Rather, I read it as a stock non-B&J comedy into which Jeeves has temporarily wandered. (As a footnote, I also enjoy Plum's gentle commentary on British post-war socialism.)

Anyhoo, if one has to pick the worst Bertie & Jeeves novel, certainly The Catnappers (aka Aunts Aren't Gentlemen) rings the bell and is entitled to a choice of cigar or coconut as preferred. A tired, tired rehash of plot, character and dialogue that Plum had done much, much better before.

But let's not end this post (which, after all, is supposed to be a birthday tribute) on a negative note. I've already mentioned in previous posts that The Code of the Woosters and Right Ho, Jeeves are two of my favorite B&J novels. But what about some of Plum's other works? Here is a short list of favorites:

Favorite Blandings Castle Novel: Summer Lightning

Favorite Short Stories: The Heart of a Goof (collected golf stories). Among them, "Chester Forgets Himself" is my absolute favorite.

Favorite non-B&J/non-Blandings novels: Hot Water, Money In The Bank

Favorite Uncle Fred Novel: Uncle Fred In The Spring Time

Favorite Psmith Novel: Leave It To Psmith

Needless to say, these are firsts among equals.

UPDATE: Here is Roger Kimball's tribute. He cites the Bertie & Jeeves short story collection The Inimitable Jeeves as his first encounter with the Master. Mine was another short story collection, Very Good, Jeeves, which my mother gave to me when I was in high school.

One other piece of Wodehouse trivia: Somebody - I forget who- says that Psmith was modelled on Rupert D'Oyle Carte, the son of the Savoy Opera man, who was up at Oxford with a cousin of Wodehouse's. Like Psmith, D'Oyle Carte was long and thin and always perfectly dressed. Whenever asked by a Master how he did, he is supposed to have responded, "Sir, I grow thinnah and thinnah."

Funny, if true. The only other Wodehouse character that I know of who is actually modelled on a real person is Roderick Spode, who is very much a send up of Sir Oswald Mosly, a British fascist leader of the 30's and husband of crackpot Mitford Sister Diana. I am reasonably sure that Diana Mitford was not the role model for Spode's eventual wife, Madeline Bassett.

Posted by Robert at October 18, 2004 09:17 AM | TrackBack

This is quite amazing! I only discovered P. G. Wodehouse about a month ago, by stumbling across a copy of the Catnappers. ( Prior to this, I had of course heard of the name, but it meant nothing to me, like Evelyn Waugh or Linden Larouche.) I thought it was the best thing I ever read. I went out and got a copy of " the wodehouse Bestiary", which is a collection of short stories that all feature animals, usually a Pekingese. They were all magnificent.

Now you tell me the Catnappers may have been worst? If that's his worst, his best must really be incredible.

PS - Those were all the books the library had. There were some audio tapes, but they were lousy.

Posted by: David Farkas at October 18, 2004 12:17 PM

I have the Bestiary as well.

If Catnappers was your first go, I can see why you liked it. And yes indeed, the others are even more of a treat!

Posted by: Robert the LB at October 18, 2004 12:32 PM
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