Wodehouse: Pigs Have Wings

October 13, 2020

Pigs Have Wings
P.G. Wodehouse
(Overlook, 2000) [1952]
224 p.

To everything, the wise man said, there is a season, and at Blandings Castle it’s the season for stealing pigs. The county fair is fast approaching, and the contest for portliest pig is heating up: the Empress of Blandings, our heavyset heroine, is porking out in preparation, but on a neighbouring estate that notorious kill-joy, Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe, has been rearing a challenger, the majestically rotund Queen of Matchingham. Under the strain of competition, plans are hatched, and pigs, be they ever so corpulent, begin to disappear, and re-appear, and disappear again as a pig-pinching mania runs amok.

Meanwhile, back at the Castle, romance hangs in the air like the potent scent of a recently purloined pig. Old flames pop up under false identities, and penniless lovers circle round Lord Emsworth eyeing ways and means to solicit a few thousand pounds from him — even if, perhaps, it means removing a few thousand pounds from the pig sty…

As always with Wodehouse, the ingeniously contrived plot is a mere frame on which to hang his wonderfully ornamented prose. I have too infrequently included examples of this prose in these notes, so here is a sample. A few chapters in, Wodehouse circles back to take up the doings of George Cyril Wellbeloved, the pig-keeper in the employ of Parsloe-Parsloe, beginning in this way:

It is one of the chief drawbacks to the lot of the conscientious historian that in pursuance of his duties he is compelled to leave in obscurity many of those to whom he would greatly prefer to give star billing. His task being to present a panoramic picture of the actions of a number of protagonists, he is not at liberty to concentrate his attention on any one individual, however much the latter’s hard case may touch him personally. When Edward Gibbon, half-way through his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, complained to Doctor Johnson one night in a mood of discouragement that it – meaning the lot of the conscientious historian – shouldn’t happen to a dog, it was to this aspect of it that he was referring.

In this macedoine of tragic happenings in and around Blandings Castle, designed to purge the souls of a discriminating public with pity and terror, it has been necessary to devote so much space to Jerry Vail, Penny Donaldson, Lord Emsworth and the rest of them that George Cyril Wellbeloved, we are fully aware, has been neglected almost entirely. Except for one brief appearance early in the proceedings, he might as well, for all practical purposes, have been painted on the back drop.

It is with genuine satisfaction that the minstrel, tuning his harp, now prepares to sing of this stricken pig man.

That’s the pleasure of reading Wodehouse, in a nutshell.

5 Responses to “Wodehouse: Pigs Have Wings”

  1. Rob G Says:

    I’ve not enjoyed the Blandings stories I’ve read as much as W&J, but the other set of stories I do like a lot is the Ukridge series. Do you have a favorite Blandings book? I’ve had Uncle Dynamite recommended to me but I’m not sure if that’s Blandings or not.

    • cburrell Says:

      Uncle Dynamite is part of the “Uncle Fred” series of novels; a few of those intersect with the “Blandings Castle” series, but Uncle Dynamite is not one of them.

      I’m still reading through the Blandings Castle books for the first time, but I find that I’m enjoying them at least as much as I enjoyed the W&J books. The pleasure is, of course, mostly in the writing, not in the convoluted plot, so choosing favourites is tricky, but I could certainly recommend with enthusiasm a few of them: Something Fresh, Summer Lightning, and this one, Pigs have Wings. I don’t think they would disappoint.

      I haven’t read anything from the Ukridge series. I’ve been wondering what to read after I finish the Blandings Castle books, and maybe that will be it!

      • Rob G Says:

        Thanks. I’ve not read any of the Blandings novels, just a few of the stories. I think there are only one or two novels that Ukridge features in, but the short story collection is very good.

  2. I’ve read this one and loved it. The only Blandings book I’ve read, I think. And btw your review is worthy of the book.

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