Posts Tagged ‘Blandings Castle’

Wodehouse: Service with a Smile

July 16, 2021

Service with a Smile
P.G. Wodehouse
(Overlook, 2010) [1961]
256 p.

Every visit to Blandings Castle is a delight, but this is especially so when the Earl of Ickenham, known to his relations simply as Uncle Fred, is in the party. As usual, the extensive grounds of Blandings are fertile soil for young, tenacious romance, on the one hand, and pig purloining, on the other.

Difficulty and confusion are the order of the day. Poor Lord Emsworth is plagued by the stern attentions of his new secretary, Lavender Briggs; poor Bill Bailey finds his efforts to elope with an heiress millionaire thwarted by miscommunication; poor Lord Tilbury, magnate though he is, cannot find happiness until he possesses a pig capable, at least, of winning the silver medal at the Shropshire Agricultural Show; and poor Archie Gilpin has the misfortune to be engaged to two girls at once.

Into the fray, dauntless as always, ventures Uncle Fred, whose genial genius for hatching plots, setting traps, and lying through his teeth eventually, after much hilarity, brings about a happy resolution for all. But then we already knew that would happen.

Wodehouse is in good form. The Blandings novels are constructed from familiar elements — you would think that the Empress of Blandings would have a full-time security detail by now — but the light-hearted lack of stakes is part of the appeal of these effervescent performances. Wodehouse is a craftsman whose elegant creations are meant to charm the ear and delight the intellect, rather than wring the heart. Carefully constructed, yet unassuming, they are a literary equivalent of a Mozart divertimento or a particularly capering fugue by Bach. The only sadness, and it is a real one, is that this was the last of the novels about Uncle Fred, a character who was certainly, in my view, one of Wodehouse’s finest creations.

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.

Wodehouse: Full Moon

May 2, 2020

Full Moon
P.G. Wodehouse
(Overlook, 2006) [1947]
272 p.

It was fitting that Wodehouse placed at least one of his Blandings novels under the patronage of Diana, for lunacy is Blandings Castle’s speciality.

And the presiding moon is appropriate in another way too, for moonlit nights are the special province of romance, and two are blooming at Blandings. The parents of the dim-witted beauty Veronica are hoping to marry her off to a wealthy American visitor, Tipton Plimsoll, and the mother of Prudence Garland is trying to thwart her daughter’s plans to marry Freddie’s old pal, Bill Lister (aka “Blister”).

What transpires is a diverting series of episodes in which suitors appear in disguise or are accosted by conscientious pig-men, diamond necklaces are misappropriated, and a diet of barley-water proves the only respite from visions of men resembling kindly gorillas. The Empress of Blandings, of course, content in her rotund excellence, makes a crucial intervention to bring about the happiness of all concerned.

Wodehouse is in fine mettle. The book is up to his usual high standards of craftsmanship, and offers pleasure on every page.

Wodehouse: Uncle Fred in the Springtime

January 21, 2020

Uncle Fred in the Springtime
P.G. Wodehouse
(Overlook, 2004) [1939]
275 p. Second reading.

Europe stood poised on the brink of war when Wodehouse, with characteristic prescience, penned this discerning novel of false identities, high-stakes gambling, domestic strife, and oversized pigs in bathrooms.

Once again, Blandings Castle becomes Grand Central Station as a host of characters descend upon it seeking one thing or another: one wants money to pay off a debt, another needs funds to start an onion soup bar, another must charm a fiancée’s grouchy uncle, one is a hired spy, and Uncle Fred — well, Uncle Fred is just looking for a good time.

I defy anyone to summarize the plot, which is unusually complicated even by Wodehousian standards, with an impressive tangle of overlapping and intersecting machinations driving it forward. More than once, eggs are thrown at those who sing “Loch Lomond”. Serene above the fray is the majestic form of the Empress of Blandings, ingesting a bar of soap, a froth of bubbles ornamenting her snout.

The central character in the book is Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton, 5th Earl of Ickenham — Uncle Fred to us. He had made one previous appearance in Wodehouse’s world, in a short story, but this was the first novel to feature him, and a fine creation he is: dauntless in difficult corners, a shameless and creative liar, and always eager for mischief.

I was cheered to find that several characters from the Jeeves novels made fleeting appearances in this one, most notably the eminent loony-doctor Sir Roderick Glossop, whom Uncle Fred spent much of the novel impersonating.

All in all, it’s a very entertaining book. I have a certain affection for it because it was one of the first, and may have been the actual first, Wodehouse novels I ever read. I don’t remember why I chose it at the time; probably I just happened to see this nice edition for sale and thought it would be as good a place to start as any, which was at least partly true: with Wodehouse, starting anywhere is better than not starting at all.

Wodehouse: Heavy Weather

October 30, 2019

Heavy Weather
P.G. Wodehouse
(Overlook, 2002) [1933]
321 p.

Beginning a day or two after the events of Summer Lightning, this novel features most of the same characters and even a similar plot: Ronnie Fish and Sue Brown still want to marry over the objections of the family, Gally’s tell-all memoir is still attracting thieves of all descriptions, and the Empress of Blandings is still contentedly feeding on all that comes within reach of her terrific, plump snout.

The principal new characters are Ronnie’s mother, Lady Julia, who rushes back to Blandings Castle intent on quashing Ronnie’s engagement to Sue, and Lord Tilbury, a publishing magnate with the rights to Gally’s memoir and determined to make good on them.

Much of the comedy arises from the sheer number of people trying to lay hands on the memoir: some want it destroyed, some want it published, and some just want to sell it to the highest bidder. As the convoluted hunt proceeds, the manuscript itself is passed, like a covert hot potato, from person to person, each with his or her own motives for guarding it. It’s a triumph of character-driven circumstantial humour.

As always with Wodehouse, the plot has been conscientiously constructed, but the real joy of the book is in the writing, which bubbles with wit. It’s a splendid read.

Wodehouse: Summer Lightning

October 9, 2019

Summer Lightning
P.G. Wodehouse
(Overlook, 2003) [1929]
320 p.

At the end of the previous Blandings Castle adventure, young Psmith had replaced Baxter as Lord Emsworth’s personal secretary, and a principal question on my mind was whether he would continue in the post long enough to play a role in this rollicking tale. Sadly, he did not. Baxter, in fact, was back, or coming back, in his own efficient manner.

The intertwining stories in this book require close attention to keep straight. There is, of course, the matter of the prize pig, Empress, whose gigantic, near-spherical form doesn’t prevent her going missing. Then there is the Hon. Galahad Threepwood’s project to write his tell-all youthful memoirs, an occasion of sure embarrassment for all the Shropshire nobility. Then there is young Ronnie, the nephew of Lord Emsworth, who has fallen for a London chorus-girl, and there is his cousin, Millicent, who, though intended for Ronnie, has eyes for a member of the domestic staff. And there is the private detective who lurks in bushes and climbs drain-spouts to no great effect. All pile in and are swirled around to create something delectable. Amazingly, Wodehouse hit upon a single brilliant stroke in the final chapter to resolve all of the competing interests. It could not have been more elegant.

Usually the American versions of Wodehouse’s books were given inferior titles, but in this case the American edition was called Fish Preferred, which is not half bad.