Posts Tagged ‘Psmith’

Wodehouse: Psmith III

June 18, 2019

Leave it to Psmith
P.G. Wodehouse
(Overlook, 2003) [1923]
288 p.

Wodehousian comedy seems to take place in a world of its own, one sharing certain features with ours but more generously endowed with sunshine, pretty girls, and happy happenstance. It comes as something of a shock — shock before delight, you understand — to find that the walls of this world are permeable, and that if characters cannot actually wander out into our own world, they can at least wander from one story-world to another, and that is just what happens here: Leave it to Psmith narrates what transpired when Psmith walked out of his own sphere and into Blandings Castle.

It wasn’t quite so simple as that, of course, for the course of true fun never does run smooth, but, all the same, circumstance did so contrive that Psmith, having assumed the unlikely identity of a modern Canadian poet, entered Blandings Castle as a guest, intent on wooing the attractive young woman cataloguing the castle’s library, and perhaps — if possible — stealing a £20,000 necklace from the lady of the house.

The action of the story, in fact, centers on this diamond necklace, as the action of Macbeth turns on a handkerchief. We see it hung round Lady Constance’s neck, flung from a window, buried in a flower pot, and stuffed in a bird. Much of the joy of the story comes in the gradual discovery of just how many of the central characters are, for one reason or another, in surreptitious pursuit of that glittering garland.

Speaking of central characters, Wodehouse outdoes himself not only in the quality of his comic characters — Psmith, of course, is a comedic figure of the first rank, but the Hon. Freddy Threepwood is nearly as funny as his name, and even the efficient Rupert Baxter, all unwitting, has his moments of comic glory here, in lemon pyjamas — but also in the number of characters arcs he manages at once, each following their own motivations and intersecting in a variety of hilarious ways. It’s a virtuoso performance.

Leave it to Psmith was to be the last of the Psmith books — I think. So the rumours run. I am in some doubt of the matter, because at story’s end he comes on staff at Blandings Castle, which would seem to portend a return in the next Blandings book, Summer Lightning. However, if it should prove not so, and Psmith passes out of earshot for good, allow me to express my thanks for the happy hours spent in his company.

Wodehouse: Psmith II

May 7, 2019

Psmith in the City
P.G. Wodehouse
(Overlook, 2003) [1910]
208 p.

Psmith and Mike both leave school for a life of responsibility and upward mobility, and, as chance would have it, both land in the postage department of the New Asiatic Bank in London. Hilarity ensues. Befriending their excitable and meticulous supervisor by feigning to share his interest in football, they acquire the leisure to take tea and circle in the orbit of the bank’s manager, Mr Bickersdyke, on whose good will Psmith is intent on playing for his own amusement. Eventually Mike hears the call of the cricket field too strongly and, deserting his post, abandons bank life, Psmith following. In the end, Psmith is bound for Cambridge University, intent on studying law, and offers Mike an all-expense-paid berth at the same in the capacity of his personal secretary. The future is bright.

This was one of my favourite Wodehouse novels so far. Psmith is a splendid character who enlivens every page. Mike, thoughtfully, withdraws to the shadows so as not to distract. The sequence in which Psmith attends a political speech by “Comrade Bickersdyke” and rises to point out Bickersdyke’s appropriation of an episode in Three Men in a Boat was raucously funny. Really delightful.

**

Psmith, Journalist
P.G. Wodehouse
(Overlook, 2008) [1915]
256 p.

A year has passed, and Psmith and Mike have a term off at Cambridge. Mike and the cricket team head state-side, and Psmith follows.

The events of the story take place in New York City, with Mike mostly off-screen. Psmith encounters the Acting Editor of a homely little magazine called Cosy Moments, and, sensing an opportunity for adventure, convinces him to reboot his rag as an edgy political agitator; their cause: the degredations of New York’s tenement housing.

It’s a good premise, giving Psmith scope to talk his way into, and then out of, trouble, in his inimitable manner. The story goes places I’d not have expected, including into the world of boxing, and of gangsters, where Psmith is out of place. I enjoyed the book, but it lacked some of the sparkle of the earlier Psmith stories. It could be that I need to give him a rest for a while, to sharpen the appetite.

Wodehouse: Psmith I

March 3, 2019

Mike at Wrykyn
P.G. Wodehouse
(Overlook, 2012) [1909]
192 p.

This is the first half of Mike: A Public School Story; the full book was split into two by later publishers eager to distinguish the half that did not have the character Psmith (this half) from the half that did (below). Considering that it was originally part of a larger whole, it has a pleasing structure, beginning and ending at Mike Jackson’s breakfast table, and neatly wrapping up the main plot. Well done, Wodehouse.

Had I been subjected to a blind “name the author” test, I’m not sure I’d have guessed correctly. It is a comedy, certainly, and some of the Wodehousian sparkle is there, and even some of the calling cards (like references to Shakespeare), but overall it didn’t impress in the way his other books have. A major difference was the complexity of the plot; in the Jeeves novels, at least, there are usually several lines of development working in tandem, but here there is really just one — Mike’s fortunes as a cricketer at his new public (that is, private) school. And Mike, as a character, is from the rather dull side of the tracks, I’m afraid.

There is a good deal of cricket in the book, which makes it an amusing tale for a reader who knows nothing at all of the game. For the most part the cricket jargon just adds local colour, like the nautical terms in the Aubrey-Maturin books, but at the story’s climax — the big game — I can testify that ignorance of the rules and structure of the game makes it impossible to understand what is happening.

I confess that I read the book only as a prelude to the books about Psmith, which are the real object of my present interest, but it was reasonably good on its own terms.

***

Mike and Psmith
P.G. Wodehouse
(Overlook, 2013) [1909]
214 p.

In this, the second half of Mike: A Public School Story, we meet Rupert Psmith — “the P is silent” — who was to become one of Wodehouse’s best beloved characters.

The story picks up where Mike at Wrykyn ended: Mike, removed from his former school for poor academic performance, is sent to a new school, where he meets another new boy, Psmith, and strikes up a friendship. Together they join the Archaeology Club, giving the stiff shoulder to the cricket team, and have a variety of adventures. At the story’s climax, Mike stands wrongly accused of having painted the headmaster’s dog red. We are here deep in the realms of profundity. All comes right in the end, and the novel closes with another mystifying bout of cricket.

This second panel of Mike is much better than the first; the writing livelier, the comedy more inspired, the prose smoother, the story more engrossing, the characters more distinctive. Psmith, especially, is a wonderful creation: loquacious, playful, and dignified; he enlivens every page on which he appears. I look forward to Psmith in the City, the next book about him.