April 20, 2004

Leave It To Psmith, by P.G. Wodehouse

This is an interesting book on several counts. First, it's a Psmith novel, and of all Wodehouse's young men, Psmith stands alone by being both eccentric and competent. Second, it's also a Blandings novel. And third, although it's a Blandings novel it predates Lord Emsworth's interest in pigs. I have nothing against the Empress of Blandings, but a pigless Blandings makes for a nice change.

Psmith ends the book as Emsworth's secretary; it's a real pity Wodehouse didn't follow up on that, because Psmith really makes Blandings come alive. Ah, well.

Anyway, I enjoyed it thoroughly. But it's Wodehouse--so surely you expected that by now?

Posted by Will Duquette at April 20, 2004 08:13 PM

Lars Walker said:

Although I like Psmith, I've always liked him just a notch less than Wodehouse's other characters, probably because I feel that Wodehouse hadn't really hit his stride yet at that point in his career. But second-tier Wodehouse is still better than most anybody else's Sunday best, so who's complaining?

I had an odd Wodehouse experience a few years back. I read Norwegian, and met a Norwegian woman who was a Wodehouse fan. She had a number of the books in Norwegian translation, so we agreed to trade off our copies. It was interesting and strange to read Wodehouse in another language. A lot of the stuff just doesn't translate, due to the importance to the overall effect of his use of language. Yet my Norwegian friend tried one book in English and gave it up. Wodehouse "pure" didn't do anything for her. Her view, as far as I understood it, was that she liked the silly stories. The word-play was just a distraction.

Deb said:

So, wasnt Lord Blandings into pumpkins before pigs? Or was that just for the short story?

I can imagine that Wodehouse doesnt translate well! Some American English speakers I know dont even get the jokes.

Lars Walker said:

I don't have my library handy at the moment, but I seem to recall Lord Blandings was a keen gardener in a general sense.

Will Duquette said:

Indeed, Lord Emsworth (if I may be pedantic) was a remarkably keen gardener; indeed, just as keen on flowers as he later was on pigs.

I agree that Wodehouse hadn't hit his stride with the earlier Psmith books, but this one strikes me as being right in the sweet spot. Psmith's just as calm, contrary and eccentric as ever, but he's less political, and there are fewer false notes. Also, there's no cricket, which is a good thing.

Deb said:

Emsworth,Blandings...that potty old geezer who'd rather pay attention to his pigs and gardens his Sister...it's been awhile since I read the books. :o)

Lars Walker said:

Agreed on the cricket. And I should have said "Lord Emsworth." I knew better.

I've got to re-read Wodehouse. Last summer I happened to pass through Waterloo Station in London, and I contemplated the great hanging clock there. I asked myself, "Is this the clock under which Psmith met somebody-or-other "wearing a chrysanthemum in his lapel"? Or was it Victoria Station? Or somewhere else entirely? I still haven't gotten around to checking.

Lars Walker said:

Alack. I double-checked at last, and discovered that it wasn't Waterloo Station or any other station, but the lobby of the Picadilly Palace Hotel (and he was meeting Freddy Threepwood).

I think for my next book I'll just set out consciously to plagiarize some classic and well-known work -- THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, perhaps, or ELECTROLYSIS FOR DUMMIES. My porous memory ought to ensure that the resulting book will bear no resemblance whatever to the original.

Surely someone must have met under the clock at Waterloo. Pongo Twistleton and Uncle Fred, perhaps. Or Holmes and Watson. Or Burke and Hare. Somebody.