My Top Five Wodehouse Books

Greetings, dear readers! I have been away for almost the whole of August visiting family and friends back in the UK, so unfortunately I didn’t manage my usual monthly blogpost last month. Hopefully I can now get back on track with two posts in September.

I was thinking recently about my favourite Wodehouse books and decided to try and narrow my favourites down into a Top Five list. This includes two Jeeves books, one stand-alone, one Psmith book and the only full-length Ukridge book. I have not listed them in order of preference – that process would be too drawn-out and agonising – but I have composed a small summary for each one, detailing why I like that particular story and some of the stand-out moments in each book. I know this post will probably be much more interesting for my readers who also happen to be Wodehouse fans, however, I am also secretly hoping that some of you who have not yet read Wodehouse may be intrigued and try one of his books. I am issuing a SPOILER ALERT for all of these because I talk about most of the plots in some detail. 

  1. The Adventures of Sally

Sally

Many people who read Wodehouse do not go beyond the Jeeves and Blandings stories. This, in my opinion, is a mistake. PGW wrote several excellent stand-alone stories and this one is my absolute favourite. It features a superb heroine, the eponymous Sally, who is bright, friendly, smart and very kind, as well as being fiercely independent. You can’t help cheering for her right the way through the story. The hero, Ginger, starts off seeming somewhat diffident and a bit shy, but soon shows himself to be courageous, charming and, of course, hopelessly in love with Sally. Wodehouse stories generally feature one of two main types of love affair. Either there is love at first sight for both parties, or the boy loves the girl, but she isn’t interested in him – at least, not at first. This particular story falls into the latter category. It is unusual in that there are a couple of genuinely sad moments in the book – the most notable being when Sally realises that her previous boyfriend has been messing her about and she suffers real emotional torment over it, before finally being able to move on.

The story also contains some fabulously comic moments (the dog fight scene in particular is very good) and a thoroughly satisfying ending. What more could you want from a book?

  1. Love Among the Chickens

Chickens

This is the only full-length Ukridge story, the rest all being short stories. It is also the first one that Wodehouse wrote, which seems odd when you realise that Ukridge introduces his new wife Millie in the first few pages, but she is never mentioned in any of the other stories. I rather like Millie – she is so utterly trusting and supportive of her husband, in spite of his glaring faults and madcap schemes! In this particular story, Ukridge has decided to make his fortune by starting a chicken farm on the south west coast of England and inveigling his long-suffering friend Jeremy Garnet into helping him set up this new enterprise. Unsurprisingly, chaos ensues. The chickens cause far more trouble than one would have imagined, Jeremy falls in love with the neighbour’s daughter, their diets become increasingly restricted to seemingly endless variations on the theme of chickens and Ukridge manages to enrage all of the local tradesmen.

I took a while to warm to the short stories featuring Ukridge, but I have always loved this book. I am not quite sure why this should be the case – perhaps because there is more to this story than Ukridge’s usual bungling approach to money-making – for example, Jeremy’s romance with Phyllis, and minor characters such as Phyllis’ father, the peppery old professor who boils over at the least mention of his home country of Ireland. Lastly, there are (how could there not be?) some superbly funny scenes – including almost any that involve the chickens, particularly the supercilious Aunt Elizabeth, Millie’s cat Edwin getting stuck in the chimney and saving the professor from drowning to name just a few. It’s one of Wodehouse’s oldest works (first published in 1906 and later revised in 1921) but that just shows what a wonderful storyteller he was, even right at the beginning of his career.

  1. The Mating Season

MatingSeason

I have recently finished listening to the audiobook of The Mating Season for the umpteenth time. It is my favourite Jeeves book for many reasons, but primarily because of the village concert scene, which features the appalling Kegley Bassington posse, Gussie & Catsmeat’s tragic cross-talk act and Esmond Haddock’s smash-hit performance of “A-Hunting We Will Go”. Everything about this scenario is fabulously funny. If you have never read this particular Jeeves book, I urge you to go out and find a copy immediately. You will not be disappointed.

As well as the village concert, the book also features some outstanding supporting characters, including the aforementioned E. Haddock, Corky & Catsmeat Pirbright, Constable Dobbs, Sam Goldwyn and, of course, the ‘surging sea’ of aunts who reside at Deverill Hall, led by the magnificent Dame Daphne Winkworth.

There are no fewer than four active romances going on in this book, along with the ridiculous situation involving Gussie Fink-Nottle and Bertie having to impersonate each other for most of the story. I have absolutely no idea how PGW not only manages to come up with such a screwball plot, but keeps it all together perfectly and maintains such a high level of hilarity throughout the whole book. It really is staggeringly good. If I was forced to choose just one Wodehouse novel to take on a desert island, this would probably be it.

  1. Psmith in the City

Psmith

I think I am probably right in saying that the majority of Wodehouse fans rate “Leave it to Psmith” highest of all the stories featuring Psmith. I’m not entirely sure why I prefer this book to LitP, but it probably has something to do with the fact that the story is semi-autobiographical. I love getting a more direct insight into an author’s mind and that usually only occurs when a story is wholly or partly based on a phase of their own life. Wodehouse was not able to go to university after finishing school, so he had to go and work in a bank. He was not suited to the work and it was almost certainly a relief for both him and the bank when he finally left to become a full-time writer. The start of this book sees Mike being told by his father that he cannot go to university like his brothers, but must go and work in a bank. There is a rather beautiful, melancholy moment when Mike, having just moved to his rather depressing new lodgings in the city, sits on a bench and gazes longingly at the playing fields of a local school, wishing he was back there again. It is not difficult to imagine the young Wodehouse having a similar experience during the first few days of his new career. The story follows Mike and his friend Psmith as they settle in to their new lives as bank clerks. Mike muddles along fairly well most of the time, but Psmith – a person for whom the word effulgent might have been invented – is on his finest form here, as he gently torments their boss (the irascible Mr Bickersdyke) and cunningly befriends the jittery Mr Rossiter, so he will not report any of their minor indiscretions to Mr Bickersdyke. Anyone reading this book who works or has worked in a office job must surely have longed for their own, real-life version of Psmith, to help brighten up the dull monotony of office life and bring the sunshine back into their souls. The ending is everything it should be and Mike and Psmith’s final escape is positively heroic!

  1. The Inimitable Jeeves

Jeeves

I had serious trouble choosing the fifth book for this list. The first four were very easy, but this one was more of a challenge. I wanted to make sure I picked something that I would be happy to read/listen to over and over again, like the first four. But nothing immediately sprang to mind, unlike the first four, which were very easy to select. I had thought about choosing a Blandings novel, but (apart from Leave it to Psmith), none of the Blandings stories stand out for me. Then I realised that The Inimitable Jeeves was one that I had re-read on numerous occasions and contained several of my very favourite Jeeves stories, so this book won out.This Jeeves book is really a collection of short stories, which are all connected by Bingo Little’s seemingly hopeless romantic pursuits, finally terminating in his joyful union with the popular novelist Rosie M. Banks. My favourite story within this book is probably “Comrade Bingo”, in which Bingo pretends to be a communist in order to further his romantic cause with the ghastly Charlotte Corday Rowbotham. The exquisitely funny scene when Bingo, Charlotte, her father and Comrade Butt come to Bertie’s flat for tea is just superb.

Bingo’s uncle Lord Bittlesham is also a splendid supporting character – and he is wonderfully voiced by Jonathan Cecil in the audiobook. As most Wodehouse fans know, Bingo does finally find his soulmate and settles down to a life of married bliss.

So there you have my top five Wodehouse books. Do you agree with my choices? Which ones would you choose to go in your top five? Should we even attempt to single out favourites at all? Do let me know your thoughts!

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21 Responses to My Top Five Wodehouse Books

  1. Jon says:

    I am a Wodehouse fan, and have read all of those except Sally, which deficiency I will remedy forthwith. Picking favourite Wodehouse books is so difficult, there are so many good ones, but I agree with your choices, except I would have picked The Code of the Woosters as my Jeeves novel. I think I’m right in saying that’s the one with Gussie’s drunk speech, and features Aunt Dahlia on her finest form. That one, anyway. I too thought Psmith was at his best in the City, his adventures in New York and at Blandings were a little flat, by comparison. I always think it a pity that Jeeves and Psmith never met …

  2. Enjoyed reading this. Kudos for being able to come out with such a list. I wouldn’t have been able to do it given that I like most of what Plum has written and I am terrible at making lists. May I add Summer Moonshine, Quick Service, and Spring Fever to the standalone stories, and Psmith Journalist to the Psmith series, and yes, Leave it to Psmith. Did I mention the Code of the Woosters? Or The Golf Omnibus… … … Yes, I am bad at it. Again, great job.

  3. ashokbhatia says:

    What an arduous task you have undertaken, and with gratifying results. Other than The C of the W, we have Ring for Jeeves, which stands apart, because it has Jeeves but no Bertie!
    Would you permit me to re-blog this one, please?

  4. honoria plum says:

    Welcome back to blog-land. I hope you enjoyed you UK holidays. This is a great list! I am so glad that you found room for Love Among the Chickens. I do love Ukridge. Your Jeeves & Wooster choices would be my 2 favourites from that series also. I probably am among the throng who prefer Leave it to Psmith — on the strength of Rupert Baxter, the Blandings setting, and the pale parabola of joy. But I am going to reread Psmith in the City now, just to be sure. Sally is, of course, wonderful! Thanks for a great post.

  5. Mohini Dave says:

    My top favorite would be Psmith Journalist, Psmith in City, Dr Sally, Leave it to Psmith and Mike and Psmith. I know but I love Psmith and Mike. Wish there were more books on them. They seem more real than the other characters which you cant imagine seeing in daily life, I like Psmith’s theory that all the troubles which he faces have been put for his entertainment. It helps when I face some problem. I also love Lord Emsworth. He is wonderful. But es it is difficult to choose 5 books

    • zanyzigzag says:

      Mohini, I think you’ve probably had the least trouble of anyone so far in choosing your list of favourites. Having a favourite character or series certainly does make the task a lot simpler! Psmith is superb – I wish I had his perspective on life, it seems so refreshing!

  6. ashokbhatia says:

    Reblogged this on ashokbhatia and commented:
    One of the most arduous tasks a fan of P G Wodehouse can undertake is that of trying to prepare a list of her top five favourite works of the Master. The mind boggles. The soul rebels. The heart flutters.
    Here is someone who has attempted the near-impossible and has come up with gratifying results.

  7. nayzjayz says:

    I loved this article. I haven’t ready the Sally book yet, but will do so immidiately.
    Here’s my list of favourite PGW
    books

    1) Picadilly Jim
    2) Leave it to Psmith
    3) The inimitable Jeeves
    4) Uncle Dynamite
    5) Full Moon

  8. nayzjayz says:

    You have done a commendable Job. This is a wonderful list, I haven’t read the adventures of Sally, but shall get to it as soon as I can.
    Here is a list of my fav PGW books
    1) Picadilly Jim
    2) Leave it to Psmith
    3) The inimitable Jeeves
    4) Uncle Fred in Springtime
    5) Full moon

  9. You wont believe it but I was just reading “love among the chickens” for the first time on my kindle! Adventures of Sally has always been one of my favourites. Obnoxious as it may seem, I am not a great fan of Jeeves but loved Jill the reckless and a host of other stand alone stories . Of course Leave it to PSmith is my favourite too. Wonder how many of you have read “Betty and the Prince’ and this finds P Smith in a very different sort of role. Thanks for your efforts

  10. I’ve never really warmed to Ukridge (sorry Honoria!) but I think out of your list ‘Psmith in the City’ would be my favourite. ‘Leave it to Psmith’ is my favourite Wodehouse of all – Psmith *and* Blandings together and I read it for the first time on a lovely sunny afternoon in the summer holidays …

    Great to have you back blogging again!

  11. The Inimitable Jeeves contains some of the best comic short stories ever written. The Purity of the Turf is not only laugh-out-loud funny but it captures, effortlessly, so much of the English character. The Great Sermon Handicap also does this and is only slightly outdone by TPotT. Plus Comrade Bingo and the Claude and Eustace sagas. Wodehouse was firing on all cylinders right out of the starting gate.

  12. ragsie15 says:

    Very interesting and well written. Have thoroughly enjoyed reading these books and after reading your blog,I have this strong urge to read them all over again!
    I too have many favourites, but I don’t think I would be able to choose the top 5 amongst them. Adventures of Sally,Hot Water, Summer Moonshine ,Piccadilly Jim,Uncle Dynamite,Cocktail Time ,andthe complete Jeeves series.🤗🤗. In fact all the PGW books

    • zanyzigzag says:

      Thank you very much for your comment! I’m delighted that you felt the urge to re-read them after reading my post! I am currently listening to the audiobook of The Mating Season for the third or fourth time 🙂

  13. Ted Fontenot says:

    Maybe this would make up a top five underrated list for me, but top five favorites overall? Nah. Afraid not. Too many better than these to choose from. Like the first four Wooster-Jeeves novels, Leave It to Psmith, Summer Lightning, and Heavy Weather, of the Blandings Castle saga. Uncle Fred in the Springtime. The Luck of the Bodkins. Summer Moonshine. The Mating Season might be on favorites’, but not top five.

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