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.
- The Adventures of 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?
- Love Among the 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.
- The Mating Season
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.
- Psmith in the City
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!
- The Inimitable 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!