Next up, Sunset at Blandings for Sept. 8

The Den(ver) of the Secret Nine, at least seven of us, met to discuss Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin at our meeting Sunday, July 14, at Pints Pub. I believe everyone expressed delight with the novel and even though it was a book published late in the life and career of P.G. Wodehouse, we thought it was a fine example of his skills.

We also decided two unusual choices for our next book or books. Member Janette proposed we read Sunset at Blandings, which is about as late in Plum’s life and career as possible because he unfortunately died while writing it. This makes it an odd choice but unlike Agatha Christie’s Curtain, in which the spectre of death cannot be ignored, I believe the text of Sunset offers no presentiment of the Grim Reaper.

Of course it is a rough work but I believe some editions have Wodehouse’s notes on the story. I’m not sure if the Overlook Press edition includes these notes or if it uses Richard Usborne’s edits, however the Everyman Library edition does and I think the Overlook editions are based on the Everyman editions. More information on what version of the book to buy will be forthcoming.

There was also a suggestion that our group read the Wodehouse biography by Robert McCrum. In as much as Wodehouse: A Life is probably a more challenging read than say The Code of the Woosters, we will plan to discuss it at a later date, perhaps the November or January 2020 meeting. We might want to insert lighter fare between these two books, perhaps even re-reading a Jeeves or Blandings story.

I am volunteering to provide the discussion notes for Sunset, unless anyone else wants that honor.

PS Some discussion at the meeting concerned the phrase “apes, ivory and peacocks” in PGMB. I believe it to be a reference to the 1 Kings 10:22. From the King James Bible: “For the king had at sea a navy of Tharshish with the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tharshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.”

John Duncan’s painting Ivory, Apes and Peacock, showing the Queen of Sheba dropping a lot of bling on King Solomon

Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin for July 14

As usual the denizens of the Secret Nine will meet at 12:30 pm Sunday, July 14, at Pints Pub in downtown Denver. And as usual we’ll discuss the story—Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin—eat lunch and make smart comments.

We last met Monty in May of 2014 when we read The Luck of the Bodkins and Member Janette has produced the discussion notes for our next meeting. I usually reformat these notes for the blog but Janette’s PDF seems so perfectly composed I think I will just link to it.

Uneasy Money for May 12th

764726The Den(ver) of the Secret Nine will meet this Sunday (yes, yet again Mother’s Day) at 12:30 pm at Pints Pub in downtown Denver to discuss P.G. Wodehouse’s 1916 novel Uneasy Money. I promoted the book at our last meeting so I have the honor of writing some discussion notes.

As with most authors, you can discern periods of their work like Woody Allen’s “early funny stuff.” But Wodehouse lived and worked for so long and wrote so much that these periods overlap. He revisited characters again and again so much that the original Bertie Wooster had little in common with the Bertie of Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen. At times Wodehouse’s characters seem to keep his work timeless, except when he throws in references to television or the atomic bomb. At other times his work seems very rooted in the Edwardian age. It’s similar to trying to pin down “the look” of the 64-year-long Victorian Age.

And that’s why I love these Wodehouse stories set in the United States—well, New York State— that he wrote in the nineteen-teens and twenties. I think they come across as fresh and bracing, no doubt a reflection of the young man Plum was, and they are very much of their time. Today it’s hard to imagine Long Island as the bucolic retreat that Wodehouse presents here. And yet I can easily get into the mind of our heroine Elizabeth Boyd, another of Wodehouse’s small, plucky and capable women.

Like many of these early stories, romance, and the foundation for the romance, is much more well developed … or perhaps I appreciate the romance more as I grow older. I was introduced to Wodehouse via The Code of the Woosters and I devoured Jeeves and Woosters and the Blandings stories. But of course many of those stories are either devoted to ending a romance in the case of Bertie Wooster or the romantic couple are secondary players. Often with these secondary players the romance is just assumed. Yes, there is a story where Bingo Little does meet his future wife, the novelist Rosie M. Banks, but we’re not privy to whatever romantic moments led up to his marriage. Here’s what we know of Bingo’s wooing:

“Oh, I say, Bertie!” he said suddenly, dropping a vase which he had picked off the mantelpiece and was fiddling with. “I know what it was I wanted to tell you. I’m married.”

Bingo and the Little Woman

So it’s really refreshing in Uneasy Money to see the romance kindled between the protagonist Lord Dawlish (Bill Chalmers) and Elizabeth. The beekeeping scene is a meet cute that would not be out of place in a modern romantic comedy. It’s enjoyable to see Elizabeth expecting Bill to get his comeuppance while working with the beehive and then her understandable reevaluation of him when she realizes he’s a fellow beekeeper. It’s kith calling to kin and I think we’ve all had the experience of making a sudden connection to someone based on a mutual interest.

These early stories also, I think, better capture the struggle of the characters. The Adventures of Sally really emphasizes the plight of a young woman of limited means and in this story I can empathize with Elizabeth’s burden of looking out for her wastrel brother. Lord Dawlish too has to make his daily bread as secretary of his club.

There are a few false notes, of course. It doesn’t distract from the story, but I do wonder why the Great War is completely absent. Wodehouse might have started the story before the war and it’s possible that readers of the time might appreciate a light story that avoids it, but it really is strange that there’s no hint of it. Also the death of Eustace the monkey is very regrettable, and I’m sure OG member Mike will mention this.

I also have a problem with any romantic comedy where one fiancé or fiancée must be jettisoned for another. But Bill’s fiancée Claire Fenwick comes out OK in the end. I was surprised when I first met Claire, thinking she was an unlikely Wodehouse heroine. She was uncharacteristically tall and too insistent on “the great theme of money, with its minor sub-divisions of How to Get It, Why Don’t You Get It? and I’m Sick and Tired of Not Having It.” And yet I have some sympathy for her. Like many Wodehouse characters she was born to money but doesn’t have it and now she works for a living on the stage. And I further sympathize because were I affianced to an earl, I’d expect a little reward as well.

Another problem with the story is common to all Wodehouse stories. The coincidences here are mind-boggling. Bill is told of his inheritance and then goes to America to do right by the disinherited Elizabeth at the same time Claire goes to America, lured there by her friend Polly’s assurance that English girls do well in show business. Bill is offered the use of the Manhattan apartment owned by an American friend living in London, and that friend is also a friend of Elizabeth’s brother, Nutty. Nutty and Bill go to the same nightclub where Polly dances and Nutty’s girlfriend recognizes Bill from her own theatrical tour of England.

Of course we all forgive Wodehouse these coincidences. And here Plum is clever enough to fold these coincidences back into the plot, when Claire sows doubt in Bill’s mind over the “coincidence” of Nutty knowing Bill’s friend in London, the same friend who loaned Bill the flat in Manhattan.

“Bill, you’re an infant, a perfect infant! Of course, she’s after your money. Do you really imagine for one instant that this Elizabeth Boyd of yours and her brother don’t know as well as I do that you are really Lord Dawlish? I always thought you had a trustful nature! You tell me the brother met you by chance. Chance! And invited you down here. I bet he did! He knew his business! And now you’re going to marry the girl so that they will get the money after all! Splendid! Oh, Bill, you’re a wonderful, wonderful creature! Your innocence is touching.”

What a masterful touch! All these elements combine into a well-paced, romantic story that has the further distinction of being a one-off, not connected to the Drones or Blandings. It’s just too bad about the monkey.

Something Fresh or Something New for Jan. 13

something-fresh-overlookThe Den(ver) of the Secret Nine starts the New Year with something we’ve not done before—returning to a book the group has already read. New member Dave exercised his option to do this, so we’re revisiting Something Fresh (or Something New), the first Blandings story, at our 12:30 pm Sunday, Jan. 13 meeting at Pints Pub.

Member Dave has also provided his discussion notes for the story, which follows below:

This is my first attempt summarizing a Wodehouse book and at times I felt I was somewhat out of my depth. Actually this is much longer than I had anticipated, can I still call it a summary? There was so much happening I had a hard keeping it concise and often felt like was straying well into the weeds. I am also sorry I will not be able to make the meeting as I am leaving for San Antonio on urgent family business. I welcome any criticism or comments as that will help me next time I attempt this.

In Something Fresh (1915, published as Something New in the U.S) P.G. Wodehouse gives us our first foray to Blandings Castle and the many eccentric characters inhabiting the place. We are introduced to absent minded Lord Emsworth and his clueless son the Honorable Freddie Threepwood as well as the Efficient Baxter, Lord Emsworth ever suspicious secretary and Beach the Blandings butler. As all these characters are necessary to the story they are not the primary protagonists. Wodehouse himself wrote: “without at least one imposter on the premises, Blandings Castle is never itself.”  These roles are filled in the persons of Ashe Marson and Joan Valentine.

The premise of the book is a missing scarab, the prize of the collection, owned by J. Preston Peters a wealthy American industrialist whose daughter Aline is to marry the Honorable Freddie. The scarab went missing when the collection was being shown to Lord Emsworth and he inadvertently put it in his pocket and promptly forgot about. Mister Peterson assumes it was stolen but is hesitant to confront Lord Emsworth with this fact as he feels it might jeopardize his daughter’s upcoming marriage. Of course Lord Emsworth doesn’t remember how he got the scarab and just assumes Mr. Peterson gave it to him. The Efficient Baxter suspects that Mr. Peterson didn’t give up his prize scarab but keeps the information to himself.  Mr. Peterson devises a plan to recover the scarab through subterfuge offering a $5000 reward for its return. Enter Ashe Marson.

Ashe Marson is an American from Hayling, Massachusetts whose accomplishments to date were running the mile in 4½ minutes and researches in the art of long jumping at Harvard. A Rhodes scholarship to Oxford brought him to England where his primary accomplishments there were winning Blue for athletics at Oxford and winning the mile and half mile two years in a row against Cambridge at Queen’s Club. Since he did very little actual studying he found he was not really suited for much although he did earn a Bachelor of Arts. After a succession of private tutoring positions he finds himself in London looking for newspaper work eventually becoming the author the Gridley Quayle crime adventure series. Ashe lives in the front upstairs flat at Number Seven Arundell Street, Leicester Square. It should be noted that Ashe is a strong proponent of exercise and health which is how he meets Joan Valentine, while exercising in the front yard.

Joan Valentine, who lives in the front downstairs flat, is also an American from a wealthy family who learned upon her father’s death five years ago that he had squandered the family fortune and was left to find her own way. After a series of jobs she is currently working as the writer of Home Gossip for the same firm as Ashe. In the course of their introductory meeting Ashe mentions he feel like a failure at 26, which she find impossible to believe as he lives in London with opportunities surrounding him and suggests he read the advertisement columns.

The introduction of Joan Valentine presents one of the subplots of the book concerning the Honorable Freddie, Aline Peters, and a Mr. R. Jones. One of the previous jobs Joan had was on the stage where the Honorable Freddie saw her and developed a major crush. He had his man Judson deliver notes and poems to Joan professing his love. As a friend of his was recently sued for breach of contract for similar reasons and lost he was very concerned the same might happen to him. He therefore contacts Mr. R. Jones, a shady fixer, and gave him £500 to give to Joan to make it all go away. Unbeknownst to both of them Joan had destroyed any correspondence she had received from Freddie. Mr. R. Jones goes to Joan’s flat to confront her and immediately realizes that she no longer has the letters and poems and figures to keep the £500. As he is leaving Joan Aline Peterson arrives and sensing and opportunity he listens outside the door. Since Aline and Joan were school mates she confides in Joan the loss of her father’s scarab and his offer of a $5000 reward. They devise a plan where Joan will accompany her to Blandings Castle, home of Lord Emsworth, as her lady’s maid. Mr. R. Jones hearing this determines there is definitely more money in this for him.

Even though Ashe was skeptical regarding Joan’s earlier advice he did give the advertisement columns a glance and a wanted ad for a young man of good appearance and poor willing to take on a delicate and dangerous enterprise for good pay catches his eye. Answering the ad he finds the reception room full of men, none of whom appeared to match the qualities looked for in the ad. By the time he is called for an interview, he was the last, the advertiser, who just so happens to be Mr. J. Preston Peterson is so frustrated he is somewhat surprised that Ashe seems to fit the bill and offers him the job on the spot. He explains the circumstances, the risks involved, and the offer of $5000 upon completion of the job. While Ashe is wary of taking the job eventually agrees but feels he should accompany him to Blandings Castle as his secretary but Mr. Peters insists he go as his valet, a position Ashe is wholly unqualified for. Thus the stage is set.

The journey to Blandings Castle is uneventful, Ashe and Joan share a compartment and she instructs him as to the social hierarchy of the serving staff in the English Country home. As with many if not most of Wodehouse’s stories an underlying theme is a comic caricature of English aristocratic life and in this story the American aristocracy of wealth. He shows that the servants follow a very elaborate hierarchy, taking meals at many different social levels, and in essence mimicking their betters. In doing so he shows the absurdity of the English social class structure. With this explanation Ashe feels even more out of place and highly vulnerable, feeling he could quite easily be discovered a fraud. During this conversation Joan deduces they are likely there for the same reason but does not share this information with Ashe.

Upon arrival at Blandings Castle Ashe is conducted to the presence of Mr. Beach the butler and is regaled with information about Beach’s bad feet and bad stomach. Beach is concerned that this is Ashe’s first position as valet and his vagueness regarding past employment. When the dinner bell rings Ashe is dismissed to go help Mr. Peters dress for dinner. Not knowing where Mr. Peterson’s room is he meets the efficient Baxter, Lord Emsworth’s secretary, and asks him where the room is, speaking to him as an equal. Due to the rigors and pressure of his position and his constant smoking of cigars Mr. Peters has developed a dyspeptic stomach and is forced to eat only bland food. This naturally makes him quite surly most the time and is very concerning to Ashe. After Mr. Peterson berates him Ashe has basically had enough and tells Peterson he will not tolerate that kind of abuse and if it doesn’t stop he is through. Once Mr. Peterson realizes he is serious his demeanor changes and he also agrees to let Ashe help improve his health.

During the servants dinner Freddie’s man appears to recognize Joan, as he was the one who he delivered the letters and poems to, and is about to expose her when Ashe saves the day. He does so by doing his imitation of two cats fighting which stuns those at the table but takes the pressure off Joan. While this could have been a disaster for Ashe it all turns out for the best. After dinner Ashe gets Beach to show him the castle’s museum where the scarab is. When they enter the museum they find Mr. Peterson talking with Baxter. Apparently Mr. Peterson had found himself alone near the museum and decided to snatch the scarab himself almost getting caught by Baxter. When Baxter realizes who Ashe is, especially after nearly catching Mr. Peterson in the act of recovering the scarab he is very suspicious and takes Beach into the hall and asks him about Ashe. When he finds out Ashe asked to see the museum he becomes even more suspicious. Later that night, when everyone else had gone to bed he catches Ashe near the museum and confronts him. Ashe said he had gotten a book to read to Mr. Peterson to help him sleep and fortunately had a book in his possession to prove the fact. This confirms Baxter’s suspicions that Ashe is there to steal the scarab. Since Baxter is more or less the curator of the museum he tends to look on the displays as his own. He decides to keep watch every night sitting in a chair in the hall at the top of the stairs and throughout the rest of the book seem to steadily lose his mind.

While talking to Joan the next day she tells him she knows why he is here and that she is here for the same reason. They decide to work together with one trying one night and the other the next. After a flip of a coin Ashe gets first crack at it. There is an assortment of people at Blandings Castle; Lady Ann Warblington Freddie’s aunt, Lord Stockheath and his cousin Algernon Wooster, Colonel Horace Mant, and the Bishop of Godamling and George Emerson an American friend of Freddie’s. This brings us to another subplot involving George who is in love with Aline Peterson, they know each other from the States. Aline, in support of her father, has been eating the same bland food as him and had confessed to George that she sometimes gets quite hungry early in the morning. Therefore, George decides to go into town and get her a late night snack to leave outside her door thinking this is a way to win her over. He could have simply raided the castle larder but thought it would be quite insulting to his host should he be caught. As luck would have it this was the same night Ashe was making his first attempt to recover the scarab and neither knew that Baxter was on watch. So inevitably they all collide in the dark making such a noise it wakes everyone up. Ashe and George manage to get clear but poor Baxter is floundering on the floor and when he brushes up against the tongue George was brining to Aline he thinks it’s a dead body and tries unsuccessfully to call for help. By that time all the guests were at the top of the stairs in the dark with Lord Emsworth brandishing a pistol which he unloads in the dark in the general direction of the commotion. When the lights are finally turned on there is Baxter on the floor with the food meant for Aline all around him. He is admonished for sneaking food in the dark and told if he is hungry to have the servants bring food to his room.

After this Joan realizes that the next night would be the perfect time to get the scarab as she is sure Baxter will not venture out of his room. The next day is Sunday and most of the guests have gone to church. Baxter slept late and when he wakes immediately checks the museum and finds the scarab gone. He also notices a shoe print in some red paint from a spilled can that Lord Emsworth was using to paint a cabinet. He runs into Ashe, who had also slept late and demands he bring all the shoes the servants were wearing the previous day. Ashe does this and after Baxter finds the shoe Ashe realizes what he is up to. Somehow he manages to swap the shoe for another and then follows Baxter to find Lord Emsworth so he can expose the plot. As the shoe he presents does not have any red paint on it Lord Emsworth gets somewhat annoyed and believing that possibly Baxter was losing his mind hints that maybe it’s time for him to go. He appears to be most concerned as to how he was going to explain to Mr. Peterson that his wonderful gift of the scarab has been stolen. When everyone returns from church Joan confronts Ashe as to why he took the scarab when it was her turn. He pleads innocent and convinces her he did not do it so who they wonder who did. At that moment Freddie’s man appears saying he has to deliver a note to someone in town for Freddie. The note is for Mr. R. Jones who came to town to get more money from Freddie. Ashe and Joan say they will deliver the note and in the process Ashe figures out what happened. Ashe takes the note to Jones and then returns to the castle.

By this time George has received a telegram from the states indicating he needs to return on the next ship. He tells Aline this and promises her that while he loves her and he believes she loves him he will not pursue her any longer. He asks her to see him off and she agrees and at the last minute decides she really loves him and that life with the Honorable Freddie would be untenable and so departs with him. Lord Emsworth, Baxter, and Colonel Mant were also there to see George off. When Aline made her move to go with George, Baxter tries to stop her and it tripped by Colonel Mant who thought he was having another episode and trying to attack her.

When Ashe returns to Blandings Castle, after resolving the issue with Mr. R. Jones, he confronts Freddie with his suspicions. Freddie is laid up in his bed with a sprained ankle he got from tripping over his aunt’s cat on the stairs. Ashe find Freddie deeply enthralled in a Gridley Quayle adventure, all he really seems interested in. Ashe tells him he saw the note to Mr. R. Jones and determined he was in quick need of cash. He tells him the letters were destroyed and he has nothing to fear. He also tells him he knows he is the one who stole the scarab. During the course of their conversation Freddie learns that Ashe is the author of the Gridley Quayle books and is overcome with joy. He confesses to the theft and gives the scarab to Ashe. As their conversation is ending Lord Emsworth, Mr. Peterson, Baxter, and Colonel Mant come into Freddie’s room. Ashe slips out while Freddie is informed that Aline has eloped with George. They tell him to take it like a man and seem stunned when Freddie appears unfazed. Actually the news apparently made no impression on him at all.

Later in the day Ashe comes into Mr. Peterson’s room where he is packing his bags having about all he could take of English country life. He tells Ashe about Aline and George and tells him they are getting out of there. Ashe gives him the scarab and tells him about Freddie stealing it because he needed money. As he is writing a check for the reward he asks Ashe to stay on as his personal trainer, secretary, or whatever he wants to call himself because due to his exercise routine he is feeling much better. Ashe agrees and goes to find Joan. She is found walking somewhat despondently in the drive and they talk about all that has happened and eventually Ashe confesses he loves Joan and wants to marry her. Joan makes the argument that they barely know each other, she has been on her own for so long, that one travels fastest alone but Ashe rebuts all of them. She finally confesses that yes she loves him as well and was dreading their parting.

There are several differences between the British Something Freshand the U.S. Something New as noted on Madame Eulalie’s website.  One is that British pounds were converted to American dollars. Also the characters of Ashe Marson, Joan Valentine, and George Emmerson are American in the U.S. version but English in the British version with George a Hong Kong policeman and not a lawyer. This leads to some significant changes in descriptive passages and dialogue. The subplot of the red paint on the shoe is not in the British version at all. Apparently the reason is that the same subplot occurred in an earlier work The Lost Lamb. However, these differences do not substantially change the story and all in all it was an enjoyable read.

Mr Mulliner Speaking discussion notes

The Reverent Wooing of Archibald

Member Mike F

Found in Nothing but Wodehouse:

  • The first collection of Wodehouse writings, not just short stories, but similar to several since published books: Weekend Wodehouse-etc….  The interesting thing about the book is that contains sections of Mr. Mulliner Speaking, but they’ve not even renumbered the pages, with the page numbers matching the online copy found on
  • In addition, our hero, Archibald is also featured in a story found in Young Men in Spats–“Archibald and the Masses.”  This story also alludes to Archibald’s well known imitation of a Hen Laying an Egg.
  • When quizzed by Aurelia if he can do the aforementioned imitation, he says, “It is a lie—a foul and contemptible lie.” Did Wodehouse choose FOUL as a pun on FOWL? Pg 15 Overlook Edition

Welsh Rabbit:
To simplify it, a recipe of Toast and Cheese Sauce.

The Modern Woman, we hear so much about:  
modern-womanThe modern woman of the 20s was the “new ideal” of the slimmer less curvy Victorian ideal of a Woman, (Google Flapper or the attached John Held Jr).  In addition, the new mores and access to modern conveniences, (cars, appliances, and store made clothing), changed the way the Modern Woman moved in  society.


Sirocco: A hot wind blowing North from Africa to Europe, usually followed by a rain storm.  Pg 17 Overlook Edition
Weald: Old English meaning Forest, specifically West Saxon.  The Anglican word form is Wold, as in Stow-on-the-Wold.

Now for a few words about the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy (this section is liberally cut and pasted from Wiki):

The Baconian theory of Shakespeare authorship holds that Sir Francis Bacon, philosopher, essayist and scientist, wrote the plays which were publicly attributed to William Shakespeare. Various explanations are offered for this alleged subterfuge, most commonly that Bacon’s rise to high office might have been hindered were it to become known that he wrote plays for the public stage. Thus the plays were credited to Shakespeare, who was merely a front to shield the identity of Bacon.

Bacon was the first alternative candidate suggested as the author of Shakespeare’s plays. The theory was first put forth in the mid-nineteenth century, based on perceived correspondences between the philosophical ideas found in Bacon’s writings and the works of Shakespeare. Later, proponents claimed to have found legal and autobiographical allusions and cryptographic ciphers and codes in the plays and poems to buttress the theory. All academic Shakespeare scholars but a few reject the arguments for Baconian authorship, as well as those for all other alternative authors.

The Baconian theory gained great popularity and attention in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although since the mid-twentieth century the primacy of his candidacy as author of the Shakespeare canon has been supplanted by that of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Despite the academic consensus that Shakespeare wrote the works bearing his name and the decline of the theory, supporters of Bacon continue to argue for his candidacy through organizations, books, newsletters, and websites.

The Man Who Gave Up Smoking

Member Jennifer P

H’m what to say, what to say. I picked The Man Who Gave Up Smoking as the story for which I would write discussion notes for no particular reason and it seems I have little to offer. It’s an enjoyable and competently written story in the mistaken assumptions category common to many Wodehouse stories.

As we’ve remarked at our meetings, so many Wodehouse stories would be stillborn had the hero or heroine simply asked a question for clarification, and this story is a very good example of that. (Of course another big category involves the hero simply saying “No” when asked to do some task.) Had Ignatius Mulliner displayed basic human intelligence, he would have asked Hermione Rossiter why she rejected his proposals rather than depend on the advice of her gargoyle brothers.

The story is a bit of a twist on the standard Wodehouse trope of women trying to improve men by giving up smoking, alcohol and red meat. In this case Ignatius, thinking Hermione objects to him because like her brothers he is a heavy smoker, gives up smoking unasked. Then Ignatius went through various stages of grief starting with the virtuous superiority found in any person who gives up something bad for them. Insatiable hunger came next. Then he wished to spread his newfound joy by doing good deeds. In the last stages, he came down with the heebie-jeebies (overwrought sensitivity to stimuli) and then deep despair followed by profound bitterness toward his fellow man.

It is, of course, Ignatius’ initial desire to do good deeds that clashed with his later bitterness. Ignatius, an up-and-coming portrait painter, had volunteered to paint gratis a portrait of Hermione for her mother. When I first read this, I thought it odd that Ignatius would have previously refused to do this for it seems a natural way for him to demonstrate his love. But Wodehouse explains: “While love is love and all that, he had the artist’s dislike for not collecting all that was coming to him.”

I thought that a weak explanation until I considered the author. I can well imagine Wodehouse kicking up a fuss if he were ever pressured to write for no reward even were it to honor a loved one. Love’s love and all that, but a royalty check is a royalty check.

Another aspect of this story that bothered me was Mr Mulliner’s (the narrator of the story) defense of smoking. I believe by the time of the publication of this story (the Russian Wodehouse group gives it as 1929), people already strongly suspected a link between smoking and cancer and heart disease. But then I again considered the author. Wodehouse was an avid smoker who lived to 93, so perhaps he might be forgiven for not appreciating the perils of smoking.

I also very much enjoyed the characterizations of Hermione’s brothers. I loved Cyprian’s the art critic’s pompous speech patterns: “One senses, does one, a reluctance on the girl’s part to entertain one’s suggestion of marriage.” And I especially like the justice meted out to brother George, the drunkard and sponger. After Ignatius had earlier offered to give George twenty pounds, he boots the brother when George comes to collect, the milk of human kindness having run dry in the painter. And I loved Ignatius pursuing Cyprian with a richly inlaid Damascus dagger, after Cyprian comes to critique Ignatius’ submission to the art academy. (This always reminds me of the line: “Protruding from the earl’s back was a curved dagger of Oriental design, bedecked with jewels and glistening with the blue blood of England’s aristocracy.”)

I also liked that Hermione reveals a little depth as a heroine when she tells Ignatius at the end, after he’s insulted her appearance (the m. of h. kindness having run dry): “I said that, if you really think I look like that, you do not love me, as I had always supposed, for my beauty, but for my intellect. And if you knew how I have always longed to be loved for my intellect!”

Of course there’s not much development of the heroines in these Mulliner stories, which is disappointing because I know that Wodehouse has written fully developed female characters before. So it’s nice that Hermione shows even a little character.

Sadly, The Man Who Gave Up Smoking is one of the slightly worthy of less praise stories in this collection. It’s just a little too simple and straightforward … or maybe I am a little chagrined that I hadn’t guessed from the beginning that Ignatius’ ukulele habit was the Hermione’s real objection to Ignatius. Annoying, small, stringed musical instruments after all are another rich Wodehouse trope.

The Story of Cedric

Member Ed D

I thought The Story of Cedric was a gem, if for no other reason, because it contains the best names in the Wodehouse canon: Lord Knubble of Knopp,* Lady Chloe Downblotton (daughter of the seventh Earl of Choole), the Somerset Meophams, the Brashmarleys of Bucks, the Widringtons of Wilts, the Hilsbury-Hepworths of Hants, Lord Slythe and Sayle, the Sussex Booles, and the ffrench-ffarmiloes (“not the Kent ffrench-ffarmiloes, but the Dorsetshire lot”).  These rival anything Dickens ever came up with.

Cedric is described as a neat, prim, fussy and fat 45 year old snob – “one of the six recognized bores at his club.”  He doesn’t seem to have a job, but he has a secretary, Myrtle Watling.  He may be writing a book about the history of spats.

The reference to the hart panting after the water-brooks is from Psalm 42, notably set to music by the English composer Herbert Howells (1892-1983), a near-contemporary of Wodehouse. G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), the obese author of the Father Brown mystery stories, was also a near-contemporary of Wodehouse, and the sound of his portly frame “falling on a sheet of tin” would certainly startle any top-hat-clad housebreaker.  Wodehouse may have been acquainted with both Howells and Chesterton.

yellow-bootsThe “yellow boots” worn by Lady Chloe’s beau, Claude, and exchanged by him for Cedric’s black boots may have been more tan than yellow.  (Chloe and Claude – ideal names for a couple.)

The cabbie, Mr. Lanchester, is one of the great dimwits in Wodehouse.  Ditto the parlourmaid Jane.

All-in-all, a most enjoyable story.

* Percy, Lord Knubble of Knopp, Grosvernor Square, luncheon host of Cedric Mulliner, also appears as the guest of Sir Sutton Hartley-Wesping in The Smile That Wins, the godfather of Eustace Mulliner in Open House, and the tennis partner and suitor of Amanda Biffen in Big Business, where he is described as a horse-faced young man with large ears and no chin.

The Ordeal of Osbert Mulliner and Unpleasantness as Bludleigh Court

Member Jennie M.
Fred and I were fortunate to discover in residence on our shelf, Wodehouse’s complete Mulliner collection, The World of Mr. Mulliner (1974). The nine stories under consideration for the November meeting ran from Chapter 10 to Chapter 18, one per chapter, in the order in which they appeared in the original collection, Mr. Mulliner Speaking (1930).

Happily, too, Wodehouse penned a short preface in which he warned his public that in ‘The World Of Mr. Mulliner” he was “writing as funny as I can, and I can only hope that there will be no ill results.” Writing the Mulliner stories, he says, was “magical . . . like finding money in the street. … The stuff came pouring out as if somebody had turned a tap. I am, as a rule, a thousand-words-at-a-sitting man, but with Mulliner it was more like half a story before lunch.” He recommends a medium dose for an adult “not more than two or perhaps three stories a day, taken at breakfast or before retiring. … Nervous people and invalids will of course be guided by their doctor’s advice.” At Bludleigh Court two minutes of Aubrey’s Uncle Francis “is considered a good medium dose for an adult” (198).

On Wodehouse’s short stories: “The technique of the short story is different from that of the novel, the length dictating the necessity for a single plot with no subplots and a simple approach. The comedy is therefore often chiefly in the plot—what Plum called situation comedy—while at other times a rather weak plot is redeemed by the humor in the writing [as in ‘The Fiery Wooing of Mordred’]. — Sometimes he achieves both the humorous plot and humorous writing in one story, as, perhaps, with ‘Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo’” (Donaldson 109-110.)

“The Ordeal of Osbert Mulliner” Chapter 13 in The World of Mr. Mulliner

“The Ordeal of Osbert Mulliner” details Osbert’s obstacles in wooing the “most charming girl,” Mabel. Unfortunately, Mabel comes packaged with an ardorous cousin, Bashford Braddock, intent on dissuading Osbert, and Uncle Major-General Sir Masterman Petherick-Soames, who insists upon Osbert’s following through with the engagement. We witness Osbert’s struggle to come up with a good plan–either to escape the country or hide in a trackless London suburb for the rest of his life (sure to be short) until a pair of burglars supply a brilliant solution.

Some clarifications

A 19th-century smoking cap

A 19th-century smoking cap

smoking-cap: (from Wikipedia) Smoking caps, otherwise known as thinking caps and lounging caps, are caps worn by men while smoking to stop their hair from smelling of smoke. They are also worn to keep the head warm. They were popular in 19th-century England and usually used by gentlemen in the privacy of their home. They are often worn with a smoking jacket. They are probably of Chinese, Arabic, or Turkish origin. They are similar to the fez, and the kufi.

the old Rajputana: The SS Rajputana was a British passenger and cargo carrying ocean liner. She was built for the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company at the Harland and Wolff shipyard at Greenock on the lower River Clyde, Scotland in 1925. She was one of the P&O ‘R’ class liners from 1925 that had much of their interiors designed by Lord Inchcape’s daughter Elsie Mackay.[2] Named after the Rajputana region of western India, she sailed on a regular route between England and British India.

pair of puttees: (from Wikipedia) A puttee, also spelled puttie, is the name, adapted from the Hindi paṭṭī, bandage (Skt. paṭṭa, strip of cloth), for a covering for the lower part of the leg from the ankle to the knee, alternatively known as: legwraps, leg bindings, winingas, or wickelbander.

Osbert’s jade collection: maybe illustrative of 1920s fads and/or Chinese culture influence?

Would a baronet’s sister go in before the daughter of the younger son of a peer? According to “In the UK life peers are always barons or baronesses. . . . a baronet [below baron] is never a peer. . .”

Rem acu tetigisti: (Latin) You have touched the point with a needle.

fish-slice: (from Wikipedia) In British English, a fish slice is a kitchen tool with a wide flat blade with long holes in it, used for lifting and turning food while cooking. In American English, this is known as spatula. It was originally a serving implement for fish, usually made of silver, antique examples of which commonly appear at auction. Fish slices were made of silver or Sheffield plate rather than steel to avoid the possibility of tainting the taste of the fish due to a reaction between the fish and its lemon seasoning and the steel. After 1745 their outlines were usually fish shaped.

“Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court” Chapter 14 in The World of Mr. Mulliner

“Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court” plays with many conceits to do with writing and literature and stars a pair of romantic poets and the insidious house that cultivates murderous impulses in its inhabitants.

Charlotte’s Vignette in Verse, “Good Gnus” (When cares attack and life seems black, / How sweet it is to pot a yak”) recalls Wodehouse’s many verse contributions to Broadway musicals, written with Jerome David Kern and Guy Bolton. Penned at Bludleigh Manor, however, the poem, written for the Animal Lovers’ Gazette, is infected with the diabolical spell of the house, advocating for murdering gnus rather than celebrating them in the fulness of life. Charlotte, like the poem, has also been infected by Bludleigh Manor, and her outrage at “the imbecility of editors,” particularly “this Animal-Lovers bird” who turned down her poem, awakens her own murderous impluses, and off she goes to find an available victim.

Some clarifications

poulet roti au cresson: roast chicken with watercress

A plug hat worn by a rowdy Irishman in a 19th-century Thomas Nast stereotyped caricature similar to the ones worn by the Plug Uglies.

A plug hat worn by a rowdy Irishman in a 19th-century Thomas Nast stereotyped caricature similar to the ones worn by the Plug Uglies.

plug-uglies (how Aubrey refers to his family): (from Wikipedia) The Plug Uglies were an American Nativist criminal street gang, sometimes referred to loosely as a political club, that operated in the west side of Baltimore, Maryland, from 1854 to 1865. The Plug Uglies gang name came from the enormous oversized plug hats they stuffed with wool and leather, pulling them down over their ears for head protection as primitive helmets when going into gang battles. Also, the term plug ugly was used to identify an extremely tough ferocious fighter who could give a sound beating to an opponent. The name Plug Uglies was used to refer to a number of criminal gangs in New York City as well as Philadelphia.

gnu (Uncle Francis’ nemesis): better known as a wildebeest, an African antelope

wapiti: elk

zebus: cattle, oxen

moufflon (also mouflon): a small wild sheep with chestnut-brown wool

Bechuanaland (where Uncle Francis left a native witch-dance): (from Wikipedia) British Bechuanaland was a short-lived Crown colony of the United Kingdom that existed in southern Africa from its formation on 1 Sep 1885 until its annexation to the neighbouring Cape Colony on 16 Nov 1895.

zareba: (African) an improvised stockade of thorn bushes

Bludleigh Manor is located in Lesser Bludleigh, Goresby-on-the-Ouse, Bedfordshire: all but the (River Great) Ouse and Bedfordshire appear to be fictional.

plum (desirable, absolute) spang (to a complete degree)

Works Cited

Donaldson, Frances. P.G. Wodehouse: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982.

Wodehouse, P. (Pelham) G. (Grenville). The World of Mr. Mulliner. New York: Taplingere Publishing Co., Inc., 1974.

Those in Peril on the Tee

Member Mike N

In the first sentence an image of chessboard knickerbockers was a good start, unfortunately things quickly went downhill. I felt golf might offer a chance for some fun. I also thought the distasteful golfing antics of an ex father-in-law, a passionate adherent to Stephen Potter’s gamesmanship ploys, would help color an entertaining critique. I was mistaken!

To my mind this is a poor story. Two blah golfers are forced, by a chumpish bully, into playing golf to decide which one wins the hand of a not so fair lady. As neither wishes to gain the prize, each plans to lose. Hence the loser is really the winner.

From my experience, in most clubs anyone deliberately playing the back nine with such lack of respect for the ancient game would be reported to the club secretary or captain and penalized.

Plum plumbed the depths for this one.

The Passing of Ambrose

New Member Dave S.

The story opens with our main protagonist, Ambrose Wiffin arguing with his childhood chum Algy Crufts. It seems that the two were supposed to go to Monte Carlo and Ambrose was backing out to spend time with his paramour Roberta “Bobbie” Wickham.  Now it seems to be common knowledge that any involvement with Miss Wickham can only lead to trouble. Ambrose is having none of it even after being informed that she put a snake in someone’s bed and blamed in on another.

After this argument Ambrose heads to Bobbie’s house where unbeknownst to him she has agreed to take her cousin Wilfred and his friend Esmond “Old Stinker” Bates to the movies. However, she has made plans to help her friend chose some new cushions and is trying get out of her earlier promise but her mother won’t hear of it. It should be mentioned that both boys are quite unruly, actually they are insufferable brats, which we don’t really find out until later. Enter Ambrose and Bobbie’s escape clause. She immediately ropes him into going to the movies and while he enthusiastically agrees he actually regards small boys with a jaundiced eye. It is his belief that they wanted their heads smacked otherwise they should be out of the picture.

Like many of the characters in Mr. Mulliner Speaks Ambrose thinks of himself as quite the natty dresser, he spent long hours perfecting the minutest detail of his toileta glance in the mirror assured him, his hat was perfect, his trousers were right, his shoes were right, his button hole was right, and his tie was right.

Upon meeting Wilfred Ambrose determined that he was an officious little devil who needed six of the best with a fives bat. This feeling was doubled when he found that Esmond held the cab Ambrose had arrived in, with the meter running. Once at the theater Bobbie puts her plan into effect ducking out when Ambrose went to get the tickets. After an encounter with another patron his hat was knocked off and damaged. Oh the horrors! Naturally Wilfred and Esmond could not stop pointing out, for all to hear, how dreadful his hat looked. Then he was informed that Bobbie had to dash off but to leave her ticket at the box office and she would be there when she could. However, he was still so taken with her that he convinced himself she had a good reason for leaving. After the movie was over and they left the theater, still sans Bobbie, he boys started in on the hat again. It was all Ambrose could stand and above the roar of London Traffic there sounded the crisp note of a well smacked head. This of course prompted a lady to demand why he smacked the boy. As Ambrose had no desire to get into things with her he basically ignored her which caused her to continue berating him, threatening to call the police, and eventually drawing a crowd. Since Ambrose deplored a scene he hustled the boys across the street ending up in from of a restaurant which had oysters. Now nothing would do except for the boys to have oysters with an argument ensuing as to who could eat more. The thought of having oysters at 4:30 in the afternoon made Ambrose nauseous but apparently the lady who was scolding him followed them across the street so into the restaurant they went. After failing to dissuade the boys from eating oysters he placed the order and waited what seemed an eternity for them to finish. When he got the bill and paid it he found he only had sixpence left.  This presented him with another dilemma, tip the waiter and walk home or no tip and take the bus. Now the thought of walking two miles with these unruly boys was out of the question so he opted for the bus. Of course the boys just had to point out, again for all to hear, that he hadn’t left a tip. He pushed the boys out of the restaurant and fortunately there was a bus just outside. He hustled his charges in and they immediately head to the back of the bus while he sat near the door as far away as possible.

This set the scene for his final conflict with the boys. He noticed a passenger who got on somewhere near Hyde Park Corner and was sitting opposite Old Stinky. During the final leg of the journey home a white mouse crawled out of Old Stinkers pocket onto his knee. The passenger, looking horrified, slapped the mouse off of Old Stinker’s knee of course he missed and no the mouse was loose on the bus causing pandemonium. This caused the driver to stop and investigate. This was absolutely the last straw for Ambrose and in the confusion he made his escape.

The next day we find Ambrose breakfasting in bed with a letter on the tray before him. It is from Bobbie and she is obviously upset with him for abandoning the boys in the middle of London and how she thought she could trust him. At this point Ambrose was more than finished with Bobbie and called his friend Algy to let him know their Monte Carlo trip was still on and after many Right hosplans were finalized.

Being new to P.G. Wodehouse books I find his satirization of the English upper crust refreshing and enjoyed this book very much. As with many of the characters in the Jeeves and Wooster series my impression was that most of them shouldn’t really be left to fend for themselves.  Some might called them right gits.

Mr Mulliner Speaking Nov. 11

mrmullinerspeakingThe Den(ver) of the Secret Nine will discuss P.G. Wodehouse’s Mr Mulliner Speaking at our Nov. 11 meeting. As usual, we’ll convene at Pints Pub at 12:30 pm that Sunday.

We’re doing our discussion notes a little differently this time. Mr Mulliner Speaking is appropriately enough a collection of nine short stories, and we’re splitting up the duties of creating the notes thus:

  • The Reverent Wooing of Archibald: Mike F.
  • The Man Who Gave Up Smoking: Jennifer
  • The Story of Cedric
  • The Ordeal of Osbert Mulliner: Jennie and Fred
  • Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court: Jennie and Fred
  • Those in Peril on the Tee: Mike N.
  • Something Squishy: Joice
  • The Awful Gladness of the Mater

So we still need someone to write notes for The Story of Cedric and The Awful Gladness of the Mater. Leave a comment here if you want to contribute.

Also, sharp minds may have noticed that we didn’t have a Wodehouse birthday tea this year, so we’ll wish Plum many happy returns of the day at the Nov. 11 meeting.

Do Butlers Burgle Banks? for Sept. 9th

do-butlerssept-9At our next meeting, Sunday the 9th of September, The Den(ver) of the Secret Nine will be discussing P.G. Wodehouse’s Do Butlers Burgle Banks? As usual, the meeting will begin at 12:30 pm in our usual haunt, Pints Pub in downtown Denver.

I won’t be present because I will be cruising on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal in Wales, however I offer these little notes to represent what would have been my contributions to our feast of reason and flow of soul.

It’s very easy to dismiss the genius of P.G. Wodehouse by claiming that he wrote the same few stories again and again but with different characters. Those of us who recognize the genius of Wodehouse know that he wrote the same few stories again and again but using the same characters.

Do Butlers Burgle Banks?, however, proves that in his later years, Wodehouse could write something fresh with different, if familiar, characters. It may not be his best work, but could I write something one tenth as fun and enjoyable, I would be content. I give here the quick synopsis from the Penguin books website.

Do Butlers Burgle Banks? (1968) features Mike Bond, the hitherto fortunate owner of Bond’s Bank, who finds himself in a spot of trouble so serious that he wants someone to burgle the bank before the trustees inspect it. Fortunately for him, Horace Appleby, currently posing as his butler, is on hand to oblige. For Horace is, in fact, not a butler at all but the best sort of American gangster, prudently concealing himself in an English country house while hiding from his rivals. Looking for peace and safety, Horace is to discover before long that the hot-spots of New York are a whole lot more restful than the English countryside. This is the lightest of light comedies, a Wodehousian soufflé from his later years.

This description, which shows up in many places including Wikipedia, is incorrect in that it confuses Horace Appleby with one of his gang members, the gun-toting American Charlie Yost. (The Overlook Press dust jacket removes the word “American.”) The synopsis is correct, however, in calling the story a soufflé—something delicious and yet so delicate that a stray cough could cause it to collapse while baking.

What I love about this story is the collection of various Wodehouse stock characters that get equal treatment throughout the story—one of the benefits of being a “one-off” story. The stars of Wodehouse’s best-known series—Jeeves, Bertie Wooster, Lord Emsworth or Psmith—can sometimes take up all the air in the room, but in this story the minor characters get to shine.

Of course the star of this story is Horace Appleby, the leader of a very genteel band of burglars. He’s a criminal mastermind who finds ways to get installed as a temporary butler at country houses and then directs his crew of safecrackers, muscle and second-story men to burgle the house with his inside information. Like many Wodehouse characters, however, this criminal still operates with a strict code—no rough stuff—and so he boots Yost from the gang after the American brings a gun on a job.

At the beginning of the book Horace is just an underworld trope, but we soon see him as a thoughtful and considerate boss, a lovelorn romantic and finally a Jeeves-like character that helps the male lead, Mike Bond. Like an actor, Horace, pretending to be a butler, fully inhabits the role. Like Jeeves, he supplies Mike with the mot juste when necessary and tosses out George Bernard Shaw quotes where appropriate.

The other characters are also well developed. Ada Cootes, Mike’s secretary and the object of Horace’s affections, is wonderful. Her quick thinking when an incidental thief takes Horace’s wallet marks her as one of Wodehouse’s supremely confident women, and yet the extent to which she succumbs to Horace’s charms makes her endearingly vulnerable. I’m not sure of her age, but I see her as a woman approaching middle age who never looked for love and never needed it but who recognizes it when it comes along.

Mike’s girlfriend Jill Willard is another Wodehouse woman who’s up for anything, including burgling a bank to help her man. She’s one of those women who Wodehouse adores—born of privilege but whose family’s fortune have fallen and so she must work as a nurse to support herself. (Oddly, I don’t think Wodehouse ever describes her as small, which makes her different from most of his heroines.)

Horace’s gang also is well developed, including second-story man Ferdie the Fly and muscle “Basher” Evans and the American Yost. It’s endearing that most of Horace’s gang look upon him with respect and admiration, making Yost’s disloyalty stand out. Reading this story in our current age of senseless gun violence, it’s enjoyable that the cracks in Horace’s gang come about because one character finds religion and another is too fond of gunplay. And Yost is eventually made a spent force when it is explained to him how seriously England takes its gun laws.

Scotland Yard Sergeant Claude Potter is another gem, to me recalling the Efficient Baxter, that secretarial bane of Lord Emsworth. He’s so insufferably smug we don’t mind when he gets shot. “No worse than a bad cold,” Mike says to console his guilty feelings when the policeman receives a bullet meant for Mike.

Oddly the one character that serves little purpose is Mike’s Aunt Isobel. She serves as a sounding board for Jill, but otherwise seems to exist only because Wodehouse realized he couldn’t possibly write a book without some species of aunt.

As I mentioned earlier this plot is too frothy and delicate to endure any sort of criticism. Even Horace thinks that Mike’s plan to be plugged by Yost in order to collect on a very specific insurance policy wouldn’t have worked. And the plan to rob the bank to hide any accounting discrepancies also seems unlikely, but at least it avoids the risk of death.

There really are too many characters and plot developments in this slim volume (the Overlook Press edition runs to 201 pages). Consequently the ending (or the solution to Mike’s bookkeeping woes) does seem rushed, like a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta that resolves when everyone agrees that the problem that had propelled the plot is no longer a problem. What I love about this resolution is that makes it possible to retitle the book: Do Burglars Invest in Banks?

Random thoughts:

To my knowledge there are few of Wodehouse’s stock in trade tropes. No “stout Cortez,” “all’s right with the world” or Infant Samuels. Maybe this is a consequence of being a one-off?

Nice quote by Basher Evans: “He won’t do that guv’nor. This isn’t Chicago. He knows we’ve got a different angle on that sort of thing in England. He isn’t going to risk getting a lifer by bumping you off. He’ll just plug you in the leg or arm or somewhere.” (The death penalty was abolished in Great Britain in 1965.)

And another quote from one of the trustees of the bank while trying to convince Mike that getting shot in order to collect insurance wouldn’t be so bad: “You must have read about fellows who get shot. They don’t feel a thing. It’s only after half an hour or so that they notice there’s anything wrong. ‘Bless my soul,’ they say, ‘I seem to have got a hole in me. Now how did that happen?’”