There is much to be said for a peer of the realm with large estates in the country and a big house in Arlington Street.
There is a two-block long Arlington Street in St. James’s that could well be the address of the Earl of Droitwich in London (or Westminster). It begins at Piccadilly where you will find the Ritz.
Yet, oddly enough, she was not in the least like the object of those dreams, for, as a boy, his tastes—built, probably, on the vision of the hefty Principal Boy of some early pantomime—had tended towards the stately, the beautiful, and the buxom.
In pantomime melodramas during the Victorian era, the male lead or Principal Boy of these entertainments was usually a woman.
A Don Juanian glitter appeared behind Meech’s spectacle. He seemed to be recalling old, far-off, happy things.
A reference to a fictional character who appeared in a 17th-century play, The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Lord Byron’s poem Don Juan.
Before starting, let me apologize again for missing the meeting. I really wished to be there because I now consider Summer Lightning as a contender for best Wodehouse ever.
As I’m sure you’re all familiar with, sometimes a story you’ve read before suddenly appears in fresh guise and you wonder how you never realized that this story was the goods. Well, the scales have fallen from my eyes with Summer Lightning.
This has to be the perfect Blandings story, and I think I now appreciate it all the more since we’ve started our practice of reading the stories in order. It’s quite a long story, but then it would have to be to cram in all the cast, all the complications, all the sundered couples and both the Efficient Baxter and P. Frobisher Pillbeam. The only missing note is my regret that Galahad and Lord Emsworth never attempted the pig-napping of Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe’s Pride of Matchingham.
I really enjoyed the couples of Sue Brown and Ronnie Fish and Millicent Threepwood and Hugo Carmody and how well paired Wodehouse made the suspicions of Ronnie and Millicent vis-à-vis their respective partners. There’s an especial delight in the purely innocent friendship of Hugo and Sue and their love of dancing.
And, of course, Galahad’s reminiscences play such a key part in this story and throughout the Blandings saga. Galahad and his book play such a fixture that I was surprised when Baxter mentioned to Lady Constance that he had never met the earl’s second brother despite Baxter’s previous service—this is Galahad’s first appearance.
Incidentally, I have ordered NTP Murphy’s The Reminiscences of the Hon. Galahad Threepwood so that I might finally learn the story of Parsloe and the prawns. Murphy, of course, is the founding chairman of the UK Wodehouse society. I shall bring it to the next meeting.
I really, really liked the inclusion of both Baxter and Pillbeam, who play off each other while actually having no direct interaction or even intercourse that I can remember. I feel some sympathy toward Baxter who sort of reminds me of Gollum and his quest for the precious.
Another callback that stood out is the gamekeeper’s cottage, which I hope is eventually torn down considering its role in this story and Leave it to Psmith. It seems to attract crime.
Wodehouse employed only a few tropes and those were only in passing: Hugo thought a beetle might have gone down his back, Sue mentions to her theatrical employer his might take up Swedish exercises and Lord Emsworth entertains the notion that Baxter has returned as a ghost to Blandings.
The scene at Mario’s is hilarious, especially the repeated admonitions of the waiters that evening dress was indispensable on dance floor, but that there was plenty of room in the balcony for flannel-suited gentlemen. In fact, I found myself in continual amazement of how Wodehouse seeded the story with an incidental that he could use again and again. In one instance, Beach is listening to the song of a bullfinch in cage. Two pages later, after Beach is startled by Ronnie’s plea to help him feed the Empress after his kidnapping, the bullfinch returns:
The butler had now begun to gargle slightly. He cast a look of agonized entreaty at the bullfinch, but the bird had no comfort to offer. It continued to chirp reflectively to itself, like a man trying to remember a tune in his bath.
Or later in a conversation between Ronnie and Millicent, the latter kicked moodily at a passing worm. Then Ronnie kicks at the worm and Wodehouse writes: “The worm had the illusion that it had begun to rain shoes.”
A couple of interesting phrases caught my eye. Galahad is described as looking not “out of place away from a paddock or an American bar.” I believe the latter means a bar that serves American cocktails, like the noted bar at the Savoy Hotel. Another unusual phrase is Mason’s, the theatrical impresario, thought that Sue’s laugh reminded him of ice tinkling in a jug of beer. One never thinks of ice being near beer. And later when the theater doorman mentions that his bet rewarded him with “half a dollar.” I believe that for some time the exchange rate was four US dollars to the pound. There are 20 shillings to the dollar and five shillings was called a crown. Half a crown then was roughly equivalent to half a dollar.
Another line I quite enjoyed: “She looked like something that might have occurred to Ibsen in one of his less frivolous moments.”
And finally, after Galahad learns that Millicent has been reading theosopy, he thinks a young woman should be better employed making an apple pie bed, which apparently is the same as short sheeting. In case, you’ve never indulged in this whimsical pursuit, I offer this instructional video:
Most of the nobility and gentry who reside south of the Park came to Price’s for their bi-monthly haircuts. Lord Bridgnorth, whose family lived in Cadogan Square, always did.
Cadogan Square in Kensington is one of the most desirable residences in London, but unfortunately no Lord Bridgnorth seems to be associated with any of the buildings there
George Christopher Meech removed the mirror. ‘Singe, sir?’ ‘No, thanks.’
Apparently, and this is news to this editor, barbers once offered to singe the ends of cut hair with a candle, with the belief it sealed the ends of the hair. Some barbers still offer this service as a way to remove pesky ear hairs.
He wouldn’t be surprised if at any minute somebody told him that they had pulled down the Cheshire Cheese or Simpson‘s. Probably they’d abolish the Eton and Harrow match next.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has been a London pub since at least the Great Fire of 1666. Simpson’s in the Strand is a restaurant has been serving giant joints of roast beef from domed silver trolleys since the 1850s. Both were favorites of Wodehouse and both survive. The public schools Eton and Harrow have played an annual cricket match since 1805, although the COVID-19 epidemic canceled the 2020 match at Lord’s Cricket Ground.
‘Just Elisha. The chap in the Old Testament. He hadn’t a hair on his bean, and when a bevy of children pointed out the fact to him, what happened? Bingo! Eaten by bears!’
Reading this you might think Elisha was eaten by bears, but in fact the children, 42 of them apparently, were cursed by Elisha because they taunted him, and then the children were promptly eaten by bears. Just to prove this editor is not making this up, The New International Version Bible (2 Kings 2:23-25) relates the story:
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. 25 And he went on to Mount Carmeland from there returned to Samaria.
“She may be, for all you know,” said Violet. “In which case, it seems to me, her interests are all the other way. If our Mr Price gets the title, she becomes a blushing countess.”
It might be a stretch, but the “blushing countess” could be a reference to the Countess of Salisbury, whose dropped garter led to Edward III’s creation of the Order of the Garter. In the Elizabethan play The Reign of Edward III, which many attribute—at least in part—to Shakespeare, we see the secretary to the king musing about the king’s meeting with the countess:
If she did blush, ’twas tender modest shame, Being in the sacred presence of a king; If he did blush, ’twas red immodest shame, To vail his eyes amiss, being a king … (II.i.14-17)
’Tinkerty-tonk, old boy.’
The Hon Frederick Chalk-Marshall uses this expression to say goodbye to Lord Droitwich. Yes, it’s another expression the OED attributes to Wodehouse.
‘Au revoir, Lord Droitwich,’ he said. ‘We shall meet at Philippi.’
Shakespeare must have been some sort of ancestor of Wodehouse, because in Julius Caesar, Act IV, Scene III, he has this exchange—sounding very much like one of Bertie’s exchanges in The Code of the Woosters—between a ghost and Brutus:
GHOST. To tell thee thou shalt see me at Philippi. BRUTUS. Well; then I shall see thee again? GHOST. Ay, at Philippi. BRUTUS. Why, I will see thee at Philippi, then.
Meriam-Webster defines jugfull as 1. As much as a jug will hold 2. A great deal as used in the phrase not by a jugfull. First know usage 1831. DS
…the Hon. Freddie has never seen in his puff… pg.73
The Free Dictionary defines in (all) his puff as in or during one’s lifetime, primarily U.K. DS
‘His Aunt Lydia looked like Lady Macbeth.’ Pg. 73
Lady Macbeth was a lead character in Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. She is the impetus for her husband committing regicide thus becoming queen of Scotland. She dies by apparent suicide at the end of the play.DS
‘He had always been an ugly sort of Gawd-help-us.’ Pg. 73
Gawd-help-us – a mainly jocular term indicating a helpless or exasperating person and comes from the plea “God help us.” DS
‘…,and the chances at the next General Election.’ Pg. 74
The British General Election, elections to the U.K. Parliament which generally take place every 5 years. This is analogous to voting for Congress in the U.S. A Special Election or snap election can be called to capitalize on an unusual electoral opportunity.DS
‘…right off talkin’ sixteen to the dozen…’ Pg. 76
Talking sixteen to the dozen refers to one who talks very quickly and incessantly without stopping. An alternate was nineteen to the dozen which seems to have won out over sixteen. DS
‘That sort of evidence won’t do you much good at the Bar of the House of Lords.’ Pg. 77
The Bar of the House is the name given to the white line across the width of the chamber in the House of Commons and a rail in the House of Lords. This is significant in that Syd is going to be Lord Droitwich, a peer of the realm, and therefore eligible to sit in the House of Lords. DS
You’re goin’ to look fine when the News of the World gets ‘old of this.’ Pg. 78
The News of the World was a notorious British tabloid published weekly from 1843 to 2011. The last owner, Rupert Murdoch, was forced to close amid backlash from a phone hacking scandal. DS
‘I’ll give you ten minutes by my Ingersoll.’ Pg. 79
Ingersoll is a brand of watch inexpensive originally available by mail order in 1882 and launching a store in London in 1904. DS
Meriam-Webster defines supererogation as the act of performing more than is required by duty, obligation, or need. First known usage was 1526. DS
‘The purest persiflage.’ Pg.70
Meriam-Webster defines persiflage as frivolous bantering talk, light raillery. First known usage was 1757. DS
He prided himself on his ability to see through a brick wall as far as the next man. Pg. 70
This is Mr. Waddington’s opinion of his own shrewdness. Dictionary.com indicates that ‘to see through a brick wall’can be slang used to describe one who is especially perceptive. DS
It’s also possible this is a reference to the Bodhidharma, the 5th/6th century monk who was the founder of the Zen tradition of Buddhism in China. The daruma doll, a popular gift in Japan symbolizing persistence and good fortune, refers to this monk’s custom of gazing at walls so intently and for so long that eventually his arms and legs atrophied away. JP
‘Well, it’s like the story of the “Baby’s Vengeance” in the Bab Ballads.’ Pg. 71
Bab Ballads is a reference to a collection of light verses by W.S. Gilbert. They revealed Gilbert’s cynical and satirical approach to humor. Being very popular they were read at dinner parties, public banquets, and even the House of Lords. They were also a source of plot elements, characters, and stories for the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas.
The Bab Ballad Baby’s Vegeance is a satirical look at a baby switch, rich to poor, and the consequences. DS
‘…it isn’t like that Tichbourne business,…’ pg. 71
‘You may thank your lucky stars I got my half-blue for scheming at Oxford.’ pg. 65
Freddie letting Tony know that he has the requisite skills to formulate a suitable plan.
Collins Dictionary states that blue or half-blue are associated with sporting activities at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. A half-blue is someone who substitutes for a full blue or participates in a minor sport. It I likely that Freddie’s usage of half-blue in this instance was facetious. DS
‘You should hear him talk about how some day he’s going to move to Bond Street…’ pg. 61
Polly talking with Lady Lydia, Sir Herbert, and Freddie about Syd’s plan for his future.
Bond Street – Set in the heart of Mayfair in London’s West End Bond Street, founded in 1700, is known worldwide for its elegant stores, exclusive brands, and luxury goods. Likely the reason Syd wanted to open a shop there so badly. DS
‘but every word that falls from your lips is an orient pearl of purest ray serene.’ pg. 61
Freddie talking with Polly regarding her desire that they not reveal the truth to Syd.
“Purest ray serene” is from the poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray. The poem is a metaphor for common folk who do heroic things that are never reported in the news or recorded in history. DS
‘… Where the parents of our hero,’ added Freddie, ‘were stationed at the time. Being a delicate infant, he was sent back to England in charge of an ayah. …’
Ayah: a native maid or nursemaid employed by Europeans in India. Pg. 53
‘Very well,’ he said. ‘Tony, you were born over a barber-shop in Mott Street, Knightsbridge.’
A Mott Street exists in New York, but not Knightsbridge, London. Knightsbridge in London borders the vast Hyde Park. It is is an upscale area with grand Victorian homes and leafy garden squares. Various embassies can be found here as well as the Victoria & Albert Museum. Pg. 54
Sir Herbert uttered a groan. ‘It’s simple enough, curse it. The Droitwich baby was sent back from India and placed with a wet-nurse. Naturally the woman had to have a child of practically the same age as the other infant.’
A wet-nurse is a woman who breast feeds and cares for another’s child. Pg. 54
Freddie was still wrestling with his private trouble. ‘But he can’t be my brother!’ he moaned. ‘He wears a made-up tie.’
made-up tie: unknown origin, possibly what is now know in current vernacular as a “clip on” tie. Pg. 55
‘Don’t be an ass, old boy,’ said Freddie rebukingly. ‘If ever there was a time for not behaving like a silly juggins, this is it.’
silly juggins: Merriam-Webster will tell you that a “juggins” is a simpleton, one who is easily victimized. Which the Droitwich syndicate believed Tony would be if he let on that he knew about the child switching. Pg. 58
Ma Price wriggled coyly into the room. There was a half-emptied glass of port in her hand …
Port wine is a Portuguese fortified wine produced with distilled grape spirits exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. Pg. 49
Tony looked about him, bewildered. ‘Are we playing hide-and-’ he demanded.
Hide-and-seek: a popular children’s game in which any number of players (ideally at least three)[conceal themselves in a set environment, to be found by one or more seekers. Pg. 50
Once again geniality forsook Mrs Price. There was a return of the lachrymose mood of what might be described as the First Phase.
Could someone perhaps define lachrymose and maybe a contemporary listing of the phases of inebriation? I also don’t have the Overlook edition so if someone could find the above page reference?
On this Parthian shot she vanished, brushing past Freddie in the doorway.
The Parthian shot is a light horse military tactic made famous in the Classical world by the Parthians, an ancient Iranian people. While in real or feigned retreat these horse archers would turn their bodies in full gallop to shoot at the pursuing enemy. The maneuver required superb equestrian skills, because the rider’s hands were occupied by his composite bow. The stirrup had not been invented at the time of the Parthians and with his hands otherwise occupied, the rider relied solely on pressure from his legs to maintain his position and guide his horse. Pg. 51
‘Yes, let’s have a few explanatory footnotes,’ said Freddie. ‘I’m beginning to feel like the hero of an Edgar Wallace novel—wondering which of you is the Strangling Terror and which the Green-Eyed What-Not.’
Edgar Wallace: Prolific English writer in the early part of the 20th century. With almost 20 plays, 200 novels and 1,000 short stories to his credit, his most enduring contribution to popular culture is the character of King Kong. His 110-page treatment was the basis for the 1933 movie. Unfortunately Wallace died unexpectedly, in 1932 prior to the movie’s filming, and he never lived to see the finished product. He is largely forgotten and his novels remain unpublished today. Pg. 52