Quick Service discussion notes

We’ll be meeting at 12:30 pm Sunday, Nov. 10, to discuss P.G. Wodehouse’s Quick Service at Pints Pub in downtown Denver. To facilitate our discussion, member Ed has submitted these notes:

Notes on “Quick Service”

“Quick Service” is one of the first Wodehouse books I ever read. I was in junior high school, and came across an odd edition:  held one way, right side up, there was the complete novel “Quick Service;” flipped over, there was the complete novel “The Code of the Woosters.”

Joss Weatherby is a first-rate Wodehouse “buzzer.”  I can’t do any better than this reviewer:

“Quick Service” is arguably the best of Wodehouse’s stand-alone novels

The hero, Joss Weatherby, may be one of Wodehouse’s finest creations, but alas, I do not believe that he appears in any other story or novel. Indeed, none of the characters in this book appear in any other Wodehouse book, although they are all 100% in the style and manner of your Wodehouse favorites.  The funny thing is that each character is a particularly fine example of the Wodehouse style.  Weatherby is particularly bright, clever and charming.  Love interest Sally is perfectly Sally-ish.  Imperious Mrs.  Cavendish is terrifying; J.B.  Duff is every inch the “ham king” businessman.  If you could hand an unbeliever or a newbie one Wodehouse book to get him hooked, this would be it.

That is especially so because the book, for all of its complexities and sub-plots and twists and turns, screams along without any wasted motion.  While this may be sacrilege, I believe even the most ardent admirers would admit that sometimes a Wodehouse novel, as opposed to short story, can bog down a bit here and there.  Sometimes a scene or a bit of business seems like it’s been done before.  But not in this book.  There is no waste and no filler, and every line is precise and necessary.  This gives the whole enterprise a light and zippy feel as we scream toward multiple deserved happy endings for all.

  • Reviewer “Ancient Mariner,” on Amazon.co.uk. This reviewer lives in Colorado.

“Buzzer” – a brash but decent young man on the make in the world, with a distinctive, flippant way of talking, and without the private income or subsidies from aunt or guardian which provide so much of the fun in alpha Wodehouse.

  • “Enthusiasms,” by Mark Girouard, Frances Lincoln Ltd., London, 2011

“Buzzers,” the conscious maestros of racy conversation, invective and persiflage: Galahad and Uncle Fred, and all those chirpy young heroes of whom testy tycoons say in opening chapters that they are ‘a darn sight too fresh’.  These are clever men who talk that way because it amuses them….  This is the essence of the ‘buzzer’ in Wodehouse.  He buzzes in the hope that his talk will ‘start something’.  Buzzing cheers him up and makes him feel better himself.  But there is always the possibility that it may also cause someone else to do something exciting that will relieve the monotony.

  • From “The Penguin Wodehouse Companion” by Richard Usborne, Penguin, 1988, London

Wodehouse was famous for helping to create the distinctive slang of entre-deux-guerres Britain. He had used popular expressions in his early period, like “C-3” and “oojah-cum-spiff,” but in 1923 he begins something new, as when Psmith says to Mike Jackson, “let us trickle into yonder tea-shop and drink success to a cup of the steaming.” According to Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang, this is the first use of the world trickle meaning “to go,” and steaming, initially a military term for pudding, here means “tea.” Other slang words that made their way into the English language through Wodehouse were turpy, teuf-teuf, snappers, and buzzer. Terms that were already there, like “steaming,” had their meaning changed, such as “zippy” and “pip-pip.” But the last of these slang inventions was “oompus-boompus” in Money in the Bank. I have found no case of an invented slang word anywhere in the Late Period.

  • “St. Mike’s, Wodehouse and Me: The Great Thesis Handicap,” by Elliott Milstein, in the quarterly journal of The Wodehouse Society,  Volume 25 Number 3 Autumn 2004

Quick Service for Nov. 10th

A small but select group of The Den(ver) of the Secret Nine—just five of us—met at Pints Pub on Sunday, Sept. 8, to discuss P.G. Wodehouse’s last and unfinished novel, Sunset at Blandings. Although we were a small crowd and discussing a potentially melancholy subject, we agreed Sunset was an entertaining and enjoyable read and if we hadn’t known the circumstances we wouldn’t have found it a lesser work, apart from being unfinished.

We also agreed to read Quick Service for our next meeting, Nov 10th. I believe this is a Wodehouse “one-off” with no connections to the larger Wodehouse universe. It involves a painting, art theft, blackmail and a disagreeable ham and sounds like a good choice by member Ed, who now gets to write the discussion notes.

Also remember that we’ve agreed to read Robert McCrum’s Wodehouse: A Life biography for a future discussion or meeting. It’s a big work so it may take us some time to read, so start now.

Oh, and of course Wodehouse’s birthday is Oct. 15th, so if anyone is interested in getting together for a celebration …

Sunset at Blandings discussion notes

The Den(ver) of the Secret Nine will meet at 12:30 pm Sunday, Sept. 8, at Pints Pub to discuss P.G. Wodehouse’s Sunset at Blandings. Below are discussion notes for the meeting.

By Member Jennifer

What an absolute joy it has been to read Sunset at Blandings, because I must confess I had a lot of trepidations before reading it. I’m not very fond of reading the last chapters of biographies and I’ve never read Agatha Christie’s Curtains and I hate the last episode of Blake’s 7. I just don’t like the idea of saying goodbye to beloved characters or authors and the fact that Sunset at Blandings is unfinished made me even more wary of reading it.

But P.G. Wodehouse’s last, unfinished novel, especially as presented in my copy, was a pleasant, if bitter sweet experience. Reaching the end of chapter sixteen makes me hope that Plum simply closed his eyes to rest them after writing his last, the way I do when reading late a night, the book having lowered gently to my breast. And please, no one tell me differently. I want to think of the author of Blandings and Jeeves and Wooster to have simply put his pen down with the expectation that it will be taken up again anon.

Now I don’t know that my Everyman* edition differs markedly from other copies of SaB. It includes footnotes by editors Tony Ring and N.T.P. Murphy that are quite informative, along with an introduction by Ring that lists Wodehouse’s working titles for the book, although through no fault of the author they cannot match the poignancy of the title selected by his publishers after his death. The book also has Wodehouse’s original typewritten and handwritten notes, also typeset for legibility, and reprints of Murphy’s In Search of Blandings and Empress of Blandings musings. (Murphy, who has since joined Wodehouse in the hereafter, was the founder of the international P.G. Wodehouse society.)

And as a way to provide some conclusion to the story, Richard Usborne’s speculation of how the story would have ended are also included. (Usborne is another inhabitant of what I hope is the green and pleasant land of some heavenly Blandings.) So if anyone dreads the idea of reading an unfinished novel, know that the various speculations of how it could have ended are sufficiently entertaining.

But that’s not why I love this edition. I love this so much because I got a little glimpse into Wodehouse’s writing process and I’m pleased to see it’s not that different from mine. In my treasured paperback copy of The Code of the Woosters—my introduction to Wodehouse—the foreword describes Plum’s writing process of hanging his typewritten pages on the wall and those that needed work were hanged crooked and that by the end of the creative process there would be a level row of pages.

I always marveled at that sort of craftsmanship but I also found it a little suspicious. So when I read in this Everyman edition of SaB that 90 pages of the typewritten story were found in Wodehouse’s hospital room after his death, along with 33 pages of written notes, and a further 150 pages of notes later found at his home, I realized that Wodehouse did not depend on such regimentation to write. He could write anywhere, with pages no doubt scattered on his hospital bed or even fallen to the floor.

I also learned that his notes were not so different from my own. I discovered that when run aground while plotting a book it helped to actually write down, in some detail, the problem I had encountered, and then to write questions of how exactly to overcome this problem. I always thought it a silly process although it often paid results and I’m glad to see that Wodehouse did much the same thing.

So it really gives me some encouragement to know that prose was not magically produced on Plum’s typewriter, that he sometimes forgot (or had yet to get around to) a character, that he sometimes forgot the details of his rich stable of characters, that he occasionally forgot the finer details of life in England.

And yet I am gobsmacked at how easy and enjoyable to read is this unfinished work. The editors of the Everyman edition make it clear where Wodehouse has gotten a detail wrong or has failed to milk a scene, but still … without those footnotes I would have just plowed merrily through the tale oblivious to those shortcomings or just believing those would be addressed later.

So thanks, Member Janette, for recommending we read this book. I don’t know that I would have ever read it without this group.

*I thought I’d mention that the Everyman edition is identical to an Overlook Press edition of Wodehouse. I ended up with a used copy of the UK edition in almost pristine condition.

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.