Mike and Psmith, Wodehouse’s conglomeration of two previous novels, or at least I think it is. Member Janette will explain below in her discussion notes for the next meeting, which will be at 12:30 pm Sunday, July 8th, at Pints Pub in Denver. (Note: Despite Member Janette’s kind words, I know almost nothing about cricket.)
Hello, Den! I hope everyone’s lives are chugging along with something approaching normality, perhaps to counter the abnormality happening on the national and world stages.
I also hope you are enjoying Mike and Psmith. As I should have pointed out, there is a preponderance of cricket terminology and play-by-play description. Unless you are Michael Newman, you may be muddling through a tad bewildered. I am trusting Michael (and Jennifer, who has been studying cricket with persistence) to help us with this at the meeting. So far, I’ve gathered that “175 and not out” is a good thing…
Here are a few facts about this book and tidbits of how it blends into Plum’s personal history.
* From Inside His Own Words by Barry Day and Tony Ring, regarding Wodehouse and his school days:
“For the first few years he applied himself to his books and there is no doubt that his grasp of languages acquired in these years taught him a great deal about the origins and construction of the English language. In his fiction, he prefers to play with his erudition but before you can play, you have to know what you are playing with. The classical education is there for all to see but made palatable by the hoops Wodehouse sends it jumping through.”
“The legacy of Dulwich (Wodehouse’s public school, portrayed in the books mostly as Wrykyn, although there are also similarities to Sedleigh, the school in our current book) is impossible to pin down in concrete terms but it would be fair to see the basic public-school values of fair play, loyalty and honesty reflected in the writings of the next seventy years — the Code of the Wodehouses. That and the conviction that, as long as one abided by the rules of the game, a chap should be left to do whatever he wanted to do — in his case, write.”
Here are a couple of quotes that show the deeply religious importance of cricket in Wodehouse’s life:
“There would have been serious trouble between David and Jonathan if either had persisted in dropping catches off the other’s bowling.” (Mike at Wrykyn)
“There was the umpire with his hands raised, as if he were the Pope bestowing a blessing.” (Tom, Dick and Harry in Empire Magazine)
and, addressing some of our tendencies:
“To American readers cricket is, of course, a sealed book. What puzzles them is how a game can go on for five days… Would not the two teams, they ask, have been better occupied staying at home with a good book? Why, in the time it takes to get through the normal England v. Australia game you could read the whole of Shakespeare’s output and quite a good deal of Erle Stanley Gardner’s.” (from the introduction of Mike at Wrykyn)
[It should be noted that when Wodehouse was told to pack by the Germans to be shipped off to internment camp, his suitcase was mostly filled up with a complete works of Shakespeare in lieu of what would probably have been more helpful items, such as food and socks. However, he noted that this might be his first opportunity to get an uninterrupted chance to read the Bard all the way through.]
So, the reason that this whole “which book are we supposed to be reading here” event is happening, here is the story.
Most of this was all serialized in magazines, and then gathered chockablock into book form. Wikipedia:
Mike is a novel by P. G. Wodehouse, first published on 15 September 1909 by Adam & Charles Black, London. The story first appeared in the magazine The Captain, in two separate parts, collected together in the original version of the book; the first part, originally called Jackson Junior, was republished in 1953 under the title Mike at Wrykyn, while the second half, called The Lost Lambs in its serialised version, was released as Enter Psmith in 1935 and then as Mike and Psmith in 1953 – this marks the first appearance of the popular character of Psmith.
Madameeulalie.org notes it thus:
The original edition of Mike brought together in book form two serials, Jackson Junior and The Lost Lambs, which had previously appeared in The Captain magazine from April to September 1907 and from April to September 1908 respectively.
In 1935, chapters 30–59 of the book were republished with minor changes under the title Enter Psmith in both the UK [A12c] and, offset from the UK edition, in the US [A12d].
In 1953, Enter Psmith was reissued in the UK under yet another new title, Mike and Psmith, while chapters 1–29 of the original book were published simultaneously with minor changes under the title Mike at Wrykyn [A12e]. The 1968 US edition of Mike at Wrykyn includes an Introduction by Wodehouse.
So much for that. Now, some smatterings from other sources:
“Wodehouse has told us that his character Psmith was based on what a Wykehamist cousin of his had told him about a fellow Wykehamist, Rupert D’Oyly Carte, son of the Gilbert and Sullivan impresario. He was long, slender, always beautifully dressed and very dignified. He wore a monocle, was orotund, and addressed his schoolfellows as “comrade”. [Note: a “Wykehamist” is a man who attended Winchester Public School, so named to honor Lord Wykeham. Also, biographers would later note that the stories of Rupert D’Oyly Carte, told to Wodehouse by his friend Jim Deane, may have actually referred to Rupert’s brother instead. It doesn’t matter that much, though, except to make a note to deplore the fact that writers about Wodehouse never seem to get around to creating an index for their books. All of our lives would have been easier had they done so.]
[oh yes, also “orotund” is a complicated word, and either means that a person’s voice is “resonant and imposing” or that his expression is “pompous and pretentious” (OED). I prefer the former in describing Psmith, though, as I find him so enjoyable.]
A tad more on Psmith, just because I adore him so. From The World of P.G. Wodehouse by Herbert Warren Wind:
…’Psmith emerged as the first in a long line of extraordinary talkers one encounters in Wodehouse. Straight talk bores Psmith. He rarely refers to tea as tea; it is “a cup of the steaming.” For Psmith, people never end up in the soup; no, they land “with a splash at the very center of the Oxo.”‘
Wind goes on to introduce the “Knut”, a prototype of many of Wodehouse’s characters, whom we have encountered before. The Knut is the nonsense-talking Englishman, who renders the English language into a nearly incomprehensible set of jargon, abbreviations and word substitutions.
BTW, to save you from having to look it up: Oxo is a beef bouillon sold in cubes.
In 1989, an intrepid and dedicated group of Wodehouse fans descended upon Dulwich, Wodehouse’s alma mater, to celebrate all things Plum. They produced a little book called A True and Faithful Account of the Amazing Adventures of the Wodehouse Society on their Pilgrimage July 1989. Here is a bit about the book we are reading:
“When Wodehouse wrote Mike in 1909, he based Mike Jackson and his cricketplaying brothers on the seven Foster brothers who dominated Worcestershire county cricket for so long that the county became known as ‘Fostershire’. In later novels, Mike Jackson slipped into the background as Wodehouse realised the potential of Mike’s schoolfellow Rupert Psmith. When the play (Leave It to Psmith) opened at the Shaftesbury in 1930, the part of Psmith was played by Basil Foster, one of the brothers who had given Wodehouse the idea of Mike Jackson twenty years before!”
Another Psmith note: While he is “Rupert” in this book, he gets his name changed in later books (Psmith in the City, Psmith Journalist, Leave It to Psmith) to Ronald, so as not to get him confused with Rupert Baxter.
I think the thing I find most interesting in this book, besides the flamboyance and fun of Psmith, is the portrayal of Mike in relation to the young Wodehouse himself. Mike is described as quiet, “stolid”, not terribly good at his studies and not a terribly outstanding man in looks or brains, but a natural cricketer. Cricket is his passion and his talent. Mike will grow up to be a land manager as an adult. Athleticism, the outdoors, physicality are Mike’s strong points.
Wodehouse as a young man was built rather like Mike. However, he had a natural facility for his studies as well as sports, and would edit the school newspaper “The Alleynian” for several years (The school newspaper was called that, even though the school was Dulwich. The newspaper was named in honor of the founder of the school). I think Mike, in a way, is Wodehouse’s self-deprecating self-portrait, leaving out the intellectual side of his life and focusing on the physical. It also gave him a chance to honor a type of man he truly admired: the born cricketer.