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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?’”


Mike and Psmith for July 8th

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[1] 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. 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.”‘

D'Oyly Carte

D’Oyly Carte

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.

Young Wodehouse

Young Wodehouse

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.


Mike and Psmith in July

mike and psmithSeven of the Nine convened at Pints Pub to discuss Jeeves in the Offing (aka How Right You Are, Jeeves in the US) at our May meeting. When we next meet, at 12:30 pm Sunday, July 8th, at Pints Pub, we’ll discuss Mike and Psmith, which was vigorously championed by Member Janette. She warns that the book was written in two parts, the first called simply Mike or Mike at Wrykyn and the second called either Mike and Psmith, Enter Psmith or The Lost Lambs. Although there is an Overlook Press edition, it might require some searching to find it at a reasonable price.

Thankfully it is available from Project Gutenberg and can be downloaded as a Kindle version, but it is split into two titles. The first Mike can be found here, and the second Mike and Psmith found here. Of course it can also be obtained from other publishers, including Penguin paperback, although probably used.

Jeeves in the Offing notes

JeevesInTheOffingWe’ll be meeting at 12:30 pm Sunday, May 13, at Pints Pub to discuss Jeeves in the Offing (released in the U.S. as How Right You Are, Jeeves). As the proponent of this late offering (published in 1960) by P.G. Wodehouse, member Larry has contributed the discussion notes:

Twelve Woosterisms in Seventeen Lines

The following observations freely mixes my own with those equally freely stolen from the book Plum Sauce: A Wodehouse Companion by Richard Usborne.

For our discussion of “Jeeves in the Offing” I thought we might focus on what Mr. Usborne calls “Woosterisms”. Note Bertie as a narrator. Is he “literary”? From Bertie’s point of view, he has only written a single item for publication; “What the Well-dressed Man is Wearing” published in his Aunt Dahlia’s magazine Milady’s Boudoir. And yet, from our view, he has written some ten novels and fifty odd short stories under Wodehouse’s name that we all love and admire. This is the Wooster dichotomy.

“As a storyteller Bertie is his own central character, and he has to narrate strictly from the first-person point of view, often writing scenes in such a way that Bertie-the-character must not realize must not realize the purport of what Bertie-the-narrator is narrating, but his readers must.” – Richard Usborne

While he does not identify it as such, I would call the type of narrating in which the reader is somehow ahead of the first person narrator, a “Woosterism”. Can you identify examples and such from our current Wooster and Jeeves novel?

Here is another example of three paragraphs of narration by Bertie. Read through it first just for fun.

It is pretty generally recognized in the circles in which he moves that Bertram Wooster is not a man who lightly throws in the towel and admits defeat. Beneath the thingummies of what-d’ya-call it his head, wind and weather permitting, is as a rule bloody but not bowed, and if the slings and arrows od outrageous fortune want to crush his proud spirit, they have to pull their socks up and make a special effort.

Nevertheless, I must confess that when, already weakened by having to come down to breakfast, I beheld the spectacle which I have described, I definitely quailed. The heart sank, and, as had happened in the case of Spode, everything went black. Through a murky mist I seem to be watching a Negro butler presenting an inky salver to a Ma Trotter who looked like an end man in a minstrel show.

The floor heaved beneath my feet as if an earthquake had set in with unusual severity. My eye, in fine frenzy rolling, met Aunt Dahlia’s, and I saw hers was rolling, too.

Now here are the “Woosterisms” that Usborne identifies in the above three paragraphs. See if you can locate them and underline them in preparation for our discussion. Try to note some other examples of them in our assigned Wodehouse/Birdie novel for this month.

  • A general clash of jargons and phrases.
  • The Bertie-beside-himself third person singular
  • Botched quotations (Henley and Shakespeare in this case. Counts as two #11.)
  • The interposition of nautical phrases.
  • Extraneous boxing imagery
  • Good Old Wodehouse elaboration of the “all went black”cliché.
  • Good Old Wodehouse elaboration of the “earthquake (more often Judgement Day) had set in with unusual severity.”
  • The medical “The heart sank” rather than “My heart sank”.
  • The medical use of “weakened” just to emphasize his supposed sacrifice of breakfasting downstairs for once.
  • The enforced use of “single eye” which makes some sense in his Shakespeare quote, but which seems ‘foolishly Cyclopean’ when transferred to Aunt Dahlia in the second case (Counts as two #12.)

The Purloined Paperweight/Company for Henry

mar-11The Den(ver) of the Secret Nine next meets at 12:30 pm Sunday, March 11, at Pints Pub in downtown Denver to discuss a Wodehouse novel that had many of us scratching our heads trying to place it. Newest member Jennie offers us discussion notes that will set a new bar for these monographs:

Notes on a late yet delightful entry into the Wodehouse canon.

Company for Henry was first published in the UK on 26 October 1967 by Herbert Jenkins, London, printed by Northumberland Press Ltd., with dustwrapper by illustrator Osbert Lancaster, CBE.

It was retitled The Purloined Paperweight for the U.S. publication on 12 May 1967 by Simon & Schuster, New York. Two later American editions were published by The Paperweight Press of Santa Cruz, CA, in 1986 and 1989.

paperweight01Although judging a book by its cover is generally frowned upon, can the same be said of judging a book by its title? One afternoon at our friendly fine used bookstore, The Hermitage Bookshop, I was looking for books by P. G. Wodehouse that don’t yet occupy my own bookshelves (admittedly, there are many) when I happened upon a 1986 edition of The Purloined Paperweight. I snapped it up. To be honest, I did not find the cover particularly attractive; it was a photographic image of a gloved hand slipping a glass paperweight into a coat pocket, and it had an air of 1986 aesthetic à la the Angela Lansbury television series Murder, She Wrote.

The title, however, did appeal to me. Who could pass up a “purloined” anything in the Wodehouse canon? Surely I was in for a good–if tea-cozy–mystery. I was also in a mood for metatextual books and deemed Wodehouse on paperweights most relevant. Even better, the publisher was clearly interested in some form of self-referential indulgence I found charming. And the fact that the plot had something to do with eighteenth-century French paperweights clinched things; for too long I’d neglected my university degree in eighteenth-century literature and material culture. The Purloined Paperweight was just the ticket.

paperweight02I might have picked up a copy of Company for Henry but not with the same eagerness with which I paid for The Purloined Paperweight. Titles matter. Covers also matter. The degree to which one might supersede the other depends on many factors. Certainly the original Company for Henry cover by Lancaster is much more artful than that of The Purloined Paperweight; however, need I repeat? “Purloined”! An underused word in titles if there ever was one. A quick Google search turns up just two remotely relevant titles: Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Purloined Letter” (1844) and Mark Twain’s unfinished children’s book The Purloining of Prince Oleomargerine (2017, completed from his notes).

How important can titles be? In my case The Purloined Paperweight led me to a reading quite different from what I expect I would have found if I had read Company for Henry. A book called Company for Henry would have inclined me to focus on the acquaintances and travails of Henry Paradene, the unfortunate owner of Ashby Hall. It would have been a tale illuminating the truth of our erstwhile narrator’s declaration, “Some men are born to country houses, some achieve country houses, others have country houses thrust upon them. It was to this last section that Henry belonged” (33).

Instead, I read The Purloined Paperweight for the delights of criminality and the intrigue of an item I had never paid much attention to: the paperweight. The lovely characters move around this object of desire in their prescribed dance of squabbles, amours, and mistaken identity. The purloining of the paperweight preoccupied me throughout. But this is less inappropriate to a Wodehouse tale than one might think. “In fact,” as Isaac Asimov points out in his Foreword to Wodehouse on Crime (1981), “when one stops to think of it, there is rarely a story in the entire Wodehouse opera which doesn’t feature crime” (xiii). The Purloined Paperweight is peppered with mysterious and criminal elements: references to Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie; Jane’s fondness for “novels of suspense” (52), particularly the recently published Deadly Ernest; and Bill’s owning up to being Deadly Ernest‘s author.

Following up on Asimov’s Foreword, in his Preface to Wodehouse on Crime, D. R. Benson addresses “the question of why this amiable and blameless man [Wodehouse] chose to steep his works in crime.” “[The] two main influences were, one directly and one indirectly, literary” and can be traced to Wodehouse’s youth: his devoted reading of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories in The Strand and his attendance at Dulwich College. Benson’s characterization of this “indirect” literary influence is best imbibed in his own words:

“The second–the indirect–influence is that of Dr. Thomas Arnold who was, if not the actual inventor, the chief propagandist, of the English public-school system. . . . [One] of the many offshoots of his ideas was Dulwich College, which Wodehouse attended. These institutions, ostensibly intended to provide military, political academic, commercial and clerical leaders for the late-Victorian Empre, were in fact remarkably similar to well-run minimum-security prisons of the present day and afforded their inmates a sound education in guerrilla warfare on authority and in circumvention of any and all rules.” (xvi)

“No one exposed from his tenderest years to these malign forces could expect to escape them entirely,” Benson observes. “It is to Wodehouse’s credit that, though proceeding directly from Dulwich to employment in a London bank, he did not use his honed criminal skills to become an embezzler or a loan officer, let alone to seek wider employment for them by standing for Parliament or embarking upon a military or mercantile career” (xvii).

We thus have The Purloined Paperweight (or Company for Henry) before us. It is a brief book, but happily at the time he was drafting Company for Henry, biographer Robert McCrum notes, Wodehouse “still had his standards,” writing to a friend that the new book “will definitely be a novelette . . . . I don’t want to spoil it by padding it” (qtd. in McCrum 409). Happily, too, the purloining of the paperweight is a crime orchestrated by well-intentioned and good-hearted characters, and in the end no one is the worse for it. In fact, as Algy contentedly admits at the end, “The world . . . was not such a bad place after all. True, it contained pipsqueaks who treated their brothers with sickening disrespect, but it also contained splendid men, quick on the draw with their checkbooks, like Wendell Stickney. It all sort of evened up . . . “ (188).

Wendell Stickney is Henry Paradene’s distant American cousin. His collector’s enthusiasm for eighteenth-century French paperweights prompts the happy ending, though achieving a successful purloining is more complicated than one might expect. Stickney’s obsession is supported by a healthy bank account, as is his saving of Ashby Hall and Henry’s peace of mind.

Wodehouse has established a singular understanding of collectors and the collecting spirit as we saw during the auction scene in The Indiscretions of Archie (1921). For Stickney,

[It] was the old, old story. A man tells himself that he can take French eighteenth-century paperweights or leave them alone, but comes a moment when he finds that he is hooked. Such a moment had long since come to Wendell. Nowadays he did not even try to resist the craving. French eighteenth-century paperweights were in his blood. He could not see one or even read about one without coveting it. (41)

Stickney regularly peruses auction catalogs. We first meet him engaged with a Sotheby’s pamphlet, lingering over an announcement “offering for sale a French eighteenth-century paperweight”:

  1. clichy double overlay weight, turquoise, enclosing a well-formed mushroom, purple and white striped exterior, three concentric rows of pink, blue and green hollow canes, centered by a pink rose within a ring of white stardust canes, the sides cut with five circular windows and the top flattened by a large window, star-cut base. (40)

Stickney attains this fascinating object prior to leaving New York to visit Henry. Having outlined the esoterica of such objects so carefully, Wodehouse simply says of the one residing at Ashby Hall that Henry’s ancestor, “The Beau,” “brought it back from the grand tour in eighteen hundred and something. . . . It’s up in the picture gallery with the other heirlooms” (53). The lack of a more detailed description might suggest that all eighteenth-century French paperweights are the same. And from a distance one might be forgiven thinking so, but the same might be said of Wodehousian novels. Up close, however, each is exquisite in its own right.

In his Introduction to The Paperweight Press Edition paperweight authority extraordinaire Lawrence H. Selman writes,

Wodehouse mistakenly describes paperweights as eighteenth-century art objects. Actually these glass pieces were first made in the nineteenth century. The highly desirable weights Wodehouse refers to in his book were produced in France during a short twenty-year period from about 1840 to 1860. During this time three glass factories in France–Saint Louis, Baccarat and Clichy–produced most of the paperweights considered collectors’ items today.

paperweight03Selman, according to David McDonough, “seems to be to the paperweight world what Gussie Fink-Nottle is to newts” (qtd. in Ratcliffe 13). Selman certainly knows his subject; L. H. Selman Ltd., Fine Glass Paperweights, Est. 1969, continues today as the purveyor of antique glass paperweights to the world. A recent listing found on Selman’s Pinterest page (a board titled “Antique Millefiori Glass Paperweights”) reads very like that of Stickney’s announcement 109: “Outstanding antique Clichy faceted royal blue double overlay concentric mushroom with central rose paperweight.” The accompanying image offers a good idea of the paperweight Stickney simply had to have.

One-time Oldest Member a.k.a Editor-in-Chief of The Wodehouse Society’s Plum Lines, Ed Ratcliffe in 1998 added to the tale of The Purloined Paperweight “what we ace reporters refer to as a personal angle” (13). After acquiring a copy of the book he sought out Selman’s shop of “trifling wares” in Santa Cruz, California, but the proprietor was not in. “Sometime later, looking for a mailing service for Plum Lines, [Ratcliffe] approached the office of Complete Mailing Service in Santa Cruz.” This he discovered was also owned by Lawrence H. Selman, who, owing to the shipping demands of his business, “had set up a separate mailing operation and later opened it to all comers. Well, dear hearts, we are one (or many) of those comers,” Ratcliffe concluded, addressing the loyal readers of The Wodehouse Society newsletter, “and Lawrence H. Selman, at some remove, has been mailing Plum Lines for four years” (13).

In the end, however, was Wodehouse playing a joke on the reader in his elevation of eighteenth-century French paperweights? I suspect so. Or, at any rate, I think he was aware of the facts. The great frenzy of antique paperweight collection rekindled in the 1950s surely was well underway in the 1960s when L. H. Selman Ltd. was being established and Wodehouse was composing The Purloined Paperweight. To ascribe a classic French paperweight from one of the great manufacturing centers to a century prior almost seems an act of imposing greater antiquity and desirability upon it. An excellent example of, say, a Clichy paperweight presents a simply exquisite and breathtaking moment of beauty and art that defies time. It is anachronistic in a way that the world of The Purloined Paperweight is anachronistic.

Published in 1967, The Purloined Paperweight reflects not the events of its time, the Vietnam War, the space race, and in the U.S. the Supreme Court’s ruling against state bans on interracial marriage. Instead, in his gentle and inimical way, Wodehouse gives us once more a portrait of a world frozen in time, perfect, amusing, even sweet. And we are the better for it.

Jennie MacDonald


Page references to The Purloined Paperweight are to The Paperweight Press edition of 1986.

The Russian Wodehouse Society offers a helpful synopsis and list of characters as well as images of the bookcovers for Company for Henry and The Purloined Paperweight on its website at

You can take a look at L. H. Selman Ltd.’s blog post featuring commentary on The Purloined Paperweight. It includes an image that suggests the paperweight featured on the 1986 bookcover was part of the company collection/inventory. It is very different from the one listed in Stickney’s Sotheby’s pamphlet, but this one represents the paperweight at Ashby Hall, which is never described:

For fascinating information on the history of paperweights and how they are made take a look at this video from the Corning Museum of Glass (about 45 minutes):

Works Cited

Asimov, Isaac. Foreword. Wodehouse on Crime: A Dozen Tales of Fiendish Cunning. New York: Dorset Press, 1992. vix-xiii.

Bensen, D. R., ed. Preface. Wodehouse on Crime: A Dozen Tales of Fiendish Cunning. New York: Dorset Press, 1992. xv-xvii.

McCrum, Robert. Wodehouse: A Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004.

Ratcliffe, Ed. “Paperweights.” Plum Lines. Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring 1998): 13.

Selman, Lawrence H. Introduction to the Paperweight Press Edition. Wodehouse, P. (Pelham) G. (Grenville). The Purloined Paperweight. Santa Cruz: Paperweight Press, 1986.

Wodehouse, P. (Pelham) G. (Grenville). The Purloined Paperweight. Santa Cruz: Paperweight Press, 1986.

The Indiscretions of Archie

indiscretions-of-archieOur next meeting is at 12:30 pm Sunday, Jan. 14 at Pints Pub in Denver and we’ll be discussing Wodehouse’s The Indiscretions of Archie. (It’s practically a one-off with no connection to the rest of Plum’s work, except that the Hotel Cosmopolis is mentioned in at least one of the early New York novels.)

When I first “read” Indiscretions of Archie as an audio book from Librivox, I simply enjoyed it without giving it any greater thought.
At first glance it’s a simple story about Archie Moffam (prounouned “Moom”), a clueless Englishman of no special distinction who, by a turn of events that happened before the start of the story, has married the daughter of a New York hotel magnate.

jan-14Mr. Daniel Brewster, the owner of the Hotel Cosmopolis, can’t stand the sight of Archie, but he does allow Archie to live rent free at the hotel. Because of his wife’s many social demands, he’s often on his own and to propel the plot he tries to impress his father by finding some sort of employment.

Archie is a demobbed (demobilized) soldier, a lieutenant who served during World War I for close to five years, meaning he must have been one of the earliest volunteers. I’m not sure of what actions he was involved, but he does mention St. Mihiel, which was an American offensive in September 1918, and Armentières, and the Battle of Armentières was fought in October 1914. Archie also makes several mentions of “going over the top” and “the recent unpleasantness in France” and fighting in the trenches, so we know he saw action.

Except for survival skills, Archie has no practical skills and his various schemes to find a job, help out a friend, buy his wife a present or do good for his father-in-law either succeed or fail in more or less equal measure (he usually fails at doing his father-in-law some good). Each of these adventures was previously a magazine article and then collected as The Indiscretions of Archie, making this an uneven tale if you view this as a novel.

Like Bertie Wooster, many of Archie’s predicaments are launched by his desire to help out a friend and I think I can see a lot of Bertie’s good nature in Archie. Although like Bertie, Archie is mentally negligible, I’m happy that Archie’s wife Lucille considers him clever, due to the fact that he eats a lot of fish. I was certainly impressed with Archie calling one of his schemes “what Maeterlinck would call a lallapaloosa.” I had to look up look the Belgian playwright.

While re-reading this story for the Den, I was really impressed by what I perceive as Wodehouse’s attempt to show respect for those who served in the Great War. I disagree with one blogger who thought Wodehouse was “heartless” in his portrayal of Archie and especially the “sausage chappie,” an American soldier who suffered from shell-shock amnesia. I think the blogger forgot that Wodehouse and his characters would never get lachrymose about the horrors of war. Everything has to be filtered through an attempt to make light about even the worst of humanity.

In all, I enjoyed re-reading Indiscretions and I am forever enriched for having encountered the name Spectatia Huskisson a second time. It hit me with as much of a wallop as it did the first time. These early New York stories are just so different from the mature Wodehouse and relatively free of the tropes, although I did find Plum’s favorite Browning quote, a Sir Philip Sidney reference, a linnet and a future sort of reference to Milady’s Boudoir.