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Blandings: The Wonderful World of Wodehouse
January 21, 2009 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Blandings is "a guide and companion to the books, stories, plays and musicals of P. G. Wodehouse, probably the finest craftsman of the English language in the 20th Century." It has lists of his works (and advice on collecting them), a miscellany (old English counties, money and words, JPs, younger sons, sport, public schools and much more), a gazetteer (with notes on real places and maps), and other amenities, but what really put a jaunty spring in my step was the detailed notes for the works. If you go, say, to the Something Fresh page and click on the Notes & Quotes tab, you will find, well, Notes and Quotes. The first thing your bright, expectant orb will encounter: "Arundell Street - no longer exists but it was close to Leicester Square and held both the Hotels Mathis and Previtali (also gone). See West End for a sketch map showing its location." It's a blooming marvel! (Via Wordorigins.org; Wodehouse previously on MetaFilter.)
posted by languagehat (32 comments total) 80 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh my god, this is fantastic. And that Psmith is based on a real person is maybe the best thing I've learned all week.

It is often said that, according to Wodehouse, Psmith has the unique honour of being the only one of his characters to be based on a real person, Rupert D'Oyly Carte - the son of the Savoy Theatre D'Oyly Carte - who went to school with one of P.G.'s cousins.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:17 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wonderful. I'm reading through the bit about Old Money and it's fantastic. Makes me remember why I was probably so crap at math - sorry, maths - when I was briefly in school in Oxford.
posted by rtha at 2:23 PM on January 21, 2009


This is going to take a good amount of time to explore, and I look forward to it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:23 PM on January 21, 2009


Great find, languagehat. I've read most of the Jeeves books, but not the rest.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:30 PM on January 21, 2009


Great post languagehat!

I frequently poke around Blandings. I can only imagine the pleasures it must bring to someone who is not familiar with ol' Plum.

Wodehouse is absolute brilliance. He has so many, many great lines that often creep into my head. It is a recurrent frustration in my life that I will think of the perfect quotation to use in a context... about an hour after it would have been appropriate. It will just pop in my head, and I'll chuckle to myself. (Ex. internal dialogue: "'Shakespeare's stuff is different than mine, which isn't to say its inferior.' Heh. Doh! I could have used that line right there! Still, heh.").

And for those who like Wodehouse, I highly recommend In His Own Words. It's an incredible book for his fans and for those who are just being introduced to him.
posted by dios at 2:36 PM on January 21, 2009


Oh, this is going to be fun to play with! And it's an excellent excuse to re-read some Wodehouse as well.

Thanks for this, languagehat!
posted by mogget at 2:43 PM on January 21, 2009


probably the finest craftsman of the English language in the 20th Century
Whoa there. I love me some Jeeves as much as the next guy, but...whoa there.
posted by jckll at 2:52 PM on January 21, 2009


Rem acu tetigisti, I daresay.
posted by everichon at 2:53 PM on January 21, 2009


i quite look forward to a bit of the old g and t with this newfound pile of the old ref i, old chap, eh what?
posted by mwhybark at 2:54 PM on January 21, 2009


I've read most of the Jeeves books, but not the rest.

I offer caution when approaching Psmith, or at least suggest you learn a little about cricket. But all Wodehouse is wonderful.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:02 PM on January 21, 2009


'Have you ever seen Spode eat asparagus?'

'No.'

'Revolting. It alters one's whole conception of Man as Nature's last word.'

(The Code of Woosters)

I cannot tell you how many times that quotation runs through my head on any given day.
posted by dios at 3:08 PM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Tony Lane had a wonderful piece about Wodehouse in The New Yorker last year, but I can't seem to find it online. Anyway, this looks super neat.
posted by Rangeboy at 3:08 PM on January 21, 2009


This is great! Love Wodehouse! - librivox has a bunch of his stuff as audiobooks - I particularly like the ones read by Mark Nelson.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:20 PM on January 21, 2009


Oh yes! Even without a lot of knowledge of the times and locations of his books' settings, Wodehouse was the funniest writer in English. I can't tell you how many times I've read one of his books in public and have started laughing so loudly that I had to walk away just to compose myself. I have a habit of turning over the corner of a page of a book if there's something on that page that I'd like to remember. Some of my Jeeves books have two-thirds of their pages turned over.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:26 PM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


...probably the finest craftsman of the English language in the 20th Century

I used to think that the ideal novelist would be a combination of P.G. Wodehouse and Vladimir Nabokov. Then I realized that the author of King, Queen, Knave, Laughter in the Dark, and Pnin already was that novelist.
posted by Faze at 3:30 PM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Marvelous! When I asked this question about what to read next, one of the suggestions was Wodehouse, but I wasn't sure where to begin, even though I have read some of the Jeeves stories before. This post makes my day. Thank you, thank you.
posted by selfmedicating at 4:02 PM on January 21, 2009


Yes, this is fun! It lists musicals, too. Remember: Wodehouse was instrumental in the development of the American musical. And it was wonderful, as a longtime Wodehouse fan, to discover "Damsel in Distress" (1937), starring Fred Astaire, George Burns, and Gracie Allen. It's not a great movie, but you can detect the Wodehouse touch.

I love Psmith and Jeeves, but my father favors Uncle Fred. I'll send him this link. Thanks.
posted by acrasis at 4:06 PM on January 21, 2009


I'd rather run a mile in tight shoes than not comment that this is bally fine.
posted by Gratishades at 4:13 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have read a ton of Woodhouse, and I would really like to see some sort of ranking of all his novels. I know which ones I like (I think) but it's really hard to keep them all straight.
posted by cell divide at 4:39 PM on January 21, 2009


"Upset is right. He says that Civilisation is in the melting-pot and that
all thinking men can read the writing on the wall."

"What wall?"

"Old Testament, ass. Belshazzar's feast."

"Oh, that, yes. I've often wondered how that gag was worked. With
mirrors, I expect."
posted by everichon at 4:46 PM on January 21, 2009


Oh, and:

"Must you drivel, Bertie? Won't you stop it just this once? Just for
tonight, to please Aunt Dahlia?"

I mean to say, lol, what?
posted by everichon at 4:48 PM on January 21, 2009


What ho, yes!

Grateful thanks for this, languagehat!
posted by orrnyereg at 5:01 PM on January 21, 2009


that Psmith is based on a real person is maybe the best thing I've learned all week.

They say too little. If I recall correctly, Wodehouse said that he was a classmate of his elder brother. He, Plum, heard only one sentence out of him. WHen asked by a teacher how he was, the fellow replied, "Sir, I grow thinnah and thinnah."
posted by IndigoJones at 5:19 PM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thanks much for this, languagehat. This year I believe marks my 45th as a huge fan of "literature's great performing flea," as Sean O’Casey called him.

...probably the finest craftsman of the English language in the 20th Century

This site not only votes for that as well ("the greatest writer in English of this century...as a wordsmith he has no equal," it also says, "As a lyricist, Wodehouse was the father of the modern musical."

I've read basically everything he wrote after 1905 (about 90 books), and last month was delighted when I realized that the very early (and lesser, it must be admitted) works, although never published in America, might be available for free download somewhere online. Here's the best organized selection I found, and Project Gutenberg has a similar list.
posted by LeLiLo at 8:31 PM on January 21, 2009


Huzzah!
posted by droplet at 10:10 PM on January 21, 2009


INTERVIEWER
Do you think there are more humorous writers in England than America?

WODEHOUSE
They haven’t got any in England either.
I've searched high and low for writers comparable to Wodehouse and they always seem to fall short. The man seems to have some special trinket that protects him from cynicism.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 11:14 PM on January 21, 2009


Thanks for that interview link, theiconoclast31; it certainly captures Wodehouse's sunny spirit. I love where the interviewer asks how he felt about someone "like Jack Kerouac, for instance, who died a few years ago," and PGW says, "Jack Kerouac died! Did he?... Gosh, they do die off, don't they?"

Wodehouse was blessed with a non-cynical, contented life, happily for us, even to the point of joking in radio broadcasts from Berlin about his time as a prisoner of war in a German internment camp during WW II. Which led to the one real tragedy of his life, when the British, not in a humorous mood about the Nazis in 1941, accused him of being a collaborator and war criminal. Finally none other than George Orwell rose to his defense.
posted by LeLiLo at 12:47 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


YAY!

Huge Wodehouse fan here and I've been trying to get my hands on his complete works for a long time; a lot of the lesser-known stuff is very hard to find (and find out about, even).

Huzzah!
posted by Billegible at 4:22 AM on January 22, 2009


On the "Complete Works", you don't want to go too far back. The school stories and very early novels lack that Wodehouse snap. Wodehouse as we know him begins with Psmith.
posted by Faze at 5:06 AM on January 22, 2009


I offer caution when approaching Psmith, or at least suggest you learn a little about cricket. But all Wodehouse is wonderful.

Like most people I started with Jeeves. Then I discovered Blandings and I was over the moon. If there is one place in literature that I would most love to visit it would be Blandings. Not just the buildings, mind, but the inhabited Blandings, filled with Aunts and young things crossed in love, and and Lord Emsworth visiting the pigs, and young Freddy eating dog biscuits, and Rupert Baxter looking spotty, and the Hon. Galahad tossing a few back, and a scowling Scotch Head Gardner. It is always summer in Blandings and always as pleasant as a nap in a hammock.

However, if I had to name a favorite series, even knowing nothing about cricket, it would be Psmith. Psmith (the P is silent) is so droll, so courteous, so completely in control of himself and the circumstances that he never fails to impress and amuse.

This is from the preface of The World of Psmith:
A cousin of mine who had been at Winchester, happened to tell me one night of Rupert D'Oyly Carte, the son of the Savoy opera's D'Oyly Carte, a schoolmate of his.
Rupert D'Oyly Carte was long, slender, always beautifully dressed and very dignified. His speech was what is known as orotund, and he wore a monocle. He habitually addressed his fellow Wykehamists as "Comrade", and if one of the masters chanced to inquire as to his health, would reply, "Sir, I grow thinnah and thinnah."
This was in 1908, when I was not the man of lightning intelligence I have since become, but even in 1908 I was able to realize that I had been put on to a good thing.
Mike and Psmith is the school book. Psmith in the city is based on Plum's recollection of the two years he was a bank clerk. Psmith, Journalist written in 1912, follows Psmith to New York City were he is, just like Plum was at the time, a newspaper hack. Finally, in the perfect collision, Leave it to Psmith has Psmith at Blandings working as Lord Emsworth's secretary, and falling in love. Sadly, Plum felt he couldn't think of a plot around a married Psmith. However he sums up Psmith's future as:
But obviously a man of his calibre, is not going to be content to spend his life as Lord Emsworth's secretary. In what direction he branched out I cannot say. My guess is that he studied law, became a barrister, was a great success, and wound up by taking the silk. He may even have become a judge.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:04 AM on January 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the Psmith books are extraordinary, for anyone who's mainly familiar with Jeeves and Wooster. The character has the brazen almost-arrogant charm of Wooster with the total mastery over every situation that Jeeves has. He is to the twentieth century what Achilles is to the Iliad -- a man perfectly formed for his time, an unstoppable success, based not on the little pleasures of realist characterizations, but rather, the balletic virtuousity of self-assurance.

You know how when you watch a really good Shaolin or Wu-Tang movie, it's obvious that the fights are tightly choreographed spectacles? That it's not how people actually fight, but more a sort of Platonic ideal of how a fight scene should look? But that lack of realism doesn't matter, because it's just so quick and flawless and beautifully arranged that you immediately stop finding fault and end up watching silently with your jaw slightly agape? Psmith is like that, but for Society.

Psmith (the P is silent)

As Psmith himself explains it, "The p is silent, as in pshrimp."
posted by Greg Nog at 7:38 AM on January 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


One reason why he was so good, as observed by Evelyn Waugh, was that he could produce three utterly original similes per page.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:05 PM on January 22, 2009


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