Wodehouse, P.G. Wodehouse on Crime: A Dozen Tales of Fiendish Cunning. D.R. Benson. New York: International Polygonics, LTD, 1981. With a foreword by Isaac Asimov.
Sunday, would have been Wodehouse’s birthday! Happy Birthday, good sir! Happy, belated birthday for one of my favorite authors.
Isn’t it interesting how blog ideas get going, what ho? I was wandering through my kitchen and noticed my adorable, little cow creamer. It was a gift one Christmas from my daughter, who had just completed a read of a couple of Wodehouse books. The method by she acquired this piece of frippery for me was much less fraught with complications than the methods Bertie Wooster tried in retrieving a cow creamer for his Aunt Dahlia. These thoughts plus a wander through my calendar, brought me to this author. This was not the book I was seeking as I was shuffling through my shelves, but then I was arrested to find it had a foreword by Isaac Asimov. Two of my favorite authors, how could I resist?
I picked up the book and began reading Asimov’s forward. Here’s one bit that brought me to attention.
P.G. Wodehouse, as we all know, created a world of his own; or rather, forced one to live past its time. He took Edwardian England, purified it of its grosser elements, and kept it alive by some alchemy, of which only he knew the secret, right into the Vietnam era.
And in doing so, he imbued every aspect with lovability.
Do some of his characters seem like wastrels? Semi-idiots? Excrescences on the face of society?
Undoubtedly, but one and all, each worthless idler would rather die by torture than sully a woman’s name, however indirectly and involuntarily. All would engage, at a moment’s notice, in any act of chivalry and kindness, though it meant the loss of all their worldly good (all five pound of it) or, worse yet, though it meant a rip in their perfectly-creased trousers¹.
How could I resist! I picked up this volume and proceeded to re-read it and report on it for you. Note, before you begin a Wodehouse book, you may need to find a safe place to read. In bed, with you partner at the end of the day, might not be a good place. Are they sensitive to the polite chuckle, a brisk tsk-tsk, or a loud bark of laughter after lights out? How about the cafeteria at lunch time, will your neighbors look askance at these mild outbursts? My advice, find a cozy spot to giggle, snicker, tsk, and guffaw and enjoy his books in a carefree manner.
Here we have a book that reports to be a dozen tales of fiendish cunning. It is Wodehouse, who is fiendish and cunning, writing these stories about men and women. The crimes don’t seem so dastardly and mysterious. Many of the characters seem like they don’t have two brain cells to rub together to make a spark, but they are loveable. One of my favorite stories in this little gem is titled, “The Crime Wave at Blandings.” Were jewels stolen, was someone murdered? No, in a day of gentle, general lawlessness at the idyllic Blandings Castle, an air gun confiscated from the grandson of Clarence, ninth Earl of Emsworth. It is amazing the trouble one little air gun can cause. The situation gets so out of hand that the very proper butler, Beach hands in his resignation! You will have to read this story to find out how the easy-going Lord Emsworth, his sister the rather stern, no-nonsense Constance, the very proper butler, Beach, and the odious, bossy, ex-secretary Rupert Baxter all are affected by this small element of criminality.
A collection of Wodehouse short stories would never be complete without a story about that dynamic duo Wooster and Jeeves! This book includes three: “The Purity of the Turf,” “Without the Option,” and “Aunt Agatha Takes Count.” Each story is a jewel of convolution and silliness. In any Wooster and Jeeves story, Bertie is in a jam and Jeeves comes to the rescue. In the story “Without the Option,”
Bertie encourages his friend, Sippy (Oliver Randolph Sipperly) to pinch a policeman’s helmet on the night of the Oxford/Cambridge Boat-Race. Bertie escapes the chokey, but his friend, Sippy is sentenced to 30 days. Chaos ensues, of course! Sippy is to go down to Cambridge to please his Aunt Vera. Bertie feels great remorse for landing Sippy in the soup! Jeeves is consulted and suggests that Bertie go in Sippy place. Again, you will have to read the story to learn how Bertie shoulders on and Jeeves wins the day. Here’s a bit of conversation to whet your appetite for this story.
Bertie: “You think, I haven’t the machinery.”
Jeeves: “I will most certainly devote my very best attention to the matter, sir, and will endeavor to give satisfaction.”
In conclusion, I agree with Isaac Asimov. I, too, would have liked to dine at the Drones Club and observe all the exuberance of those young men. I have two strikes against me, one I am a woman and individuals of the opposite sex were barred from this establishment. The second is that the Drones Club is a fictional establishment, alas no one can go there. Pick up a volume and read a cunning, convoluted, silly story to brighten your day.