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‘Is Mr. Little in trouble, sir?’

‘Well, you might call it that. He’s in love. For about the fifty-third time. I ask you, Jeeves, as man to man, did you ever see such a chap?’

‘Mr. Little is certainly warm-hearted, sir.’

‘Warm-hearted! I should think he has to wear asbestos vests.’ 

(The Inimitable Jeeves)

 

If one happens to be an ardent fan of P G Wodehouse pottering about Amsterdam, and gets an opportunity to meet up local members of the P G Wodehouse Society there, one would be wise to wear an asbestos vest before popping up at the gig. One does not necessarily allude to romantic possibilities here, but only to the kind of warmth, sweetness and courtesy which welcomes one at such events.

When yours truly, in the garb of Bingo Little, passed by Amsterdam recently, Psmith, the journalist and cricket historian, lost no time in organizing a small get together. Galahad, the charming President of the Society, took some time off from his linguistic and scholarly pursuits and decided to join in. Pop Glossop, yet another linguist and a communication expert, trooped in, duly braced for the loony festivities.

A lay person could be excused for believing that not much gets discussed at such gigs. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Besides the characters and narratives dished out by Plum, the events which led one to come under the spell of the Wodehouse canon get recounted. Different lenses with which his works can be viewed – social, economic, political, psychological, and the like – get discussed. The relevance of the same in our tension-ridden contemporary times is subjected to a pitiless analysis. The need for new books which try and imitate the Master comes up for a mention. Personal experiences which remind one of some Plummy instances get shared. The work being done by various Wodehouse societies the world over to spread Wodehousitis gets appreciated.

Bingo Little, fresh from his international travels over the past two years, had an intensive discussion with Galahad. Copious notes made by the latter may soon result in an article which could get unleashed on the unsuspecting members of the Society in the June 2019 edition of its journal, Nothing Serious. He also received a treasure trove of books – Dutch translations of some of the Master’s works and a compendium of the wit and wisdom of Wodehouse by Tony Ring – from Galahad and Psmith. Bingo obviously felt honoured and chuffed, especially because after the gig got over, Pop Glossop ensured that Bingo’s return to his temporary abode in the city was comfortable.

Earlier, during a leisurely stroll around the Amstel, Psmith was quick to point out to Bingo Little the various attractions of the city. One of these was a statue of Spinoza, ‘the Prince of Philosophers’, in front of the Amsterdam City Hall by the Zwanenburgwal. As we know, Spinoza is held in high esteem by none other than Jeeves himself.

The duo also passed by the house where Rembrandt had lived for some time. It is common knowledge that there are many reasons for the centuries-old popularity of the renowned artist – the tremendous volume of his output, the range and the quality of his work, and the kind of unique life he lived. But beneath all this is the undercurrent of human psychology that his work represents. Look at any of his subjects, and you can somehow surmise the kind of slings and arrows that Fate might be bestowing upon them at the time of facing the artist’s easel.

Rembrandt

The narratives dished out by Plum are not different. The psychology of the individual reigns supreme. Whether one comes across mentally negligible bachelors, intelligent valets, goofy females, maiden aunts, helmet-pinching curates, eccentric bishops, or even senile aristocrats and their nagging sisters, it is their psychology which determines the flow of the goings on. Even those from the animal kingdom get presented to a reader with unique insights into their behavioural patterns.

It stands to reason that Netherlands, which produced creative geniuses of the stature of Spinoza, Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh and many others, has one of the few societies which spread sweetness and light globally by keeping the Wodehouse canon alive and kicking.

It does not really matter that the backdrop of his oeuvre is the vanished world of Edwardian England. What matters is that his work continues to educate, engage and entertain all those who decide to take a saunter down the streets of Plumsville, soaking in its brilliant sunshine and savouring low-hanging fruits of pristine humour on the trees lined up on both their sides.

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/a-drones-club-meeting-in-amsterdam)

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ashokbhatia

PGW StiffUpperLipHere is a collection of some juicy quotes from ‘Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves’.

http://balu036.blogspot.in/2015/03/a-few-funny-moments-from-stiff-upper.html

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Cupid has a free run in Plumsville. He is present everywhere. He influences and enables incidents which go beyond the normal call of his duty, not restricting himself merely to generating and sustaining magnetic currents flowing between two individuals.

The large circle of influence of Cupid

When he wants someone goofy like Thos to acquire a saintly disposition, he strikes at him, leaving him besotted with Greta Garbo, thereby making him rise in love. When he decides to champion the cause of vegetarians, he uses Madeline Bassett as a front and forces Gussie Fink-Nottle to lay off all the vitamins of animal origin, making him skip Anatole’s lavish spreads and survive only on spinach, sprouts, broccoli and similar stuff. When he wishes to campaign for safety of sharks, he deploys Angela to do his bidding.

Those who serve in the constabulary, however tough their exteriors and however pure their intentions to bring the culprits to book, also fall under his spell. When one of them has to be taught a lesson in humility, Stiffy Byng becomes an instrument in his hands, persuading even a vicar to pinch a policeman’s helmet. When the intellectual level of those who belong to the so-called sterner sex has to be raised, Cupid uses such characters as Florence Craye and Vanessa Cook to give the project a good shot. When he decides to downgrade obesity, he finds an ally in Maud, who scratches her fixture with Geoffrey Raymond to bring home the point.

When casinos at Monte Carlo need some promotion, Cupid makes two perfect strangers meet. If George Albert Balmer is an insurance clerk, the party of the other part is a companion of Lady Julia. Within a day of their having met, George proposes and finds that he is getting accepted. It is only then that he gets asked by his lady-love as to what his name happens to be! (The Tuppenny Millionaire, The Man Upstairs and other stories)

Bingo Little and the Evolution of Romantic Maturity

But the character Cupid is particularly fond of in Plumsville is Bingo Little. It appears that there are repeated attempts on Cupid’s part to enable his favourite person to ‘settle down’ in life. Objects of Bingo’s affection have included a waitress named Mabel; Honoria Glossop, the formidable daughter of Pop Glossop; Daphne Braythwayt, a friend of Honoria; Charlotte Corday Rowbotham, a revolutionary; Lady Cynthia Wickhammersley, a family friend of Bertie’s; and Mary Burgess, niece of the Rev. Francis Heppenstall. After each failed affair, Bingo does not necessarily sulk. Cupid rushes to his aid. The scales fall from his eyes, and he suddenly realizes that the next girl alone is his true soul mate.

After many failed affairs, Bingo ends up marrying the romance novelist Rosie M. Banks, an author whose outlook on life happens to match well with that of his. Cupid does not desert him even in his post-nuptials phase, setting the bar rather high for all the men who attach a premium on matrimonial bliss.

We now find a Bingo Little who is completely transformed. He is singularly devoted to his wife. Maintaining matrimonial peace and harmony is the sole purpose of his life. When it comes to keeping his lady-love happy and contented, there is little that he leaves to chance.

Charles Darwin, had he come across this unique case, might have gifted humanity with a treatise on The Evolution of Romantic Maturity instead.

Taking care of those young at heart

When it comes to Cupid’s machinations, age, caste, creed, profession and social status do not really matter. He does not discriminate between the younger lot and those who might be advanced in age but are young at heart. Other than the topsy-turvy romances of younger couples, he also does justice to those who are advanced in age and young at heart. An affection which was discernible in a couple’s younger days – whether declared or otherwise – survives the harsh slings and arrows of life. A chance meeting unearths and rekindles the deep buried embers of love. A well seasoned romance bears fruit. The Valentine Spirit prevails. Love may remain dormant for a long time, but can get revived in a jiffy – much like a Psyche getting revived by a Cupid’s kiss!

The case of Joe and Julia springs to one’s mind. So does the case of Piggy and Maudie. Not to forget the case of Mrs Spottsworth and Captain Biggar-Biggar. Even someone of the stature of Sir Roderick Glossop, the eminent nerve specialist, is not spared. Having fathered such exquisite specimens as Honoria and Oswald Glossop in the past, and having been a widower for two years, he decides to get hitched to Myrtle, Lady Chuffnell, later in his life.

 

The limitations of Cupid

But the freedom to strike at will does not come without its attendant responsibilities. Cupid has some serious obligations to meet in Plumsville. The strict code of chivalry in vogue therein does not permit physical intimacy. It looks askance at someone bandying about the name of a female. It does permit a sideways scrutiny of a lissome profile but scoffs at any attempts to outrage the modesty of a member of the tribe of the delicately nurtured. In Plumsville, romance blossoms. Love is in the air. Devotion is permitted. But physical intimacy is a taboo. Aphrodite has limited access to the goings on in Plumsville. Eroticism is denied entry. An occasional occurrence which could amount to mild titillation alone is allowed.

Consider some such instances where Cupid’s advances have met with a resounding buff in Plumsville.

When Bertie Wooster stands up to Gussie’s Amorous Plans

The Mating Season touches upon Gussie’s notebook which contains some juicy remarks on Pop Bassett and Rederick Spode and continues to be in Stiffy’s possession. Gussie comes up with a fruity scheme to retrieve the notebook from her.

‘Well, listen. You could easily engage her in a sort of friendly romp, if you know what I mean, in the course of which it would be simple to…well, something in the nature of a jocular embrace…’

I checked him sharply. There are limits, and we Woosters recognize them.

‘Gussie, are you suggesting that I prod Stiffy’s legs?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, I’m not going to.’

‘Why not?’

‘We need not delve into my reasons’, I said, stiffly. ‘Suffice it that the shot is not on the board.’

He gave me a look, a kind of wide-eyed, reproachful look, such as a dying newt might have given him, if he had forgotten to change its water regularly.

Unfortunately, Gussie proceeds with his plans. This prompts Madeline Bassett to scratch their engagement, thereby putting both Gussie and Bertie in a limbo.

Of girls clad in swimsuits in one’s bed

Bertie is never too keen on having Pauline in his bedroom in the small hours of night, and that too dressed in a wet swimsuit. But his reaction upon finding her there is not to fall for one of the devilish schemes of Cupid. His primary concern is to get her out of his cottage at the earliest possible. He does not even try to kiss her. Deciding to wait till the morning, he himself sleeps in the garage. (Thank You, Jeeves)

Bertie often comments on women’s bodies but only as an appreciation of beauty. There’s never any lust involved and he treats his female friends well, though he considers Madeline a drip and Bobbie Wickham and Stiffy Byng as troublemakers.

The closest he appears to come to expressing some lascivious thoughts is perhaps in The Mating Season. But here again, the Code of the Woosters reigns supreme.

When reproduction is embarrassing

The very idea of reproduction embarrasses Bertie Wooster, making him blush, as in this conversation he once had with Aunt Agatha:

‘Aline Hemmingway,’ said Aunt Agatha, ‘is just the girl I should like to see you marry, Bertie. You ought to be thinking of getting married. Marriage might make something of you. And I could not wish you a better wife than dear Aline. She would be such a good influence in your life.’ 

‘Here, I say!’ I chipped in at this juncture, chilled to the marrow. 

‘Bertie!’ said Aunt Agatha, dropping the motherly manner for a bit and giving me the cold eye. 

‘Yes, but I say–’ 

‘It is young men like you, Bertie, who make the person with the future of the race at heart despair. Cursed with too much money, you fritter away in idle selfishness a life which might have been made useful, helpful and profitable. You do nothing but waste your time on frivolous pleasures. You are simply an anti-social animal, a drone. Bertie, it is imperative that you marry.’

 ‘But, dash it all–’

 ‘Yes! You should be breeding children to – ‘

 ‘No, really, I say, please!’ I said, blushing richly. Aunt Agatha belongs to two or three of these women’s clubs, and she keeps forgetting she isn’t in the smoking-room.

 (The Inimitable Jeeves)

 

Of upturned faces and burning kisses

Showering upturned face with burning kisses is another tactic that brings a Plummy reader to a somewhat provocative titillation. Constable Ernest Dobbs of The Mating Season fame indulges in such a naked display of affection towards Queenie, the maid at Deverill Hall. However, he is quick to apologize.

The perks of being an eccentric

Rupert Psmith hastens to rush across to handover a virtually stolen umbrella to Eve Halliday in Leave it to Psmith. He indulgently tolerates a stain on his assumed character when Eve takes him to task during a boat ride for mistreating his supposed wife who is a close friend of hers. Cupid brings them close together yet again while facing Smooth Lizzie, but there is never any trace of any physical intimacy between the two of them. This is how their alliance gets sealed:

‘Cynthia advised me’, proceeded Eve, ‘if ever I married, to marry someone eccentric. She said it was such fun…Well, I don’t suppose I am ever likely to meet anyone more eccentric than you, am I?

‘I think you would be unwise to wait on the chance.’

When class distinctions evaporate

Other than cross-class affairs at many places, we also run into Lord Emsworth treating his young friend who happens to be a girl rather well. When Gladys requests some flowers, he hesitates, but cannot refuse her. Just as she is picking her flowers, McAllister rushes up in a fury, but his master, encouraged by Gladys’ hand in his, stands up to the man, putting him in his place. (Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend)

Here is a case where the innocence of Master Cupid does the trick, holding the adult Cupid at bay.

Snuggling close together

In one of the short stories, estranged lovers get reunited on an isolated beach. When a chilly wind starts blowing in, the girl, who is not sufficiently clad, ends up asking the party of the other part if it would not be better if they snuggled together. The rest, of course, is left to the reader’s imagination. (Wilton’s Holiday, The Man with two left feet)

She seated herself with her back to him. Dignity demanded reprisals, so he seated himself with his back to her; and the futile ocean raged towards them, and the wind grew chillier every minute.

 Time passed. Darkness fell. The little bay became a black cavern, dotted here and there with white, where the breeze whipped the surface of the water.

 Wilton sighed. It was lonely sitting there all by himself. How much jollier it would have been if—

 A hand touched his shoulder, and a voice spoke—meekly.

 ‘Jack, dear, it—it’s awfully cold. Don’t you think if we were to—snuggle up—’

 He reached out and folded her in an embrace which would have aroused the professional enthusiasm of Hackenschmidt and drawn guttural congratulations from Zbysco. She creaked, but did not crack, beneath the strain.

 ‘That’s much nicer,’ she said, softly. ‘Jack, I don’t think the tide’s started even to think of going down yet.’

 ‘I hope not,’ said Wilton.

Warm embraces and progeny

Perhaps the top slot for flirtatious initiatives in Plumsville would go to Gally and Lord Ickenham, who are known to have embraced young ladies with warmth much greater than what might be warranted.

The paternalistic origins of Sue Brown, the daughter of Gally’s old flame Dolly Handerson, leave Plum fans twiddling their thumbs. In any case, illegitimate children are never in the scheme of things in Plumsville.

 

Plumsville: Intentions as pure as freshly driven snow

If one were lucky enough to have gone through all the works of Wodehouse, and even his biographies, one is unlikely to find any traces of either overt sexuality or vulgarity. Strong attraction, yes. Infatuation, decidedly. Cupid’s arrows, surely. The world he has left behind for us to revel in is innocent, with intentions as pure as freshly driven snow. And therein we have the unique appeal of his canon.

 

Several lenses of viewing the Wodehouse canon

There are several lenses with which one could discern the messages embedded in his works. A literary lens would reveal his canvas to be very wide. A spiritual lens would bring into sharp focus the kind of lessons he forks out about life in general. A fitness lens would nudge us to avoid the pleasures of the table and remain fit and trim. A social lens would make the scales on our eyes fall and help us in seeing the perils of economic inequality.

However, a romantic lens would reveal a clear absence of cruder passions. Respect for women reigns supreme. In fact, his canon is a sterling example of a superficial male supremacy where, in reality, it is the females who call almost all the shots, whether in the form of domineering aunts and love interests who have perfected the art of wrapping the males around their dainty fingers, enterprising collaborators who think nothing of stealing scarabs, efficient secretaries who wish to earn their pay through hard work, romantic interests who think stars are God’s daisy chains, and of course those who have the grit and determination to pursue their careers with reverent support from the Bingo Littles of their lives.

Cupid is invariably omnipresent. But one would not be surprised to find a note from him one of these days, protesting overwork and lack of any assistance whatsoever. If Santa Claus, who gets busy only around Christmas time, could have elves and a fleet of reindeer supporting him, why he, who has to remain preoccupied throughout the year, 24 by 7, has to work single-handedly, he might well ask.

 

Blessing: A singular absence of Vitamin S

Dishing out narratives which get lapped up by common folk like us despite a missing element of Vitamin S, considered so very critical to the commercial success of an author, is no mean task. P G Wodehouse accomplished it. His plots invariably stuck to the conventional norms of morality.

A blessing, indeed. Much like seeing a family movie which is certified as ‘U’, reading the works of P G Wodehouse gives us a neutral ring side view of romantic affairs of all kinds. But to label these as ‘romcoms’ might not be proper. Perhaps, as suggested by Honoria Plum of Plumtopia fame elsewhere, a term along the lines of ‘comroms’ might do the Wodehouse canon better justice.

In an age when the threshold of childhood innocence is getting lowered with each passing year, his works happen to be squeaky clean, safe to be devoured even by kids and adolescents about whom their hapless parents lose much of their beauty sleep these days.

Educationists could improve upon the effectiveness of the sex-education packages for their wards by including some references to the works of Wodehouse.

Judicial beaks the world over, while dishing out harsh sentences to those convicted of sexual adventurism, could seriously consider gifting a tome of the Master’s works for them to compulsorily devour while cooling their heels in prison.

Societies and associations which propagate Wodehousean thoughts could come up with annual awards which get dished out to those who demonstrate a chivalrous approach to the challenges faced by their heart-throbs.

The possibilities are limitless. The mind boggles.

(Yours truly acknowledges with great respect the inputs of those Plum fans whose thoughts have enriched this post many times over.)

(Related Posts:

https://honoriaplum.wordpress.com/2019/02/09/wodehouse-and-the-romantic-novelist-sophie-weston

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/04/12/different-shades-of-women-in-plumsville

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/02/14/when-rozzers-in-plumsville-fall-in-love

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/when-masters-thos-bonzo-and-moon-rise-in-love

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/joe-julia-and-a-seasoned-romance

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/piggy-maudie-and-a-seasoned-romance

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/of-mrs-spottsworth-and-the-biggar-code-of-white-men)

 

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ashokbhatia

Some residents of Plumsville may like to join me in recalling our pre-adolescence days. Our first ever encounter withVeryGoodJeeves Cupid’s arrows. The time when innocence slowly started giving way to half-baked romances of a transient nature. The neighborhood crush and the chance encounters. The classroom and the furtive glances. The one-sided affections. The attempts at showcasing gallantry and modesty. The unfulfilled desire to share tips on demystifying Romeo and Juliet. The relentless yearning for companionship. The possibility of a picnic where the presence of a certain person made our hearts go all of a twitter.

A more sinister restlessness crept in when we got infatuated with someone within the dark confines of a cinema hall. Posters of an upcoming movie featuring the adored person invariably got more attention than any text-book at hand. Sneaking off to a matinée, while giving a skip to the homework assigned, was also attempted…

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ashokbhatia

Quite a few fans of P G Wodehouse often wonder as to how Jeeves and Bertie come together and why they stick PGW CarryOnJeevestogether despite having stark differences in matters of attire, appearance, love and relationships in general. Is there an underlying message in all their innumerable escapades that we are treated with, each one laced with intoxicating verbosity and linguistic opulence – a hallmark of this great author?

Getting Hired the First Time

In Jeeves Takes Charge, we are treated to the scenario of Bertie Wooster hiring Jeeves in the first place.

For the privilege of someone of the caliber of Jeeves shimmering into Bertie’s life, we have to thank two persons. One is Bertie’s previous valet, a bloke by the name of Meadows. Had he not stolen a couple of things from the master’s place, a request for a replacement would not have gone to the registry office…

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ashokbhatia

When it comes to attaining a state of matrimonial bliss, hapless husbands have to resort to tactics of all kinds. TheirVeryGoodJeeves misdemeanours should not come to the notice of the better half. The satiation of their gastric juices has to be accorded a lower priority. The social reputation of their bosom pals has to be sacrificed at the altar of marital peace.

‘Jeeves and the Old School Chum’ (Very Good, Jeeves) is a short story where Bingo Little’s food habits come in for harsh criticism at the hands of Laura Pyke, an old school mate of Rosie M. Banks. Bertie fears that continuous feedback of this nature could result into marital relations between the couple turning sour. However, a missed lunch basket, and a sorely missed afternoon cup of tea, lead to a bitter argument between the school chums. Laura Pyke walks out of their lives. Matrimonial peace continues to…

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ashokbhatia

In the post-matrimony phase, we find Bingo Little to be a devoted husband. Maintaining matrimonial peace and harmony is the sole purpose of his life. When it comes to keeping his lady-love happy and contented, there is little that he leaves to chance.

If a childhood friend has to be persuaded to soften up an uncle, he does it. If having the same friend being held to be a VeryGoodJeeveslooney helps him to make the dove of peace flap its sonorous wings over his abode, he does not hesitate.

If a cook of the stature of Anatole has to be sacrificed to ensure that his social reputation does not nosedive, so be it.

In Jeeves and the Impending Doom(Very Good, Jeeves), we find him struggling hard to earn his subsistence by tutoring a despicable kid like Thos. He has to ensure that he is not discovered to be…

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