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There are indeed times when one ends up ignoring the sage counsel of Stephen Fry, exhorting lesser mortals to merely bask in the sunlit brilliance of P G Wodehouse and not to analyse it. Here is an analysis which is bound to make some of us wear asbestos vests and start scouring around for several long forgotten narratives dished out by Plum.

Plumtopia

This February, I asked readers to nominate their favourite romances from the world of P.G. Wodehouse and to cast their votes in numerous polls on Twitter and Facebook. It’s an admittedly frivolous exercise, but we Wodehouse fans need not be steeped to the gills with serious purpose all the time. If our comments and discussion over the past month have led anyone to pick up a Wodehouse book, we have done our little bit to help spread sweetness and light in the world.

And there’s a lot of sweetness and light to spread — over 80 couples nominated from 58 different novels and story collections published between 1909 (The Gem Collector) and 1974 (Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen). Fans applied a liberal interpretation of ‘romance’ to include favourite couples Dolly and Soapy Molloy, Dahlia and Tom Travers, Bertie and Jeeves, and even Lord Emsworth and The Empress of…

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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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The romantic saga of Ginger and Sally has many dimensions. Here is the second in a series of three blog posts courtesy Jon Brierly, reblogged by Honoria Plum.

Enjoy!

(Related Post:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/02/11/the-great-wodehouse-romances-the-adventures-of-sally-by-jon-brierley)

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Waitresses and bar maids get a place of prominence in many of the Plum’s narratives. Here is Mabel who is one of the many who captivate the heart of Bingo Little for a brief period of time.

Plumtopia

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lyons_Corner_House_recreation,_Museum_of_London.JPG) Image adapted from original photograph by Kim Traynor

I confess I have a soft spot for the romantic Bingo Little. When we first meet him in The Inimitable Jeeves,  Bertie warns us about his habit of falling in love.

Ever since I have known him – and we were at school together – he has been perpetually falling in love with someone, generally in the spring, which seems to act on him like magic. At school he had the finest collection of actresses’ photographs of anyone of his time; and at Oxford his romantic nature was a byword.

The first of Bingo’s romances to be chronicled by Bertram Wooster involves a Mabel, a waitress in a tea-and-bun shop. Described by Bertie as ‘rather a pretty girl’, Mabel attracts the attention of both Bingo and Jeeves. At the end of the proceedings, she and Jeeves have ‘an understanding’.

We know very little…

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When it comes to romantic affairs, age is never a bar. One gets the courage to stand up to dominating sisters and obtrusive gardeners. Moss covered alleys get preferred over stony ones. Stiff collars get forgotten. The joy of providing nourishment to keep the body and soul of the beloved together reigns supreme.

 

Plumtopia

BlandingsCastle The superb short story ‘Lord Emsworth and the Girlfriend’ was published in ‘Blandings Castle’

My heartfelt thanks to the inimitable Ken Clevenger for contributing a wonderful and very fitting first piece in this Valentine’s series dedicated to the  Great Wodehouse Romances.

* * *

Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend

by Ken  Clevenger

Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend” is the great Wodehousian romance, most worthy of a special Valentine. My starting point is the very nature of great romances. Love must blossom, however improbably. It will be heroic, idyllic, and set in the beauty of nature, but not without the odd nettle. In the end love conquers all, as someone once noted; Jeeves, perhaps?

The easy part is to recognize in this “perfect short story” that Blandings and its gardens are the bounty of nature. The nettle, perhaps I should have said thistle, as le mot juste, is…

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Here is yet another heart-warming post from the stable of Plumtopia. The right medicine for those of us who suffer from Wodehousitis and are worried about post-February decline in the severity of their affliction.

Plumtopia

themanupstairs‘Archibald’s Benefit’ (1909) is a delightful short story, included in The Man Upstairs (1914). It relates the trials of Archibald Mealing, a keen but inept golfer, and his romance with Margaret Milsom. I say inept. Wodehouse puts it rather better:

Archibald, mark you, whose golf was a kind of blend of hockey, Swedish drill, and buck-and-wing dancing.

To get a sense of Archibald’s style, have a look at this excellent instructional video from Professor Thomas F. DeFrantz (Duke University). One can readily imagine how a dash of buck-and-wing might have impaired Archibald’s success off the tee.

If you’ve not yet read the story and don’t want to know how it ends, you may wish to buzz off at this point and read it. You can find a free e:text version available via Project Gutenberg .

What has golf to do with romance, you ask? Unless you’re already familiar with P.G…

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Come Valentine’s Day and the air is fragrant with thoughts of love, caring and compassion. The movie buffs amongst us are literally spoiled for choice. For example, we can catch up on one of the breezy romcoms, like 50 First Dates (2004, Peter Segal), Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008, A Match Made by God, Aditya Chopra), No Strings Attached (2011, Ivan Reitman) or Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013, Crazy Youth, Ayan Mukerji). Movie 50 First Dates

Or, we can delve into our personal collections and rediscover classics such as Gone With the Wind (1939, Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Sam Wood), Mughal-e-Aazam (1960, K Asif, The Emporer of the Mughals), The Sound of Music (1965, Robert Wise) or Guide (1965, Vijay Anand).Guide_poster

We also have the choice of curling up on a love couch and savoring romantic escapades of the mature and ripe kind. Here are some movies which are some of my personal favorites in this category.

Doctor Zhivago

Movie Dr Zhivago

The romance between Dr Yuri Zhivago and Lara Antipov has an ageless quality about it. The underlying message appears to be that true love does not amount to a bondage; on the contrary, it means letting go. (1965, David Lean)

Anubhav and Avishkaar

Basu Bhattacharya gave us a unique insight into life of couples who are married for about seven years. The relationship has turned stale, devoid of any spark and zing.

movie anubhavAnubhav saw the arrival of a college time friend of the heroine leading to the romantic flame getting reignited. The care the heroine took of the hero when he falls sick and is confined to bed for some time also helps. (1971, Experience)

movie avishkaarAvishkaar had the couple reminiscing about their college romance, when they would meet – all decked up to impress each other – for limited hours. They realize that a 24 by 7 exposure in married life has resulted into their taking each other for granted. Romance gets rekindled. (1974, Invention)

Aandhi

Movie Aandhi

When political ambitions of a wife need to be reconciled with the need for togetherness and love, a way forward is eventually found, reuniting the couple in a rather unconventional way. (1975, Storm, Gulzar)

Ghar

movie Ghar

The rehabilitation of a victim of rape with loads of love and affection provided by a caring husband make this one unique in more ways than one. (1978, Home, Manik Chatterjee)

Khatta Meetha

Movie Khatta_Meetha_(1978)

The versatile Ashok Kumar and the effervescent Pearl Padamsee come together in old age, complimenting each other’s needs. How their grown up children get reconciled to each other and eventually get united in face of adversity forms the rest of the plot. (1978, Basu Chatterjee)

Baghban

Movie Baghban

The couple’s yearning for each other’s company, when separated due to family obligations, could not have been essayed more poignantly. When children turn out to be unreasonable and insensitive, the couple chooses to live together independently. (2003, The Gardener, Ravi Chopra)

Pyaar Mein Twist

Movie Pyaar_Mein_Twist

Invoking the on-screen chemistry of the lead pair in their younger days in the hugely successful Bobby (1973, Raj Kapoor), this movie saw them battling opposition from within their respective families to live together. (2005, Karan Kapoor)

Mamma Mia!

Movie Mamma Mia

Her upcoming marriage prompts a daughter to identify her father out of the three former lovers of her mother. Misunderstandings get clarified and a new beginning is made by the mother. Great music and lots of fun and frolic. (2008, Phyllida Lloyd)

Dedh Ishqia

Movie Dedh_Ishqiya

The movie is all about deception, crime, suspense and passion. The senior pair epitomizes love on a platonic plane, backed by soulful poetry and intense gazes overflowing with mute passion. The junior pair is more intimate on the physical plane. However, it turns out that the women have other plans in mind. (2014, Lover Boys, Abhishek Chaubey)

A normal romantic flick usually ends up on a happy note. In Hollywood, either a natural disaster has just been faced or a misunderstanding between the couple has just got resolved. As the sun sets, the simpering beloved runs into the arms of the hero.

In Bollywood, the dashing hero has just clobbered a dozen or so goons who had evil ideas of their own. The police arrive, but only after the hero has had the chance to demonstrate his martial skills. The kingpin of the villains is promptly handcuffed and driven off to some unknown destination. As credits start rolling, we give up our willing suspension of disbelief and saunter off to some mundane task of life, happy in the firm belief that the couple would live happily thereafter.

The movies I have listed above are scripted differently. Some capture the post-matrimonial phase of a couple’s life. Some speak of the raw chemistry between men and women who discover each other in the mature phase of their lives. The trial and tribulations they go through, the compromises and adjustments they make and the manner in which they rediscover each other when at close quarters – these aspects have been etched out in some detail. Such movies do not fall in the candy floss variety of romance. Instead, these depict a genre of romance which is mature, ripe and deep.

This Valentine’s Day, take your pick.

 

 

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