It is the Sports term at St Austin's College (600-plus boys; cricket, racquets). But we start with the Public Schools Boxing at Aldershot. Tony Graham of St Austin's knocks out his cousin, Allen Thomson of Rugby, in the final оf the Middleweights. This is a novel, though the episodes hang together loosely as though they started as short stories. The silverware sports prizes disappear from the Pavilion and cached in a hollow tree in Squire Sir Alfred Venner, MP's pheasant-coverts, out of bounds to the boys. Inspector Roberts comes down from Scotland Yard. In the boys’ Houses there are plenty of study frowsts and teas. Charteris (‘the Alderman’) who talks rot pleasantly, as though he might develop into a Psmith, shares a study with Welch, the all-rounder. Charteris edits The Glow-Worm, an anonymous and jovial school monthly magazine.
A PREFECT’S UNCLE 1903
The summer term at Beckford College. Alan Gethryn is head of Leicester's House in the Sixth, the XI and the XV. A new boy arrives at Leicester's, Reginald Farnie, who reveals himself to be Gethryn's uncle. Farnie is a bright lad, but an embarrassment to the nephew set in authority over him. Farnie gets into money trouble (not his fault) and disappears. Gethryn leaves a cricket House Match to go and find him, and Leicester's lose the match without him. There is a poetry prize, entry mandatory to the whole of the Upper Fifth. Lorimer of the Upper Fifth has a kid sister, Mabel, and Pringle, who shares a study with Lorimer, is 'gone on' her. Sex had not reared its innocent head in The Pothunters (1902)at all.
TALES OF ST AUSTIN'S 1903
Back to St Austin's College for twelve short stories, eleven of which had appeared in The Captain and The Public School Magazine. Charteris appears again. In fact 'The Manoeuvres of Charteris' (forty-three pages) may have been the start of a notional novel, with the Headmaster's twelve-year-old niece Dorothy as heroine to Charteris's hero. The book ends with five essaylets from The Public School Magazine. 'The Tom Brown Question' asks, in dialogue, who can have written the utterly feeble second half of that classic public school novel. (In tact it was still Hughes. But later biography has shown that he wrote the second half after the loss of a beloved daughter, which had badly affected his still as a novelist.)
THE GOLD BAT 1904
We are at Wrykyn School now, in the rugger term. The statue of Sir Eustace Briggs, Mayor of Wrykyn, in the recreation ground has been tarred and feathered in the night. And a small gold bat, of the type given to school cricket colours to hang on watch-chains, is found at the scene of the crime. There is a fight in a fives court, and a couple of the boys keep (illegal) ferrets. Clowes, left wing three-quarter, is a solemn wit, lazy - another potential Psmith.
WILLIAM TELL TOLD AGAIN 1904
How tiny Switzerland threw off the yoke of horrid Austria, thanks to William Tell. Hermann Gessler, the Governor, was, with the help of a Lord High Executioner and his attendant oil-boiler, taxing the poor (but honest) Swiss down to the nub. But Hermann Gessler got an arrow where it did most good, in the heart. A short, cheerful narrative by Wodehouse, excellent colour pictures by Philip Dadd and excellent verse captions to the pictures, by John W. Houghton - very much the sort of expert verse Wodehouse himself was already writing, in Punch and elsewhere.
The pictures (and perhaps the verse) were done a year and more before Wodehouse was asked to supply the narrative.
THE HEAD OF KAY'S 1905
Now we are at Eckleton School, at the end of the summer term and into the autumn term, with some chapters of a Schools Corps Camp between. Mr Kay is an unpopular housemaster and Kay's has gone downhill. Kennedy, 2nd prefect of Blackburn's House, and in the school cricket XI, is transferred, not too willingly, to be head boy of Kay's, with encouragement to make it a decent House again. He has to fight a dissident Kayite to assert his authority. House matches at cricket and rugger, and a five-mile run which Kennedy just wins for Kay's. Jimmy Silver, head of Blackburn's House and captain of cricket, is a near-Psmith talker.
LOVE AMONG THE CHICKENS 1906
The first five chapters are narrated about, the last eighteen by, Jeremy Garnet, Old Wrykynian, struggling author, verse-writer, ex-prep-schoolmaster, golfer. He is persuaded to join his feckless ex-school, ex-schoolmastering colleague, Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge and his adoring wife Millie, in Lyme Regis where they are setting up a chicken farm that is supposed to be going to make fortunes for all of them. In the train from Paddington, Garnet meets a girl, Phyllis Derrick, who is actually reading one of his own (two) novels. She is going to join her father, Professor Derrick, at Lyme Regis. The Ukridge chicken-farm founders. The Professor quarrels with Ukridge and forbids his daughter the house. To win Phyllis's favour Garnet arranges to have her father upset from a boat in the harbour so that he, Garnet, can rescue him. But the Professor only gives his approval to the marriage after Garnet has let him win the final of the local golf tournament. The wedding is told as a short stage play. This book gives us our first view of Ukridge, that great dreamer, idler, schemer, borrower of money and clothes, and general menace.
Wodehouse revised the book and it was reissued in 1921. Now it was all told by Garnet, and the playlet of the wedding was removed. For some reason Lyme Regis was changed to Combe Regis. And the price of eggs was changed to allow for inflation.
THE WHITE FEATHER 1907
Back to Wrykyn School, in the spring term. A mayoral election is pending in the town. Jude's, a school in the High Street, has a feud against Wrykyn. There is a mix-up fight in the street, and Sheen, head of Seymour's House, a scholar and a pianist - no boxer - is faced by Albert, a red-haired toughie of St Jude's. Sheen funks fighting him. This get Sheen despised and virtually cut by the whole school - difficult when you have a House to run as head prefect. Sheen takes to going, illegally, to the Blue Boar where Joe Bevan, ex-world lightweight champion, failed actor, great quoter of Shakespeare, teaches and trains boxers. Sheen, with Joe's training behind him, eventually gets permission from a surprised sports master to enter for the lightweights at the public schools meeting at Aldershot. He beats Peteiro of Ripton in the final.
NOT GEORGE WASHINGTON 1907
A very poor novel, written in collaboration with Herbert Westbrook, who was more than half in Wodehouse's mind for the character of Ukridge, in Love Among the Chickens and many later and more expert short stories. James Orlebar Cloyster is engaged to Margaret Goodwin in Guernsey, and the arrangement is that she shall join him and they'll get married as soon as Cloyster has made a position for himself in London as a writer. Later tries to conceal his successes so that Margaret won't hear of them and demand marriage. Later still they do marry - or rather, they are left, apparently happy, on the brink of marriage.
I do not understand the title of this book. I do understand why it is such a rarity, and why collectors of Wodehouse pay very high prices when copies emerge at auction sales.
THE SWOOP 1909
There had been novels in England foreseeing enemy invasion as far back as The Battle of Dorking, serialized in Blackwood's Magazine in 1870. From 1902, when Germany had decided to build a battle-fleet to equal England's, the idea of a blitz invasion across the North Sea, before the English battleships could get back from the Mediterranean, was a best-selling subject for the popular press, from 'Chums' to the Harmsworth journals.
Wodehouse's The Swoop is a short squib, taking off these invasion-scare writings as well as the recently formed, and popular, Boy Scouts. England is invaded by the armies of a multitude of enemies: Saxe-Pfennig, Russia, Afghanistan, China (under General Ping Pong Pang), Turkey, Morocco, Monaco and the distant isle of Bollygolla. England's defences crumble - it's August and everybody is away on holiday. Only the Boy Scouts resist the invaders. Clarence Chugwater, aged fourteen, and a junior reporter on an evening paper, is in command of a troop on the Aldwych site, and he leads his men in with catapults and hockey sticks. Eventually the music halls offer the invading generals and princes vast weekly salaries to appear nightly on their stages, Clarence himself topping the bills with £1,150 a week. Some real names occur. Edgar Wallace is a war correspondent, as he was at that time. Charles Frohmann is a theatrical producer, Baden Powell is head of the Scouts.
In 1915 Wodehouse adapted the book to signal an invasion of America by Germany and Japan in 1916, and sold it for serialization to the smart New York monthly magazine, Vanity Fair.
Writing to George Orwell in June 1948 (The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, edited by Mark Amory, 1980), Waugh seems to ascribe importance to The Swoop in the context of the broadcasts Wodehouse made to neutral America from Berlin in 1941. Waugh also says 'This book is very much funnier than The Head of Keys (sic) which preceded it, and in fact forms an important literary link with Mike published next year.'
The Head of Kay's is not a funny book in that sense, and there were three books of Wodehouse's published after that one and before The Swoop. It is anybody's guess what Waugh thought the important literary link was between The Swoop and Mike.
Of the five Jackson brothers one plays cricket for England, two others for counties. But Mike, the youngest at fifteen, shows signs of being the best batsman of them all. He goes to Wrykyn School as a new boy. His elder brother Bob is in his last term and they both get their First XI colours that summer. Mike, in the Ripton match, turns disaster into victory with a heroic innings. But two years later Mike's school report is so bad that his father removes him from Wrykyn, when he is just about to be cricket captain, and sends him to a minor school, Sedleigh, where they make boys work.
At Sedleigh Mike meets, and becomes friends with, another elderly new boy, similarly displaced from Eton, and similarly scornful of his new school - Psmith. The two ‘lost lambs' share a study, and decide not to take cricket seriously, but to rag. The Sedleigh cricket captain, Adair, dislikes Mike's lack of keenness and it takes a fist-fight (which Mike wins by a knock-out) to cure his antagonism to Adair and to Sedleigh.
A GENTLEMAN OF LEISURE 1910
Jimmy Pitt, rich, generous, popular American bachelor, has fallen in love with an unknown girl on a transatlantic liner. He bets a friend at the Strollers Club in New York that he can break into a house like any Raffles. He does so and it happens to be the apartment of a crooked New York policeman (English originally, sacked from Eton, and has now changed his name: a bad hat), John McEachern, whose daughter is/was the girl on the boat. The scene changes to Dreever Castle in Shropshire, where 'Spennie', Earl of Dreever, is bossed around by his self-made millionaire uncle, Sir Thomas Blunt, MP. Lady Julia Blunt has a £20,000 'diamond' necklace (it proves to be valueless white jargoon). Spennie is being sharked at billiards, poker and picquet by one of the house party. Among the guests are John McEachern, who has made his pile by New York graft and spends it bringing his beloved daughter into good English society. He now hopes to marry her to the 12th Earl of Dreever. Spennie's uncle and aunt also hope this will be a match because they think Moily McEachern is an heiress. Jimmy Pitt is of the house party too. He wins the love and hand of Molly.
Dreever Castle, a massive grey pile in Shropshire, built against raiders looming over the Welsh border, is a forerunner of Blandings, and perhaps Lady Julia and her 'diamonds' are forerunners of Lady Constanee and her diamonds in Leave it to Psmith.
In the two stage versions of this novel Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and John Barrymore, neither well known at the time, played the Jimmy Pitt part.
PSMITH IN THE CITY 1910
Mike Jackson's lather has lost 'a very large sum of money' and Mike now can't go to Cambridge. So Mike goes into the New Asiatic Bank in the City. Psmith's rich and eccentric lather thinks that Psmith should go into commerce, so Psmith turns up at the bank too.
Psmith has a comfortable flat in Clement's Inn to which Mike goes to live. Psmith belongs to the same club, the Senior Conservatives, as Mr Bickersdyke, crusty manager of the New Asiatic Bank, who is also running for Parliament for the Conservatives. Psmith decides to harass Bickersdyke and discovers that he had once been a rabid Socialist.
Mike is paid £4 10s a month. He and Psmith are both bored by the bank. They 'bunk' it together on the same day, Mike because he gets a sudden call to play for his county at Lord's (he makes 148), Psmith to go and watch. They are both sacked, joyfully, by Mr Bickersdyke.
Now Psmith's lather wants him to go to Cambridge and read Law. And he offers Mike a future agency of his estates, after three or four years at Cambridge which Mr Smith will finance. (Mike's brother Joe, an All England batsman, is already the agent of a sporting baronet, keen on cricket.)
A good worm's eye view of City life in banking, and some amusing excursions into politics and political meetings where you can 'rag' by heckling.
THE PRINCE AND BETTY 1912
Betty Silver, twenty-four, is step-daughter of millionaire-tycoon Benjamin Scobell, the nephew and sole male relative of Mrs Jane Oakley, multi-millionairess miser. Some years ago Betty had met a John Maude when he was at Harvard, and he has been her prince lointain ever since. Benjamin Scobell virtually owns the Mediterranean island of Mervo and he runs it as a gambling property. He discovers that John Maude's late father had been Prince and ruler of Mervo, deposed when the island elected to be a republic. Scobell decides, for business reasons, to bring John Maude in as Prince and - to keep him in the family - to marry him to his step-daughter Betty. Betty goes out to Mervo, meets John Maude again, but thinks he is courting her simply because her step-father has ordered him to. She runs away to New York. Her aunt, Mrs Oakley, likes her, tells her to dry her tears and get a job.As 'Betty Brown' she goes as a typist to Peaceful Moments, a sleepy weekly. Rupert Smit ex-Harvard newspaperman, is deputy editor, but, when the editor is ordered away for three months for health reasons, Smith takes over and peps the magazine up. Rupert Smith is clearly a clone of Psmith: very tall, thin and dark, with a solemn face; immaculately dressed monocle in left eye and calls people 'Comrade'. Helped by good researching, muck-raking and writing by Betty 'Brown', the paper attacks the anonymous owners of the Brosher Street slum tenements in New York. Meanwhile John Maude has quit Mervo, not liking the Scobell methods, and he gets a job at Peaceful Moments through his old friend Rupert Smith. Betty, thinking he is pursuing her, disappears and takes a job as cashier in one of Bat Jarvis's (a nice cat-loving gangster) cafés. It transpires that Benjamin Scobell is owner not only of Peaceful Moments all the time, but of the Brosher Street tenements also. He repents and says he will repair them and run them properly. John Maude, reunited with Betty, wants to marry her. Mrs Oakley gives them enough money for them to buy a farm out west and make the happy ending.
THE LITTLE NUGGET 1913
'The Little Nugget' is the kidnappers' name for Ogden Ford, a fat, chain-smoking, rude and badly spoilt American boy, aged thirteen or fourteen. Ogden's mother and father (she rich, he richer) are divorced, and each trying to get the boy away from the other. Meanwhile professional kidnappers are trying to get him, for ransom from either parent. Elmer Ford, the father, pays double fees for Ogden to go to a snobbish little English preparatory school (boarding) where he thinks the boy will be fairly safe and may even learn some discipline. Peter Burns (rich, a cricket and rugger Blue) is persuaded by his fiancée, who is in the pay of Mrs Ford, to go as an assistant master to this school and kidnap Ogden so that his mother can get him on to a yacht and out of his father's reach. But who is White, the new school butler? A professional kidnapper. And others prowl and prow around. Peter Burns tells the story (except the first twenty-five pages of it) and it makes an excellent thriller, set mostly in the grounds and house of the prep school.
THE MAN UPSTAIRS 1914
Nineteen early short stories, some fairly good, some fairly bad. Most of them were written in America for the American pulps. 'Archibald's Benefit' is Wodehouse's first golf story. 'The Good Angel' is the first story with a strong butler part (and some very ill-informed comings and goings of a shooting party at an English country house). Rollo and Wilson in 'Ahead of Schedule' are a foretaste of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. Sally, who, in 'Something to Worry About', feuds with a policeman and asks her fiancé to pull the man's helmet down over his eyes, is a foretaste of Stiffy Byng in The Code of the Woosters. 'In Alcala' has strands of autobiography in it; its sentimentality is remarkably gooey, but is there, anywhere else in Wodehouse, a heroine who admits to having been a man's mistress?
SOMETHING FRESH 1915
The first of the Blandings saga. Aline Peters, daughter of dyspeptic American millionaire scarab-collector J. Preston Peters, is to marry the Hon. Freddie Threepwood, and there is to be a fortnight-long house party at the castle, 'a gathering together of the Emsworth clan by way of honour and as a means of introduction to Mr Peters and his daughter'. Lord Emsworth has pocketed one of Mr Peters's valuable scarabs, thinking it a gift. And Mr Peters is determined to get it back, offering a reward, too. Ashe Marson, writer of thrillers (Gridley Quayle, Investigator), signs on as Mr Peters's valet with instructions to steal back the scarab. And Joan Valentine signs on as Aline Peters's lady's maid with the same quest, and reward, in mind. Ashe and Joan (who are in the same London digs to start with) are to get married in the end and Aline rejects Freddie to elope with George Emerson, of the Hong Kong Police, whom Freddie has asked down casually for the party.
There is more about what goes on below stairs the other side of the green baize door here than in any other book of Wodehouse's.
Originally published as a serial in The Captain in 1909, Mike Jackson goes to America to play for an MCC side, with his friend Psmith accompanying him 'in a private capacity'. While Mike goes off to Philadelphia to play cricket, Psmith stays in New York and becomes the hero of this novel.
There is no heroine. In a New York restaurant Psmith meets the acting editor of the weekly Cosy Moments, and, through him and the office boy, the cat-loving leader of the Groom Street Gang, Bat Jarvis. As the real editor is away and out of contact, and the proprietor in Europe, Windsor (the acting editor) and Psmith (amateur sub-editor) decide to jazz up the paper and, amongst other campaigns, to attack the unknown landlord of some dreadful New
York slum tenements. The anonymous landlord threatens reprisals to Windsor, Psmith and the paper. With the help of Bat Jarvis and his gang they fight die gangs that the landlord hires to beat them up. There is some shooting and Psmith has to get a new hat as a result.
Psmith, with the help of a legacy from an uncle, and his father in Switzerland, buys Cosy Moments from its proprietor. The owner of the slum property turns out to be a politician running for City Alderman. He is made to repent and to make great improvements in the houses for his tenants.
Psmith calls back the old stagnant staff and hands the paper back to them, while remaining owner (apparently) after he and Mike go back to Cambridge.
UNEASY MONEY 1917
Bill (Lord) Dawlish, twenty-four, is a good footballer, boxer and golfer, has good health, many friends, a beautiful (though hard) fiancée, minor actress Claire Fenwick, and no money except the £400 a year he gets as secretary to exclusive Brown's Club. Claire refuses to marry him on £400 a year. Then Bill hears he has been left a million pounds by an eccentric American whose golfing slice he had cured. He also hears that the eccentric's niece, Elizabeth Boyd, who farms bees on Long Island, had expected to inherit the million pounds. Bill, without telling Claire, goes to America (as Bill Chalmers) to see that Elizabeth gets at least half of the inheritance. Claire, separately and unknown to Bill, also goes to America, to stay with her ex-chorus-girl friend who is now a successful barefoot dancer calling herself Lady Pauline Wetherby. Claire meets an American millionaire on the boat and makes him propose to her, and she accepts. Then, hearing of Bill's new wealth, she breaks with her American and expects to be taken back by Bill. But Bill now is in love with Elizabeth, though she refuses to marry him with no money of her own.
Well, the eccentric old millionaire had made a later will, and so...
This novel has the common early Wodehouse Anglo-American pattern, with Anglo-American marriages. There is some untidy gun-play near the end and Claire's millionaire accidentally shoots a pet monkey.
THE MAN WITH TWO LEFT FEET 1917
Thirteen early short stories, written in America. One, 'Extricating Young Gussie' is important because it introduces Bertie (though his surname seems to be Mannering-Phipps), Jeeves and Aunt Agatha. Gussie Mannering-Phipps, head of the 'very old and aristocratic' family now that his father, Bertie's Uncle Cuthbert, keen drinker, unsuccessful gambler, big spender, has died, has gone to America and is involved with a girl on the New York vaudeville stage. Aunt Agatha sends Bertie over to extricate Gussie. Bertie is unsuccessful, and all ends happily, with Gussie marrying the vaudeville girl, his mother, herself ex-vaudeville, remarrying, this time to an old vaudevillian adorer, and Bertie staying on in New York with Jeeves for fear of meeting Aunt Agatha's wrath.
Otherwise mostly sentimental apprentice work. One story, 'The Mixer', is told by a dog, another is about a cat; one, 'One Touch of Nature', is about a rich American forced by his society-minded wife to live in England, but longing to see baseball games again. One, 'The Romance of an Ugly Policeman', is about a pretty cook in London courted by the milkman, falsely accused of theft by the lady of the house, being marched off by a policeman and, after doing her thirty days, finding the policeman, not the milkman, waiting for her. 'The Making of Mac's' could almost have been written by 'Sapper'.
PICCADILLY JIM 1918
Even in Lloyd George's premiership would a second-rank American actor, married to an American millionairess forging ahead in London society, be given an English peerage? No, but it's important to the plot of this comedy-thriller that the American millionairess is aiming at just that - to spite her millionairess sister who has said she married beneath her. Bingley Crocker is the suffering peer-hopefully-to-be, a baseball fan stuck in London with an ambitious, snobbish wife, an English butler who is a cricket fan and a son, Jimmy, who is now 'Piccadilly Jim', playboy. Jimmy Crocker, like Jimmy Pitt in A Gentleman of Leisure, had, before he became cushioned by money, been a newspaperman and had written a hurt-fully ribald review of a volume of heart-felt poetry by Ann Chester - not a good start because he later finds he wants to marry her.
Here comes young Ogden Ford again, and his mother, widowed, and now remarried to, and making life hell for, Peter Pett, New York financier and baseball fan. Ann Chester is Peter Pett's niece and comforter, also governess and supposed to be in charge of Ogden, whom she rightly detests mainly because he adds to the hell of his step-father's life. The whole family, Peter Pett, Nesta Pett, Ogden and Ann come over to England to persuade Mrs Pett's sister, Mrs Crocker, to let them take her step-son Jimmy back, to work in New York, rather than be 'Piccadilly Jim', the joy of the columnists (he has had two breach-of-promise cases against him - a barmaid and a girl in a flower shop) in London.
There is far too much disguising and false-naming for even faint credibility. At one stage Jimmy Crocker, pretending to be son of English butler Bayliss, has to pretend to be Jimmy Crocker to fool his father. There is a sub-plot about the Secret Service and a new explosive, partridgite.
Jimmy Crocker gets Ann in the end, both agreeing that his hurtful review of her poems five years ago had reformed and toughtened her hitherto soppy outlook; and anyway a fellow like him needs a tough wife.