Mud and the Magnum Opus: In Which a Blandings Novel Gets Wet

This summer I am immersed in the eternal ’20s and ’30s of P. G. Wodehouse’s Blandings series.  Some prefer his Jeeves books, but I am enchanted by the characters at Blandings Castle. There is the dotty Lord Emsworth, who owns a prize pig, the Empress of Blandings; his bossy sister Lady Constance, who often thwarts young love; their brother Galahad, who spent his youth cavorting at the Pelicans Club; and we cannot forget the many star-crossed lovers and the many, many imposters lurking at Blandings Castle.  In one of the novels, Summer Lightning, their love-struck nephew Ronnie steals the Empress so he can then “find” the pig  and ingratiate himself with Lord Emsworth, his trustee.  But then the pig is stolen again.  And can the butler Beach fix everything?

And so, in the midst of comedy, you can imagine my chagrin when I almost lost a Blandings omnibus!

The sun was shining after days of rain, and I was riding my bike to a bench where I planned to read Wodehouse’s Summer Lightning, one of the three novels in the Blandings omnibus, Life at Blandings.  But I jolted over a bumpy section of asphalt trail, and alas! I had a flat tire.

There is only one way to fix a flat, and that is to have someone else do it.  I tried once to follow the directions in Anybody’s Bike Book.  Disaster!  (Even Carrie in Homeland takes her flat tire off the bike and puts it in the trunk of her car, I assume to take it to the bike shop.) Now my husband fixes flat tires. But first I had to wheel my bike back to civilization, chain the bike to something, and then find a pay phone and call him to rescue and retrieve.

Finally I made it to a park, chained the bike to a picket fence, and then cut across the mud back to the trail.  There was a big puddle, but who cared?  Alas, it was mostly mud, and I went flying and so did my Skoob bag with the Wodehouse book!

Well, the  bag was pretty much totaled, but the book was only a bit damp.  And as I waited for my husband, I was grateful for Wodehouse’s Summer Lightning, because there is nothing duller than sitting in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do.  Lady Connie and the Duke of Dunstable were plotting to steal Galahad’s memoirs, because they wanted to repress certain episodes…

I can’t recommend Wodehouse too highly.

P. G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith

Leave-It-to-Psmith overlook

P. G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith saved my life.

It happened like this.

We were on vacation in the woods of Wisconsin.  I did not fish.   When fishing went on, I slept soundly, or if I woke up, I stayed indoors and read P. G. Wodehouse.

I left the cabin occasionally to walk the Birkie, slap bugs, and visit a fish museum. Then I slapped one too many bugs.  I got ill.

Imagine being rushed to the hospital with a puffy and infected ankle and clapped into the infectious disease ward.

Illness is mysterious.  Was it a spider bite?  Maybe. They didn’t know.   The edges of the bite were dark and necrotic.  The team of doctors couldn’t identify the infection.  They gave me X-rays, MRI, ultrasounds, blood tests, EEGs…

They gave me IVs; they tried different medications.  I tried to be brave, and then stopped being brave.  After a week, my arms were sore and bruised from IVs.  I argued with an intern on a weekend about the IV.  I was there so long they had finally put the needle in my hand.  There were no more veins.

“Change it NOW.  I’m in pain.”

“The only place left is the crook of your arm.  You won’t be able to bend it.”

“Fine.  Just change it.”

I was dazed and scared.  My arm ached, but anything was better than having the needle in my hand.

The nurses looked like aerobics instructors, bouncing into the room in white sneakers. I was disheveled in a pink bathrobe over scrubs, and  IV bags hung decoratively from my arm.  I would go out to the nurses’ station and say, “I can’t sleep.”  Finally they gave me Benadryl.

I got sicker and sicker.  I just lay there for days.  I couldn’t read my books.

Finally they gave me sleeping pills. And I got better from one of the medicines, though they never identified the illness.   And then a friend brought me P. G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith.

Leave It to Psmith Norton One day I was sitting up at dawn reading  Leave It to Psmith.  I had never read anything so funny.  It was astonishingly well-written, too.  I read it quickly and recovered in a day.  I SWEAR TO GOD.

If you’re not familiar with Wodehouse’s comedies, you must add them to your canon.  Tropes repeat, but never boringly:  in almost every novel there are cases of mistaken identity, impostors, thefts of jewelry or pigs, and accidental engagements. Wodehouse’s stock comic characters are stuck in an Edwardian, or possibly slightly later, time frame, where nothing very bad ever happens, but they never seem hackneyed.  Wodehouse’s pitch-perfect dialogue and flawless prose are mesmerizing.

The plot of Leave It to Psmith is very silly, thank God.  (I would not have liked to be “healed” at the hospital by something very serious.)  Lord Emsworth at Blandings Castle is concerned about his hollyhocks and roses, while his sister Connie insists on entertaining literary types.  She arranges for Lord Emsworth to meet McTodd, a Canadian poet scheduled to join them, and he sets off peevishly.

Here is an example of Wodehouse’s wit.

“He shuffled morosely.  It was a perpetual grievance of his, this practice of his sister’s of collecting literary celebrities and dumping them down in the home for  indeterminate visits.  You never knew when she was going to spring another on you.  already since the beginning of the year he had suffered from a round dozen of the species at brief intervals; and at this very moment his life was being poisoned by the fact that Blandings was sheltering a certain Miss Aileen Peavey, the mere thought of whom was enough to turn the sunshine off as with a tap.”

Meanwhile, Lord Emsworth’s son Freddy has hired, or tried to hire,  the clever Psmith, an upwardly mobile fishmonger-turned-jack-of-all-trades, to steal Aunt Connie’s diamond necklace for his uncle, who plans to give some money to his stepmother and to Freddy–it’s complicated. And Psmith, who falls in love with the young woman who has been hired to catalogue the Blandings library, decides to impersonate McTodd and…

Does that sound sufficiently silly?

Is it any wonder that it became one of my favorite books?

I asked the doctor, Did the reading help?  The doctor said it was hard to know how these things worked.

They found a medicine that worked.  They didn’t know what I had had to begin with.

May P. G. Wodehouse be read by all of us in need.