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Bertie Wooster Sees It Through

( aka - Jeeves and The Feudal Spirit)

Dedication TO

PETER SCHWED (Of the firm of Simon and Schuster)

dear pete,

I have rather gone off dedications these last forty years or so. To hell with them about sums up my attitude. Today, when I write a book, it's just a book, with no trimmings.

It was not always so. Back at the turn of the century I and the rest of the boys would as soon have gone out without our spats as allowed a novel of ours to go out practically naked, as you might say. The dedication was the thing on which we spread ourselves. I once planned a book which was to consist entirely of dedications, but abandoned the idea because I could not think of a dedication for it.

We went in for variety in those days. When you opened a novel, you never knew what you were going to get. It might be the curt take-it-or-leave-it dedication:

TO J. SMITH

the somewhat warmer

To My Friend

PERCY BROWN

or one of those cryptic dedications with a bit of poetry shoved in underneath in italics, like

TO F.B.O.

Stark winds And sunset over the moors.

Why?

Whither?

Whence?

And the sound of distant drums. ..

J. Fred Muggs

Lower-Smattering-on-the-Wissel,

1912.

or possibly, if we were feeling a bit livery, the nasty dedication:

TO THE CRITICS THESE PEARLS

It was all great fun and kept our pores open and brought the roses to our cheeks, but most authors have given it up. Inevitably a time came when there crept into their minds the question "What is there in this for me?" I know it was so in my case. "What is Wodehouse getting out of this?" I asked myself, and the answer, as far as I could see, was, "Not a ruddy thing."

When the eighteenth-century writer inserted on Page One something like

To

THE MOST NOBLE AND PUISSANT LORD KNUBBLE OF KNOPP

From

HIS VERY HUMBLE SERVANT THE AUTHOR

My Lord.

It is with inexpressible admiration for your lordship's transcendent gifts that the poor slob who now addresses your lordship presents to your lordship this trifling work, so unworthy of your lordship's distinguished con­sideration

he expected to clean up. Lord Knubble was his patron and could be relied on, if given the old oil in liberal doses, to come through with at least a couple of guineas. But where does the modern author get off? He plucks-let us say - P. B. Bitten from the unsung millions and makes him immortal, and what doe Biffen do in return? He does nothing. He just stands there, if he is like all the Biffens I know, the author won't get so much as a lunch out of it.

Nevertheless, partly because I know I shall get a very good lunch out of you but principally because you told Jack Goodman that you thought Bertie Wooster Sees It Through was better than War and Peace I inscribe this book

TO PETER SCHWED TO MY FRIEND PETER SCHWED

TO P.S.

Half a league

Half a league

Half a league

Onward

With a hey-nonny-nonny

And a hot cha-cha

P. G. Wodehouse Colney Hatch, 1954


Louder and Funnier


About this Book

I have borrowed the title of this little volume of meditations from the old story (which, as they say, may be new to some of you present here to-night) of the nervous after-dinner speaker. Like so many of his species, he had begun his remarks in a faltering undertone, and he had not been in action long when the usual austere Voice said, "Louder, please." A few minutes later, another Voice went deeper into the matter.

"Louder, please," it observed, "and funnier."

There the story ends. One is left to suppose that the speaker did his best to oblige, as I have done.

Most of these essays were written originally more than a dozen years ago for the American magazine. Vanity Fair, at a time when the wolf at the door left little leisure for careful thought and the patient search for the mot juste. I had a wife, two cats, and a puppy to support, and my policy, in consequence, was to bung something down quick and cash in. You will all be glad to hear that I made quite a good thing out of it and was able to pay my bills with a promptitude which earned for me in the Long Island village where I was then living the nickname of Honest John.

But if you are writing for Posterity, as I am now, you cannot breeze along in this airy, slap-dash way. When Faber and Faber, the Russell Square twins, wanted a book of light essays and asked me if I had anything of the kind in my cellars, my immediate reply was "Boys, I've got a trunkful." I thought it would be simply a case of digging out the stuff, blowing the dust off it, and collecting the advance royalties , It was only when I came to examine the'things that I realized my mistake.

To be fit reading for a cultivated British public, they had got to be louder and funnier. Not just a little louder and a little funnier, but much louder and much funnier. And to this end I have worked upon them like a beaver.

Always remember, therefore, that, much as you may dis­like this book, it could have been considerably worse.

There are two drawbacks to writing a volume of this kind.

   One is that you can think, off-hand, of so many people who could have done it better. The other is that the essay form is a tricky one to handle. It is not as if you had a story to tell. Any one will listen to a story. What you are doing is

 just grabbing the reader by the slack of his coat and babbling to him, and all the time he is probably dying to get away and go about his business. "How long?" he is saying to himself, as he looks at his watch. "How long?" And when he does escape you can picture him telling everybody to be careful how they let you get hold, of them, because the first thing they know you will be drooling. "Not a bad chap," he may say, if particularly charitable, "but I do wish he wouldn't try to be funny."

What I would really like would be to have this book judged in the indulgent spirit accorded to after-dinner speeches. I should like you all to use your imagination. Try to fancy that you are full to the brim with the petite marmite, the poulet roti, the sel d'agneau, and that curious hair-oil ice-cream they serve at banquets; that you are flushed with heady wines;

that you have undone the buttons of your waistcoat; and that your cigar is drawing well. Then all this will seem quite different.

As a matter of fact, it would be rather a good idea if you actually had a good, square meal before smiting to tackle this book. Don't attempt to read it after breakfast or in the grey hours of the late afternoon. Hold back till you have dined.  Then, with the coffee and old brandy at your side and within your soul that cosy feeling of being able to endure anything now, pitch in. You will be surprised what a difference it will make.

My publishers will support me in this. Faber major (with whom I do most of my business) tells me that they received the manuscript by an early post and that he and Faber mi could do literally nothing with it. They spent the day shoving it from one to the other, each trying to avoid the task of reading it. A clerk named Simmons was called in and ordered to have a go, but he resigned and is now coffee-planting in Kenya. The situation began to look like a deadlock, and then  suddenly they got the idea that things might brighten after a good dinner.

What ensued ? They dined as follows:

LE DINER

Hors d'eruvres varids Consomme Julienne Fried Smelts Faisan Roti Souffle au Maitre d'hotel Scotch Woodcock

washing it down with a brut champagne of a vintage year, and the next thing that happened was an ugly row because Faber mi got hold of the manuscript and refused to give it up, and Faber ma was so annoyed by his snorts and chuckles that he hit him over the head with a croisson or small French roll.

So, if you are hesitating about reading further, say to yourself "It can be done. The Fabers did it," and stoke up and go to it.


Sam the Sudden


Preface

I have always been particularly fond of this one.

Ideally, of course, authors ought to be like the male codfish, and many of them are, at any rate as far as looks are concerned. I know a dozen novelists whose appearance would admit them to an Old Home Week of codfish and no questions asked.

But I am thinking more of the male codfish after his union has been blessed and he has become the father of three million little codfish, for when this happens he conscientiously resolves to love them all alike and have no favourites. And this ought to be the spirit in which an author regards his books.

It is, however, a counsel of perfection. There are few pur­veyors of wholesome fiction who have written as much as I have who can claim to have no special pet among their progeny. Much as I have tried not to, I find myself beaming on Sam The Sudden with a sunny approval lacking when I re-read some of the others. It was published first in 1925, and when nearly fifty years have elapsed since the publication of a book I main­tain that it is not unallowable for its author to evaluate it -excuse these long words; I am writing now as a literary critic -as the work of a stranger - I mean to say without false modesty or any of that rot. And evaluating it in this manner I give it as my considered opinion that Sam the Sudden is darned good.

It may be that it is the setting of the story that makes me take this view. It was the first thing of mine where the action took place in the delectable suburb of Valley Fields, a thin dis­guise for the Dulwich where so many of my happiest hours have been spent. In the course of a longish life I have flitted about a bit. I have had homes in Mayfair, in Park Avenue, New York, in Beverly Hills, California, and other posh locali­ties, but I have always been a suburbanite at heart, and it is when I get a plot calling for a suburban setting that I really roll up my sleeves and give of my best

Valley Fields, in a word, inspired me. What I felt about it cannot be better expressed than by an excerpt from another of my books about it. As follows:

'In the course of a letter to the South London Argus expos­ing the hellhounds of the local Gas Light and Water Company, Major Flood-Smith of Castlewood had once referred to Valley Fields as "a fragrant back-water". He gave the letter to his cook to post, and she forgot it and found it three weeks later in a drawer and burned it, and the editor would never have printed it anyway, as it was diametrically opposed to the policy for which the Argus bad fearlessly stood, but - and this is the point we would stress - in describing Valley Fields as a fragrant back-water the Major was dead right. He was also correct in saying, as he sometimes did in conversation with friends, that it was absolutely damned impossible, when you lived in Valley Fields, to believe that you were only six miles from London or, if a crow, only three.'

It was in this book that Soapy and Dolly Molloy and Chimp Twist made their first appearance, and my fondness for them is such that I have fallen once more into the Saga habit which is always such a temptation to authors. They play an important role not only in Money For Nothing, Ice In The Bedroom and Money In The Bank but in the one I finished the day before yesterday, and I have no means of knowing whether the customers welcome them or not. That is one of the many anxieties in an author's life; it is so difficult for him to know how his characters affect people. For all I know, thousands may shudder when they find Soapy and Dolly and Chimp among those present.

Here is Sam The Sudden, anyway, and I hope you will all like it as much as I do. I hope, too, that in the thirty-three years since I have seen it Valley Fields has not ceased to be a fragrant back-water. Though I did read somewhere about a firm of builders wanting to put up a block of flats in Croxted Road, where I once lived in the first house on the left as you come up from the station. Gad, sir, if anyone had tried to do that in my time, I'd have horsewhipped them on the steps of their club, if they had a club.

P.G.WODEHOUSE


 

To

DENIS MACKAIL

Author of 'Greenery Street', 'The Flower Show', and other books which I wish I had written


Preface

A CERTAIN critic - for such men, I regret to say, do exist - made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained 'all the old Wodehouse characters under different names'. He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have outgeneralled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.

This story is a sort of Old Home Week for my - if I may coin a phrase - puppets. Hugo Carmody and Ronnie Fish appeared in Money for Nothing. Pilbeam was in Bill the Conqueror. And the rest of them, Lord Emsworth, the Efficient Baxter, Butler Beach, and the others have all done their bit before in Something Fresh and Leave it to Psmith. Even Empress of Blandings, that pre-eminent pig, is coming up for the second time, having made her debut in a short story called 'Pig-hoo-oo-ey!', which, with other Blandings Castle stories too fascinating to mention, will eventually appear in volume form.

The fact is, I cannot tear myself away from Blandings Castle. The place exercises a sort of spell over me. I am always popping down to Shropshire and looking in there to hear the latest news, and there always seems to be something to interest me. It is in the hope that it will also interest My Public that I have jotted down the bit of gossip from the old spot which I have called Summer Lightning.

A word about the title. It is related of Thackeray that, hitting upon Vanity Fair after retiring to rest one night, he leaped out of bed and ran seven times round the room, shouting at the top of his voice. Oddly enough, I behaved in exactly the same way when I thought of Summer Lightning. I recognized it immediately as the ideal title for a novel. My exuberance has been a little diminished since by the discovery that I am not the only one who thinks highly of it. Already I have been informed that two novels with the same name have been published in England, and my agent in America cables to say that three have recently been placed on the market in the United States. As my story has appeared in serial form under its present label, it is too late to alter it now. I can only express the modest hope that this story will be considered worthy of inclusion in the list of the Hundred Best Books Called Summer Lightning.

P. G. WODEHOUSE


The Adventures of Sally

DEDICATION TO GEORGE GROSSMITH

Dear George, The production of our mutual effort, The Cabaret Girl, is a week distant as I write this; and who shall say what the harvest will be? But, whether a week from now we are slapping each other on the back or shivering in the frost, nothing can alter the fact that we had a lot of fun writing the thing together. Not a reproach or a nasty look from start to finish. Because of this, and because you and I were side by side through the Adventure of the Ship's Bore, the Episode of the Concert In Aid of the Seamen's Orphans and Widows, and the Sinister Affair of The Rose of Stamboul, I dedicate this book to you.

P.G.WODEHOUSE

Garrick Club


The Clicking of Cuthbert and Other Stories


DEDICATION

TO THE

IMMORTAL MEMORY OF JOHN HENRIE AND PAT ROGIE WHO AT EDINBURGH IN THE YEAR AD 1593 WERE IMPRISONED FOR

'PLAYING OF THE GOWFF ON THE LINKS OF LEITH EVERY SABBATH THE TIME OF THE SERMONSES', ALSO OF ROBERT ROBERTSON WHO GOT IT IN THE NECK IN AD 1604 FOR THE SAME REASON


Fore!

This book marks an epoch in my literary career. It is written in blood. It is the outpouring of a soul as deeply seared by Fate's unkindness as the pretty on the dog-leg hole of the second nine was ever seared by my iron. It is the work of a very nearly desperate man, an eighteen-handicap man who has got to look extremely slippy if he doesn't want to find himself in the twenties again.

As a writer of light fiction, I have always till now been handicapped by the fact that my disposition was cheerful, my heart intact, and my life unsoured. Handicapped, I say, because the public likes to feel that a writer of farcical stories is piquantly miserable in his private life, and that, if he turns out anything amusing, he does it simply in order to obtain relief from the almost insupportable weight of an existence which he has long since realized to be a wash-out. Well, today I am just like that.

Two years ago, I admit, I was a shallow farceur. My work lacked depth. I wrote flippantly simply because I was having a thoroughly good time. Then I took up golf, and now I can smile through the tears and laugh, like Figaro, that I may not weep, and generally hold my head up and (eel that I am entitled to respect.

If you find anything in this volume that amuses you, kindly bear in mind that it was probably written on my return home after losing three balls in the gorse or breaking the head off a favourite driver: and, with a murmured 'Brave fellow! Brave fellow!' recall the story of the clown jesting while his child lay dying at home. That is all. Thank you for your sympathy. It means more to me than I can say. Do you think that if I tried the square stance for a bit ... But, after all, this cannot interest you. Leave me to my misery.

postscript - In the second chapter I allude to Stout Cortez staring at the Pacific. Shortly after the appearance of this narrative in serial form in America, I received an anonymous letter containing the words, 'You big stiff, it wasn't Cortez, it was Balboa.' This, I believe, is historically accurate. On the other hand, if was good enough for Keats, he is good enough for me. Besides, even if it was Balboa, the Pacific was open for being stared at about that time, and I see no reason why Cortez should not have had a look at it as well.

P. G. WODEHOUSE


The Small Bachelor


TO JOAN, EFFIE AND ERNESTINE BOWES-LYON


PREFACE

I have three reasons for being particularly fond of The Small Bachelor.

1 suppose authors generally have a special affection for those of their books which come out easily. It is not that we mind work —we are always ready to give our all for our Art—but it is nice when we are occasionally spared the blood sweat and tears, and there are few things more agonizing than the realization, after one has written 50,000 words of a novel, that as a theatrical manager I knew used to say of a play which seemed to him to fall short of perfection 'it don't add up right'.

Few people, for instance, liked Thank You, Jeeves, as much as I do, but I love it because it came out as smooth as treacle gurgling out of a jug and never gave me a moment's anguish from the opening paragraph of Chapter One. I actually wrote the last twenty-six pages—about 5,500 words—in a single day between breakfast and dinner, and felt fine when I had done it.

The Small Bachelor was one of the easy ones. I wrote most of it in a punt on a lake at a country house in Norfolk with gentle breezes blowing and ducks quacking and all Nature, as you might say, pitching in to make my task more pleasant.

My second reason for being fond of the book is nostalgic. So much of the action takes place in the Greenwich Village sector of New York, where I lived between 1909 and 1914. I have not visited it for fifty years and everybody tells me it has been ruined by hippies and drug addicts, but when I was there it was a charming spot entirely different from anywhere else in New York. I was very hard up in my Greenwich Village days, but I was always very happy. There were trees and grass and, if you wanted to celebrate the sale of a story, two wonderful old restaurants, the Brevoort and the Lafayette, which might have been invented by O'Henry. Prohibition, which killed them both, was unheard of then, though it enters largely into The Small Bachelor: everything such as food and hotel bills was inexpensive: one could live on practically nothing, which was fortunate for me because I had to.

The third reason for my affection for this book is that it is based on a musical comedy I have always had a weakness for, a thing called Oh, Lady, the second of the shows which Guy Bolton, Jerome Kern and I did for the Princess Theatre on 39th Street.

Making a novel out of a play is not the simple job it might seem to be. You can't just take the dialogue and put in an occasional 'he said' and 'she said'. Oh, Lady for instance, ran—exclusive of musical numbers—to about 15,000 words. A novel has to be between seventy and eighty thousand. I wrote 50,000 words of The Small Bachelor before I came to the start of Oh, Lady. When I did, I admit that things eased up a lot, though even then the fact that I had added so many threads to the plot made it impossible to use the dialogue as it stood. Sigsbee Waddington, the false necklace. Officer Garroway and the oil shares were not in the play, and Mrs. Sigsbee Waddington was an entirely different character.

For the record, Oh, Lady was produced during a printers' strike, so we got no newspaper notices, but in spite of that it was such a success that while it was running at the Princess Theatre another company was formed to play it at another New York theatre simultaneously, with four companies out on the road. And when it was done at Sing-Sing with a cast of convicts, it was, so I am told, a riot.

The only thing missing from it was a real song hit. Jerry's music, as always, was enchanting, but what we felt we needed was an outstanding song hit. There was a number for the heroine in the second act called 'Bill', but we all thought it was too slow, so it was cut out. It was not till it was done in Show Boat six years later that we realized that, like Othello's base Indian, we had thrown away a pearl richer than all our tribe.

As the fellow said, that's show biz.

P. G. WODEHOUSE


Vintage Wodehouse

Foreword by Richard Usborne

P. G. Wodehouse - or Sir Pelham Wodehouse to give him his long overdue title - was a professional writer for seventy-odd years, had notched up more than ninety books (say live million words) and had a nearly finished new Blandings novel in typescript on the table in the hospital when he died.

The publishers have given me a target of one hundred and eighty thousand words for the anthology. That's the equivalent of eighteen of the short stories. Well, The World of Jeeves omnibus alone contains thirty-four short stories. So that, admit­tedly substantial, book is already twice my target length. And Blandings, Mr Mulliner, Golf, Ukridge, Psmith, Uncle Fred, Bingo Little, Freddie Widgeon and others of the Drones Club lot ... shelves of novels and short stories . . . still to come.

It's an embarrassment of choice. I have just managed to leave out 'I he Great Sermon Handicap'. But I can't leave out Gussie presenting the prizes, or The Clicking of Cuthbert', even though they have appeared in so many anthologies. And there's so much stuff, newer stuff, in the same class. Those talks Wode­house gave on the German radio to America from Berlin in 1941 . . . it's about time they got a proper airing. But I have only been able to give bits of them here.

Anyway, the longer I go on, the less room there is for Wodehouse. So ...

 

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Index from book Wodehouse on Wodehouse. | Article "About Stories" | Dedications1 | Dedications 2 | Prefaces1 | Prefaces2 | Prefaces3 | Prefaces4 | "Facts from Usborn" (forewords from Vintage Wodehouse)

 
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