Book Corner – February 2020 (1)

Summer Lightning – P G Wodehouse

This is the third novel in the Blanding series, published in July 1929, initially in the United States under the title of Fish Preferred and then nineteen days later in England under its more commonly recognised title. It was serialised in the Pall Mall Magazine either side of the book’s publication, between March and August 1929, and in the US in Collier’s ahead of its being released in book form.

Since the initial Blandings’ story, Something Fresh, the castle seems to have been teleported to rural Shropshire, Lord Emsworth has taken up breeding prize pigs, The Empress of Blandings is his pride and joy and wins prizes at the County Agricultural Show, and the Efficient Baxter has been sacked from his role as secretary for allegedly throwing flower pots at his lordship and has been replaced by the love-lorn, hapless, Hugo Carmody.

The plots are rather formulaic involving broken engagements, imposters and attempts on the security of the pig. Hugo and Lord Emsworth’s nephew, Ronnie Fish, find themselves engaged to the wrong girls and se what limited ingenuity they possess to remedy their predicaments. Lady Constance plots to get the Efficient Baxter back in post. Sir Galahad is determined to embarrass the local aristocracy with saucy tales of their youthful improprieties in the Reminiscences he is beavering away. The obvious way to get his Lordship’s undying gratitude is to steal his pig and recover it. But what is a seemingly simple plan is complicated by the hiring of a detective, Percy Pilbeam, who, although he thinks finding a pig to be below his professional dignity, takes up the challenge because he has also been engaged to steal Sir Galahad’s manuscript.

All clear? There are more complexities than that but, suffice it to say, matters get more or less resolved satisfactorily with the Efficient Baxter humiliated once more and Pilbeam thwarted.

It is tempting to compare and contrast these stories with the Jeeves and Wooster stories. The Blandings stories with their third person narrative lose a little of the immediacy of the Wooster stories with their first person narrative and the butler, Beach, is a shadowier, less pivotal character than his more famous counterpart, more an accomplice than a resolver of tricky situations.         

But you don’t pick up a Wodehouse book to engage in formalised literary criticism. You should just pinch your nose and dive headlong into a wonderful world as far as detached from reality as you can get. The characters are stereotypes, for sure, but part of Wodehouse’s genius is to be able to wring the last drop of humour from their behaviour and luxuriate in his glorious dialogue and descriptive phrases that stay long in the memory. The opening sets the scene, “Blandings Castle slept in the sunshine. Dancing little ripples of heat-mist played across its smooth lawns and stone-flagged terraces. The air was full of the lulling drone of insects. It was that gracious hour of a summer afternoon, midway between luncheon and tea, when Nature seems to unbutton its waistcoat and put its feet up.” and once he’s off, Wodehouse never lets go.

It is a satire of sorts of the aristocrats and a world long since gone, if it ever existed. More importantly, it is the purest form of escapism and while you read it, the world and our place in it doesn’t seem too bad, after all.

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