Tag Archives: Beach the butler

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Efficient Baxter has been sacked from his role as secretary for allegedly throwing flower pots at his lordship and has been replaced by the love-lorn, hapless, Hugo Carmody.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.

Book Corner – December 2019 (1)

Something Fresh – P G Wodehouse

I always find the world that Wodehouse constructs is the perfect antidote to the madness of modern life and also a form of light relief from some of the heavier tomes I have been working my way through. This is the first of the Blandings books, published in 1915 and known in the United States as Something New, and introduces us to the absent-minded Lord Emsworth, his dim-witted son, Freddie Threepwood. and the butler, Beach.   

I have come to the Blandings books somewhat late and after reading a number of the tales of Jeeves and Wooster. Perhaps this was a mistake because I cannot help but conclude that, if this book is anything to go by, the miss that indefinable chemistry present in the relationship between Wooster and his valet, Jeeves. Threepwood isn’t a patch on Bertie and Beach is a pale shadow of a figure compared to the inimitable Jeeves. I also found it harder to get into than other Wodehouse books.

That said, the Wodehouse aficionado will not be disappointed. There is the usual mix of eccentric characters and the plot, thin as prison gruel as it may be, provides the author with a canvas broad enough to let his comic imagination run wild. Much of the action takes place in Blandings Castle, home of Lord Emsworth. On a rare visit up to London, his Lordship, in a moment of absent-mindedness, pocketed a rare Egyptian scarab, the pride and joy of an American millionaire, J Preston Peters.

Peters is unwilling to risk a scene by asking his Lordship directly for the return of his property, not least because his daughter is engaged to be married to Threepwood. Instead he hires a young crime novelist, Ashe Marson, to steal the item back. This is the cue for lots of skulking around in the middle of the night, mistakes, alliances, mishaps and food spillage. There is also some love interest, Ashe in pursuit of Joan Valentine, who is also on a mission to repatriate the scarab. The saga resolves itself, satisfactorily for all parties but that isn’t really the point of the book.

The point of the book is the language and it is very apparent that Wodehouse is limbering up to become the master of comedic image that he was in his pomp. Take this description of the impression that Beach made on Ashe when he first met him; “Ashe’s first impression of Beach, the butler, was one of tension. Other people, confronted for the first time with Beach, had felt the same. He had that strained air of being on the very point of bursting that one sees in bullfrogs and toy balloons”.        

And how about this for a mastery of economy in the use of language and yet painting an extremely funny image? “Lord Emsworth raised his revolver and emptied it in the direction of the sound. Extremely fortunately for him, the Efficient Baxter had not changed his all-fours attitude. This undoubtedly saved Lord Emsworth the worry of engaging a new secretary. The shots sang above Baxter’s head one after the other, six in all, and found other billets than his person. They disposed themselves as follows: The first shot broke a window and whistled out into the night; the second shot hit the dinner gong and made a perfectly extraordinary noise, like the Last Trump; the third, fourth and fifth shots embedded themselves in the wall; the sixth and final shot hit a life-size picture of his lordship’s grandmother in the face and improved it out of all knowledge”.

Wonderful stuff but not his best. And the Empress is nowhere to be seen. She doesn’t appear until the late 1920s.