Monday, February 18, 2013

Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse

After the last two literary misadventures, the fiction-loving epicurean in me decided to retreat to the relative safety of Wodehouse's offerings, and so, here I am with my thoughts on Something Fresh.

Nothing to do with fresh fish though, whether salmon or trout or anything else, anything that passes through the stiff upper lip, I mean. Nevertheless, am yet to figure out just how those stiff-upper-lips can make out the difference, since all boiled-salted-peppered stuff tastes the same, no? Umm, maybe there exists an inbuilt mechanism of foodnamelocation, just as bats have echolocation.

Anyway, let me not digress.

Something Fresh is a novel by P. G. Wodehouse. It was first published as a book in the United States, by D. Appleton & Company on September 3, 1915, under the title Something New, having previously appeared under that title as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post between June 26 and August 14, 1915. It was published in the United Kingdom by Methuen & Co. on September 16, 1915.

"The rules governing exercise in London are clearly defined. You may run, if you are running after a hat or an omnibus; you may jump, if you do so with the idea of avoiding a taxi-cab or because you have stepped on a banana-skin. But, if you run because you wish to develop your lungs or jump because jumping is good for the liver, London punishes you with its mockery. It rallies round and points the finger of scorn."

... This bit (on page #10, actually page #4) made me to instantly warm up to this book, since it pretty much mirrors the desi attitude towards exercise and good health. For us: Exercise first becomes Egg, and then turns into Bacon and it's many distant cousins. Bottom line: We would rather waddle around than exercise.

The Storyline: Something Fresh is the first of the much-acclaimed Blandings novels, though there is a minor Wooster character. Here we are introduced to life below and above stairs - each of which is unique.

There is the countryside-loving Clarence Threepwood, 9th Earl of Emsworth, or Lord Emsworth - who loves to potter around his Blandings Castle even when guests are around, since he belongs to the people-like-to-be-left-alone-to-amuse-themselves-when-they-come-to-a-place school of hosts. There's his younger son - the letter-and-poetry-bombarding Freddie Threepwood, the source of all the worry-lines on Lord Emsworth's forehead. Freddie loves to potter around too - but in London. He is the sort that can effortlessly make a millionaire out of a billionaire. 

There's the gentle-natured sympathetic-dieter (read: starving) Aline Peters, daughter of the quick-tempered and insomniac American millionaire, J. Preston Peters. She is forced to diet so that her dear father can keep up his motivation levels (to diet) - and can, therefore, continue to keep the lining of his stomach in good humour.

J. Preston Peters is a formidable man: a self-made millionaire and a workaholic. He is the sort that wants results, and wants them quick. But this single-minded pursuit of results (in the shape of small bits of paper) has given him indigestion followed by a nervous breakdown, thus exemplifying, "... if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind" yet again. Or should it be: ek ke sath ek free - one comes gratis with the other? You decide. Anyway, due to his specialist's insistence, Mr. Peters took to collecting scarabs as a hobby, but his result-oriented nature ensured that he quickly amassed a prodigious collection, the crowning glory of which was a Cheops of the Fourth Dynasty.

There's George Emerson: Second-in-command of the Hong-Kong Police force and a fleeting acquaintance of Freddie. George is the sort that wonders: 'What are the stout children in the bathing-suits supposed to be doing?' [The stout children in question is Cupid.] He has adored Aline since he wore knickerbockers, and is now determined to first un-diet and then rescue her from a bland life @ Blandings Castle... as Mrs. The Honourable Frederick Threepwood. 

Aline in turn finds George too Superman-ish for her taste. (Vive la difference!)

We are also introduced to Ashe Marson and Joan Valentine - young neighbours and fellow-writers.

Ashe Marson: a tall, well-built, fit-looking young man, with a clear eye and a strong chin, is a young writer employed by the Mammoth Publishing Company. He is the creator of the popular "Gridley Quayle" detective novels (under the pseudonym Felix Clovelly.)

Ashe - the son of a Reverend - was sent to Oxford to read for the Church, but ended up excelling at athletics instead: running the mile in four and a half minutes and the half-mile at a correspondingly rapid speed. His researches in the art of long-jumping won him the respect of all. Result: despite securing his Blue for Athletics, and gladdening thousands by winning the mile and the hale-mile two years in succession (against Cambridge at Queen's Club), his academics failed to take off. However, he did manage to obtain a minor degree, enough to enable him to call himself a Bachelor of Arts, and realizing that you can fool some of the people some of the time, he applied for and secured a series of private tutorships. This was followed by newspaper work, after two years of moderate success he got in touch with the Mammoth Publishing Company - an entity that in spite of controlling several important newspapers, a few weekly journals, and a number of other things, did not disdain the pennies of the office-boy and the junior clerk.

Joan Valentine: a young girl with wheat-gold hair and bright blue eyes, Joan went to school with Aline Peters and later lived in Paris. But since five years has been forced to live the hard life: spells in a shop, doing typewriting, on the stage as a governess, and as a lady's maid. Currently she is engaged as editor of Home Gossip - an organ of the Mammoth Publishing Company, and therefore, a colleague of Ashe Martin... though they were unaware of each other.

... Until the day Joan sees him diligently going about his morning Larsen Exercises and is amused by his complicated maneuvers. [Ashe has other onlookers of course, including a cat.]

Later: Joan apologizes, and while talking about this-and-that encourages Ashe to look for better opportunities among the newspaper ads. Needless to say, the feisty and unflappable Joan makes quite an impression on Ashe who comes to regard her as: 'a human correspondence course in Efficiency'.

Joan and Ashe live in the same apartment building.

For the intrigue-angle, a couple of dubious characters: R. Jones, an obese bookmaker, and Rupert Baxter aka 'The Efficient Baxter', Lord Emsworth's very efficient secretary, make their appearance.

There's an assortment of kitchen-maids, scullery-maids, still-room maids, housemaids, nursery-maids, laundry-maids, chauffeurs, footmen, under-butler, pantry-boys, hall-boys, odd man and steward's room footman. Apart from Valet, Butler, head laundry-maid, head-housemaid, housekeeper, and the groom of the chambers, lady's maid, so on and so forth. It's a small wonder then that bureaucracy too sprung forth from this fertile environment and then spread far and wide via cross-pollination, what?

Having met Joan, and wanting to expand his horizons, Ashe scans the newspapers for better opportunities... and lands one too. That of infiltrating Blandings Castle masquerading as Mr. Peters' valet... and stealing er, recovering the coveted scarab (Cheops of the Fourth Dynasty) that Lord Emsworth has unmindfully walked off with.

Meanwhile, Joan too has been engaged by Aline to recover the same scarab, and is therefore, masquerading as her lady's maid - Ms. Simpson. Ashe and Joan find themselves journeying together to Market Blandings Station... in the same second-class compartment of the four-fifteen express that slid softly out of Paddington Station.

Though Joan is aware of Ashe's purpose, Ashe is in the dark about Joan's, and so spends his time trying to diagnose his sensations vis-à-vis Joan. He finally concludes that since they have only met thrice before, his odd impulse to leap across the compartment and kiss Joan was not love. It was merely the natural desire of a good-hearted young man to be decently chummy with his species.

Frankly, it's a relief to note that his quest for a beetle-like scarab has not motivated him to display crab-like movements around Joan, a la Dev Anand.

Later, Ashe and Joan decide to work together as partners. Joan of course likes to win through her own merit and indicates as much to Ashe (in an effort to discourage him from displaying any chivalry).

What happens next? Who gets to recover the coveted scarab? What happens to Aline and Freddie or to Joan and Ashe? Well, do get hold of this book and enjoy all that rests within its pages. It is guaranteed to bring a smile to your lips. Lord Emsworth's rebuke of Baxter is priceless.

And oh, Ashe does manage to almost rid J. Preston Peters off his dyspepsia, by a combination of Larsen Exercises, cold bath, brisk rub down, sharp walk... and reading to him from a cookbook.

Couldn't have gone wrong, could he?

Btw, there's mention of something that happens so often in India: fellows running amuck and kicking up the deuce's own delight. Looks like: our propensity to run amuck has been world-famous for a while now. But ever wonder why we run amuck so much, when no tiger seems to be chasing us? Besides, there are only 1411 of them, poor fellas, and we are a billion plus and counting... Not fair. We must inculcate the take-it-easy-policy as propounded by our original 'Rubberman'. What say?

Verdict: The book jacket cover is well done; the production quality of the book is good; I don't quite recall any editing errors either, so if at all they exist, ignore them.

Ashe Martin has a whiff of Bertie Wooster. A whiff. And Freddie Threepwood has shades of Augustus Fink-Nottle (from Right Ho, Jeeves).

This is my first Blandings novel; it has been a delightful journey.

Sample this: 'Expensive Classical education now bearing belated fruit.'

And here's some more: 'Ah!' he said.

That blessed word, covering everything. He repeated it, pleased at his ready resource.

'A Cheops of the Fourth Dynasty,' said Mr. Peters fervently.

'I beg your pardon?'

'A Cheops! Of the Fourth Dynasty!'

Lord Emsworth began to feel like a hunted stag. He could not go on saying 'Ah!' indefinitely, yet what else was there to say to this curious little beastly sort of a beetle kind of thing?

'Dear me! A Cheops!'

'Of the Fourth Dynasty!'

'Bless my soul! The Fourth Dynasty!'

Feb 14, 1975, P.G. "Plum" Wodehouse, to use his own phrases, "handed in his dinner pail" and "went off to reside with the morning stars."

Details of the book: Something Fresh/ Author: P.G. Wodehouse/ Publisher: Arrow, an imprint of Random House/ Binding: Paperback/ Publishing Date: 01/08/2008/ Genre: Classics/ ISBN-10: 978-0-09-951378-0/ ISBN-13: 9780099513780/ Pages: 260/ Price: $19.95

Picture: The book jacket cover of Something Fresh. Courtesy: link.

1 comment:

  1. That just prompted me to dust off my PGW collection and reread them all. Well written piece.

    Also, "Expensive Classical education now bearing belated fruit." I'm going to use that at the pub tonight.