What ho, Plum!
Ineffectual gentry, cunning servants, horrendous aunts — all these were contributed to the Genteel Interbellum Setting
by Pelham Grenville Wodehouse
("Plum" to friends — and the last name is prounounced "Woodhouse," not "Woadhouse
") (1881-1975), a prolific writer of light comedies, who was also responsible for many early Broadway musicals.
Beginning his career in the earliest years of the 20th century
as a writer of topical verse for the newspapers, he first made a name as an author mainly of boys' school stories. Wodehouse soon moved into the more lucrative field of light romance, and finally, in the late Twenties, settled on the pure comedies he preferred, and which he continued writing up to his last book (published posthumously as Sunset at Blandings
). He additionally wrote the book to several long-running Broadway musicals
, adapted some others to the stage, and rewrote Cole Porter
's Anything Goes
In 1940 Wodehouse was living in France when the Germans
showed up—he literally did not know what was happening until his wife told him that she'd seen German soldiers on the road. After spending nearly a year in internment as an enemy alien, he was released and allowed to live in Berlin and occupied Paris. While in Berlin, he recorded six radio broadcasts recounting his experiences as a captive of the Germans. They were meant to be humorous talks in typical Wodehouse style, and they contained no pro-German or anti-British propaganda, but when second-hand information about their production finally filtered back to England, they went over very badly. His former friend A. A. Milne
said that Wodehouse should be tried for treason as a German collaborator. MI-5
judged that Wodehouse had exhibited poor judgement but was not a traitor. Wodehouse reacted to the criticism by emigrating to the United States and becoming an American citizen, settling on Long Island. He never returned to England, not even to receive the knighthood that was granted him by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975. He died the same year at the age of 93, saying that with his knighthood and a waxwork in Madame Tussauds, he had achieved all of his life's ambitions. Nevertheless, he worked right to the end; his last Jeeves novel was published a few months before his death and he was working on a Blandings novel when he died.
Wodehouse's stories are generally tangles of zany schemes
motivated by frustrated love. For example, say a young Mr. Reggie Worthington wants to be engaged to Betty Harte, but first must (a) disengage himself from Wilhelmina "Billie" Wreckham by pairing her up with Cyril "Bunny" Rabbington-Vole; (b) match Cyril's jealous fiancée, Edith Pilsworth, with Billie's equally green-eyed brother Freddie, who has been trying to keep all men away from his sister, and (c) blackmail Aunt Geraldine into allowing the engagements by holding hostage her prized 17th Century silver MacGuffin
. Naturally, Betty, Billie, Cyril, Edith and Freddie all have devised their own zany schemes, each flawlessly assured to land our Reggie example in the soup. Mistaken identities, misinterpretations of events, secrets, blackmail, theft, ludicrous bets
, accidental engagements
, and, of course, True Love also contribute. A typical Wodehouse novel, as nonsensical and as breezy as it strives to be, is actually very tightly plotted, with many examples of Chekhov's Gun
and all its related tropes.
Although Wodehouse penned several overlapping series, among them the "Oldest Member" golf stories, Mr. Mulliner's tall tales, the ongoing adventures of Psmith
, and the ever-hopeful scheming of Stanley Ukridge, today he is best remembered for two — Jeeves and Wooster
and Blandings Castle
Wodehouse's most famous Upper-Class Twit
, Bertram Wilberforce "Bertie" Wooster, is the character who probably best embodies Wodehouse's gift for language. Bertie expresses himself with a loopy eloquence, giving this series its much-beloved Cloud Cuckoo Lander
sense of humor. His Servile Snarker
butler), Reginald Jeeves
, is as capable as Bertie is ineffectual. With, apparently, the same effort most people put into buttoning their cuffs, Jeeves rescues Bertie and/or his friends from their entanglements and restores the status quo
Blandings, meanwhile, a castle which "has impostors the way other places have mice", is the home of the elderly and ineffectual Clarence Threepwood, Eighth Earl of Emsworth, which is routinely used by his many domineering sisters to imprison nieces or nephews intent on an unsuitable marriage. The would-be fiance has to infiltrate the castle in disguise, often with help from the Earl's ne'er-do-well brother Galahad Threepwood
, and capable, sporting butler Sebastian Beach (who actually is
a butler), or less often his good friend Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton, Earl of Ickenham, who aims always to spread sweetness and light, and persuade Emsworth to overrule his sister, which will, of course, give the Earl the nudge he needs to do what it takes for his prize pig, The Empress of Blandings, to win the prize at the country fair away from their arch-rival, Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe, Bart., and his Pride of Matchinghham.
Sound complicated enough yet?
Wodehouse's books have been the basis for a number of films and television series. The Blandings series has seen Clive Currie and Horace Hodges as Lord Emsworth in movie versions, and Fritz Schultz (in German), Sir Ralph Richardson, and Peter O'Toole on television, although many regard the BBC radio Lord Emsworth, Richard Vernon (who also lent his voice to Slartibartfast
), as definitive. Arthur Treacher was well-known as the embodiment of Jeeves in the 1930s, with David Niven (!) taking the part of Bertie Wooster; in the Sixties, Ian Carmichael (also known
for playing Lord Peter Wimsey
and the BBC radio Galahad Threepwood) as Bertie and Dennis Price as Jeeves. (It is on record that Wodehouse did not care much for any of these adaptations.) Wodehouse himself appeared in the last year of his life to introduce episodes of the well-regarded BBC Wodehouse Playhouse
, which brilliantly adapted many of the Mulliner and the Golf stories.
The Jeeves stories were also the basis and inspiration for an Andrew Lloyd Webber
which was released in 1975 and failed so spectacularly both critically and commercially that it's still thought of as Webber's only real flop. However, in 1996 the musical was reworked, rewritten and re-released as By Jeeves,
which was far more successful and got generally positive reviews.
Most recently, and perhaps most famously, the Jeeves stories formed the basis of the popular early '90s series Jeeves and Wooster
, starring Stephen Fry
and Hugh Laurie
Works by P. G. Wodehouse with their own trope pages include:
Other works by P. G. Wodehouse provide examples of:
- Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Many a wrong man and woman has proven fickle in absence, thus conveniently breaking up the engagement.
- Accidental Misnaming: Waddington's inability to get other people's names right (he keeps calling Finch 'Winch' and 'Pinch') becomes an important plot point in The Small Bachelor.
- Adorkable: Plenty of his heroes, the well-intentioned twits in particular.
- After-Action Patch-Up: Offered in Summer Moonshine.
- Arcadia: Bill's dream, and Elizabeth's, in Uneasy Money.
- Author Catchphrase: Many noticeable ones.
- Author Existence Failure: Sunset At Blandings was published posthumously, only half-finished.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Averted for the most part, but occasionally parodied.
- As the Good Book Says: The letter Parker sends to Archie in Indiscretions of Archie. Much of the clergy's conversation in Meet Mr. Mulliner.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: In Jill the Reckless, Wally manifested this as a child.
- Best Her to Bed Her: As, for example, in the short story "There's Always Golf," where Clarice Fitch longs for a man to hit her with a riding-crop — used in Wodehouse to mock its serious use in the typical "sheik" romances of the period, and hilariously inverted in the Mulliner story, "A Voice From The Past."
- Bizarre and Improbable Golf Game
- Blue Blood
- Boarding School: He got started writing stories of his type; the introduction of Psmith bridges the gap between his school stories and his comedies.
- Brats with Slingshots: In Cocktail Time
- Bratty Half-Pint: Pretty much every kid in his works.
- Ceiling Banger: The short story "The Man Upstairs" uses this as a Meet Cute for its main characters.
- Chekhov's Gun: As noted above, these are often put on display.
- Children Are Innocent: Subverted at every opportunity — if a child appears in a Wodehouse story, nine times out of ten he (it's usually a he) will be an obnoxious grubby little pest.
Bertie: I've never been able to bear with fortitude anything in the shape of a kid with golden curls. Confronted with one, I feel the urge to drop things on him from a height.
Jeeves: Many strong natures are affected in the same way, sir.
- Commonality Connection: As in Hot Water or Uneasy Money.
- Cool Old Guy: The Wodehouseverse has a fair few of 'em. Uncle Fred and the Honourable Galahad are perhaps the best examples, regularly helping their younger acquaintances out of trouble, often with rather impressive Zany Schemes.
- Don't forget "The Oldest Member". Herewith, his famous counsel to a young golfer:
Oldest Member: Do you love her?
Young Man: Madly.
Oldest Member: And how do you find it affects your game?
Young Man: I've started shanking a bit.
Oldest Member: I am sorry, but not surprised. Either that or missing short putts is what happens on these occasions. I doubt if golfers ought to fall in love. I have known it to cost men ten shots in a medal round.
- Correspondence Course
- Could Say It But: A memorable one from Jill the Reckless:
"... I'm rather sorry we agreed to keep clear of personalities, because I should have liked to say that, if ever they have a skunk-show at Madison Square Garden, you ought to enter — and win the blue ribbon. Still, of course, under our agreement my lips are sealed, and I can't even hint at it. ..."
- Crush Blush: In Jill The Reckless.
- Cue the Rain: Indiscretions of Archie contains a subversion. In one story (originally published under the title "First Aid for Loonie Biddle"), Archie goes through a series of misfortunes trying to ensure the success of a particularly rash bet he placed on a ball game. When things are at their lowest, Cue The Rain—which rains out the ball game, negating his original problem.
- Cupid Hates Odd Couples: If two best friends fall for the same girl, it's likely that they'll both forswear her by the end.
- Dances and Balls
- Deconfirmed Bachelor: Eddie Denton in the Oldest Member story "A Mixed Threesome".
- Distressed Damsel: A Damsel In Distress.
- The Ditz: The majority of Wodehouse's heroes.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Quite a few of his heroes: see the short stories "The Best Sauce" and "Ruth in Exile" for two good examples.
- Embarrassing First Name: Many members of the Drones Club go by nicknames, often for excellent reasons.
- Also, poor Pelham Grenville Wodehouse himself. Rumour has it he refused knighthood for years to keep it a secret. One of his characters, a Mr. Trotter, avoids knighthood for much the same reason — fear of becoming "Sir Lemuel."
- W. N. Connor, who publicly denounced Wodehouse at the behest of the Ministry of Information, made a point of sneering at Wodehouse's high-falutin' given names. To his credit, he apologised to Wodehouse after the war; to his credit, Wodehouse forgave him, but insisted on calling him "Walpurgis"("Walp" for short) thereafter. (Connor's actual first name was "William.")
- Embarrassing Middle Name: In The Head of Kay's it's mentioned in passing that Fenn's name is Robert Mowbray, "the second of which he had spent much of his time in concealing."
- Bertie is shocked to discover his uncle's middle name: "Portarlington".
- Evil Matriarch: The horrendous aunts.
- Expy: Certain character types recurr in novel after novel.
- External Retcon: Of Tom Browns Schooldays. In "The Tom Brown Question", Wodehouse puts forward a theory that the second half of the book was rewritten by The Secret Society For Putting Wholesome Literature Within The Reach Of Every Boy And Seeing That He Gets It to conform to contemporary standards of uplifting morality.
- Extreme Doormat: Ukridge's friend and faithful chronicaller "Corky" Corcoran lets himself be talked into just about anything, although at least as a writer he is able make a bit of money selling the resulting narratives.
- Failure Is the Only Option: Ukridge's schemes almost invariably blow up in his face.
- Florence Nightingale Effect: Used on several occasions.
- Food Fight: A frequent occurrence at the Drones Club.
- The Fool: Many of Wodehouse's protagonists.
- Forgotten Anniversary: Indiscretions of Archie.
- Framing Device: Wodehouse had several series of short stories that used this, including the Mr. Mulliner series, the Drones Club stories, and most of the golfing stories.
- A Friend in Need: Many characters help others through their intrigues.
- Genre Savvy: Reading mysteries in Hot Water.
- In "Honeysuckle Cottage", a manly-man detective novelist moves into his Romance Novel-writing aunt's cottage as a condition of her will. He gradually realizes, to his horror, that he's becoming the hero of a romance novel, and is powerless to do anything about it despite recognizing all the tropes involved as they come up.
- In Jill the Reckless, Mrs. Barker recognizes lovers' problems from her reading.
- Genteel Interbellum Setting: In an 1958 interview (around 2:20) he said that nowadays he's writing "historical novels".
- However, as Christopher Hitchens and other critics point out, the attitudes and actions of Wooster & Co. are actually reflections of Edwardian comedy and mores (as in the stories of Saki) rather than the post-WWI era. Wodehouse himself addressed the accusation of his works being Edwardian in the (highly entertaining) preface to Joy In The Morning.
- The novel Ring For Jeeves was released in 1953, and clearly set in the '50s — World War II is mentioned, and the post-war social change which caused the aristocrats to seek employment is a major plot point.
- There is also the Bingo Little short story, "Bingo Bans The Bomb." Wodehouse never intended his novels to be read as period pieces, and would update them from time to time, adjusting dates, commodity prices, and so on. The novels only seem Edwardian because Wodehouse himself was — an Edwardian gentleman who survived well into the late Twentieth century.
- In Cocktail Time the characters not only discuss their service during World War II, but make it clear that no-one would like to see a World War III.
- Get Rich Quick Scheme: Quite a few characters use them, but Ukridge takes the cake.
- Gold Digger: Claire in Uneasy Money, though played somewhat sympathetically.
- Grande Dame: Wodehouse (very likely under the inspiration of W. S. Gilbert) may well claim to be the patron saint of this trope, for well over sixty years he devised every variation imaginable, from the lovable Aunt Dahlia to the truly horrible Heloise, Princess von und zu Dwornitzchek (a Rich Bitch who is not even funny). Perhaps the most typical is the formidable Lady Constance (she is, of course, the sister of the many-sistered Lord Emsworth in the "Blandings Castle" saga), but the apotheosis is Bertie's Aunt Agatha, who "chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth."
- Great White Hunter: Major Brabazon Plank.
- A Handful for an Eye: In The Small Bachelor, Mrs Waddington blinds Officer Garroway by throwing the contents of a pepperpot into his face in order to escape.
- Happily Failed Suicide: "A Sea of Troubles".
- Happy Dance: Freddie Rooke does one in Jill The Reckless on coming up with a plan to reunite Derek and Jill, much to Derek's annoyance.
- Heartwarming Orphan: Parodied with Rose Maynard in "Honeysuckle Cottage".
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Several notable sets.
- I Can Change My Beloved: The wrong girl often thinks she can turn her fiance into a cultured man.
- Idle Rich: The majority of his characters.
- Impoverished Patrician: In Summer Moonshine, Uneasy Money, and many others — particularly later works.
- Insecure Love Interest: Archie to Lucille in Indiscretions of Archie. Bill to Elizabeth in Uneasy Money.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Packy in Hot Water. George in A Damsel in Distress. Elizabeth in Uneasy Money.
- I Will Find You: Maud has to be kept at Belpher Castle to prevent this in A Damsel in Distress.
- The Jeeves: And Jeeves himself isn't the only example.
- Last Girl Wins: If the focus character or a close friend has been pursuing the same girl across multiple books, it's almost a given he'll run off with the cook in the last installment. Monty Bodkin is a prime example.
- Licked by the Dog: James Rodman in "Honeysuckle Cottage". Although he greatly dislikes the dog in question, it ends up saving him from a bad engagement and becomes his Canine Companion.
- Love at First Sight: In almost every story. Usually the likeable male lead falls for a girl and it takes her a while to return his affections.
- MacGuffin: This is very often a diamond or pearl necklace, though perhaps the most famous is the Seventeenth-Century English (not Modern Dutch!) Silver Cow-Creamer, the attempted theft of which starts off an entire multi-book uproar in Bertie's love life. The Empress of Blandings herself and the French chef Anatole often serve as Living MacGuffins.
- Meaningful Name: Wodehouse had his own Naming Conventions. Men with simple one or two-syllable first names, such as Bill or Jimmy, are likely to be the hero, especially in his early romances; likewise, heroines will have simple one or two-syllable names like Joan or Betty. Girls with two-syllable masculine sounding names ending in -y or -ie, like Billie or Corky, are likely to be perky, fun-loving, and rather dangerous to their male attachments. Males with two-syllable names ending in -ie, like Freddie or Reggie, are generally silly asses — and males with nicknames, e.g., Barmy or Bingo, are not to be taken seriously even by the silly asses. Young men with names like serious romantic heroes, such as Desmond or Derek, are often heels, as are men whose names end in -o, like Orlo or Rollo; young women with poetic or pretentious names like Kathrynne or Melusine are usually pills.
- Meet Cute: Averted surpisingly often when you consider that each book typically has three or four couples. However, it does happen sometimes:
- Maud ducking into George's cab to hide from her brother in A Damsel in Distress, for example.
- Barmy accidentally setting Dinty Moore's hat on fire in Barmy in Wonderland.
- Psmith stealing an umbrella for Eve, who's standing in the rain, in Leave It to Psmith.
- Metaphor Is My Middle Name: "The Salvation of George Mackintosh" takes it a few steps farther.
"But I am diffident. What's the good of saying I mustn't be diffident when I'm the man who wrote the words and music, when Diffidence is my middle name and my telegraphic address? I can't help being diffident."
- Mistaken for Servant: The Earl of Marshmoreton (A Damsel in Distress), mistaken for the gardener.
- Mock Millionaire: "Oily" Carlisle, among quite a few other Wodehouse characters, pulls this as a scam.
- Momma's Boy: Generally a sign of Wrong Guy First, though he can be the hero of the Beta Couple.
- The Munchausen: Mr. Mulliner.
- My Beloved Smother: Lady Underhill in Jill the Reckless.
- My Nayme Is: Something of a Running Gag.
- Nice to the Waiter: Jill in Jill the Reckless. Recklessly, in fact.
- Noodle Incident: What happened to/with/by Uncle Fred and Pongo "that day at the dog-races".
- Not With Them For The Money: Uneasy Money.
- Oblivious to Love: Packy in Hot Water, as soon as his engagement with Beatrice is over and he sees Jane, realizes he has been this.
- Obnoxious In-Laws: In Indiscretions of Archie.
- Officer O'Hara: Officer Garroway in The Small Bachelor.
- Old Flame Fizzle: In A Damsel In Distress.
- One Steve Limit: Enforced by the author, to the extent that, if two previously-established characters with the same first name later appear in the same book, he'll change one.
- Parental Marriage Veto: A regularly-appearing plot development.
- Passed-Over Inheritance: In Uneasy Money.
- Pepper Sneeze: In The Small Bachelor, Officer Garroway finds himself unable to stop sneezing after Mrs Waddington throws the contents of a pepperpot in his face.
- Pink Elephants: Nutty assumes this in Uneasy Money when he sees a monkey, and Elizabeth encourages him.
- Pity the Kidnapper: "Helping Freddie".
- Plagiarism In Fiction: Two very similar school stories involve plagiarism in school poetry competitions.
- Plato Is a Moron: In "The Clicking of Cuthbert," Russian novelist Vladimir Brusiloff opines that no novelists anywhere are any good besides himself, though Tolstoy and P.G. Wodehouse are "not bad."
- Plucky Girl: Most of his heroines.
- The Pollyanna: Jill and her uncle in Jill the Reckless.
- Poe's Law: Adressed in "How Kid Brady Broke Training", an installment of the "Kid Brady, Lightweight" series.
- Proper Lady: Pops up now and then, often best friends with the heroine and/or part of the Beta Couple.
- Psmith Psyndrome: The Psmith series is the Trope Namer, but it also shows up in the Mr. Mulliner story "A Slice of Life" with a man named ffinch-ffarrowmere.
- Race for Your Love: Uneasy Money.
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Makes adapting Wodehouse's work to TV or film no easy task.
- Releasing from the Promise: In a Mr. Mulliner story, he explains that a Mulliner can't break an engagement; only the woman can.
- Rich Boredom: in Summer Moonshine.
- The Roaring Twenties
- Same Story, Different Names
- Second Love: In Jill The Reckless.
- Secretly Wealthy: "The Man Upstairs".
- Self-Deprecation: Often included comments in his stories disparaging the intellect of writers.
- Servile Snarker: Most of the servants.
- Shout-Out: In his short story "Honeysuckle Cottage", Wodehouse called his soupy heroine "Rose Maynard" as a tribute to W. S. Gilbert, whose plots he freely admitted to admiring more than Shakespeare's.
- Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Many, and many inversions, though the goodness is often nothing more than being reasonably brave, truthful, kind, and sporty.
- Smoky Gentlemen's Club: The Drones is one of the archetypical examples.
- Sophisticated as Hell: A staple of Wodehouse's writing.
- Spirited Young Lady: Most of the heroines.
- Springtime for Hitler: In the Mr. Mulliner story Those in Peril on the Tee.
- Strictly Formula: Wodehouse's plots are very formulaic, but most readers don't mind, due to his highly entertaining style.
- Talk About the Weather: In Hot Water, one character's timidity is described as he would talk about the weather.
- Talks Like a Simile: Comedic similes are a staple of his writing.
- Take That: After Wodehouse had been denounced by the orders of the Minister of Information, Alfred Duff Cooper, he was lambasted in the newspapers by his fellow-author, A. A. Milne. In The Mating Season, written while Wodehouse was being held by the Germans, Gussie Fink-Nottle on being arrested gives his name as "Duff Cooper"; in the same novel, Bertie Wooster is sickened by the prospect of reading Milne's "Christopher Robin" poems publicly. Wodehouse returned to the attack in "Rodney Has A Relapse", in which reformed vers libre poet Rodney Spelvin writes smarmy poems about his toddler son, "Timothy Bobbin".
- A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: Played with and ultimately averted in Jill the Reckless. Jill's impulsiveness is frowned upon by quite a few characters and even causes her fiancé to break off the engagement. However, it turns out that the fiancé wasn't such a great guy anyway, and Jill's Second Love understands that her recklessness is one of her finest qualities.
- Transatlantic Equivalent: Wodehouse and S. J. Perelman were frequently compared to each other.
- Unable To Support A Wife: A frequent complication.
- Unexpected Inheritance: Uneasy Money.
- Unintentional Period Piece: All his earlier books. He used the same setting up through the 60s and into the 70s, by which time they had become straight Historical Fiction.
- Unprovoked Pervert Payback: "A Sea of Troubles''.
- Unreliable Narrator: Mr. Mulliner.
- Upper-Class Twit: Could be considered the Trope Codifier.
- Victorious Childhood Friend: In Jill the Reckless.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Any two characters who are friends will have at least a little of this going on; the Drones in particular greet each other with lines like "Cheerio, ugly."
- Weakness Turns Her On: Sometimes used to explain how an Upper-Class Twit can still be a Chick Magnet; a man who's sufficiently ditzy and helpless awakens a girl's maternal instinct.
- See for example Jane Hubbard (big game hunter) and Eustace Hignett (poet) in The Girl on the Boat.
- Weddings for Everyone: Of course.
- What Does She See in Him?: Barker's opinion in Jill The Reckless.
- Wrong Guy First: Many a Wodehouse character has been engaged to the wrong character before the start of the novel.
- Xanatos Speed Chess: What Gally and Uncle Fred usually have to resort to.
- Zany Scheme: As noted, by the truckloads.