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 valet (not 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 musical, Jeeves, 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, respectively.
Works by P. G. Wodehouse with their own trope pages include:
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."
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.
"... 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. ..."
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
"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."
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.