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Literature / Psmith

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Psmith (left) and Jackson (right)

"One can date exactly the first moment when [Wodehouse] was touched by the sacred flame. It occurs halfway through Mike ... Psmith appears and the light is kindled which has burned with growing brilliancy for half a century."

Psmith (the p is silent, as in psychic) features in four novels by P. G. Wodehouse. A dandyish figure with a monocle, an elaborate way of speech, and a knack for navigating wild adventures and emerging unruffled, he was introduced as a supporting character to Mike Jackson, but took over the series to the extent that Mike is now invariably remembered as Psmith's supporting character. The adventures of Mike and Psmith bridge the school stories of Wodehouse's early writing and the elaborately-plotted comedies for which he is more generally known in series like Blandings Castle; in fact, the last Psmith novel is also one of the earliest of the Blandings series.

Mike Jackson, schoolboy cricketing ace, was introduced in "Jackson Junior", serialised in The Captain magazine in 1907. A sequel the following year, "The Lost Lambs", sees Mike transferred by his father to a new school, where he meets and befriends Psmith, another recent arrival to the school under similar circumstances. These two serials were published in book form together as Mike in 1909, and separately as Mike at Wrykyn and Mike and Psmith in 1953. (The latter was also published separately as Enter Psmith in 1935.)

The adventures of Mike and Psmith continue in Psmith in the City (1910; originally serialised in The Captain under the title "The New Fold", but by the time the book came out it was clear who the star was). Mike, having finished school but prevented by financial difficulties from proceeding to university, takes a job at the New Asiatic Bank, and finds that he once again has a fellow-sufferer in Psmith. After various adventures that demonstrate neither is cut out for the world of finance, Psmith finds a way for them both to attend Cambridge, and they resign just in time to avoid being fired.

In Psmith, Journalist (serial, 1909; book, 1915), Psmith accompanies Mike to America, where Mike's cricket team is touring, and becomes side-tracked into a series of adventures involving gangsters, slum landlords, lost cats, crooked boxing, and an intrepid journalist reduced to working for a magazine called Cozy Moments.

In Leave It to Psmith (serial, 1923; book, with revised ending, 1923), Psmith's family fortunes suffer a serious reversal, leaving him facing the horrible prospect of having to get a real job. (Mike, newly-married and facing his own financial difficulties, appears early on to explain why he can't help, then disappears from the plot.) Salvation appears in the form of Freddie Threepwood, who is willing to pay Psmith for help with his latest contribution to Blandings Castle's chronic Zany Scheme problem; Hilarity Ensues — and so, to Psmith's uncharacteristic befuddlement, does romance.

Wodehouse later averred that the character of Psmith was inspired by an anecdote he had heard of Rupert D'Oyly Carte, the son of the producer of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, a bit of a dandy who reportedly, when one of his masters at Oxford inquired after his health, replied, "Sir, I grow thinnah and thinnah."note 

Not to be confused with the character(s) PSmIth from Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire.

This series provides examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: The final published title for Psmith's first appearance, Mike and Psmith.
  • Affectionate Parody: The sequence in Leave It to Psmith where Psmith applies for work and meets up with Freddie Threepwood is a spoof of the opening of Bulldog Drummond.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Psmith's dad has this problem, judging by the little we see of him in Psmith in the City.
  • Big Man on Campus: Adair in Mike and Psmith, through sheer fervor and force of personality.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: The setting of Psmith, Journalist.
  • Boarding School: The setting of Mike and Psmith.
  • Buffy Speak: Not as much as in Jeeves and Wooster, but still visible.
  • Bus Crash: Psmith's dad dies at some point between the third and fourth books.
  • Bribe Backfire: Mr. Parker's attempt to suppress articles about the tenements in Psmith, Journalist.
  • The Bully: Subverted with Stone and Robinson in Mike and Psmith; they act like stereotypical bullies, but are quite friendly once one gets to know them.
  • The Cat Came Back: Psmith's method of revenging himself on Mr. Bickersdyke in Psmith in the City.
  • Catchphrase: Jellicoe in Mike and Psmith: "You are a chap!" or "You are chaps!" (with reference to one or both of the title characters). There's also Psmith's "never confuse the unusual and the impossible", "I am a man of few words", and, in Psmith, Journalist, "Cosy Moments cannot be muzzled!"
  • Class Clown: Practically the entire fire brigade in Mike and Psmith; most members join for the pure joy of getting on the headmaster's nerves.
  • Comic-Book Time: While the first three books reflect the Edwardian setting they were published in, the third book, published in the 1920s, updates the setting without substantially aging Psmith (he remains and is referred to as a young man, despite the fact that he would be in his thirties by that time).
  • Commonality Connection: Psmith and Mike initially bond over mutual loathing for Sedleigh, the boarding school to which both have been transferred.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Quite a few in the last two books. For instance, in Psmith, Journalist, a gunman gets Psmith into a taxi and takes him into the country so he can shoot him where no one will hear. The day is saved because the taxi happens to break down exactly where one of Psmith's allies has been staying.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The villain of Psmith, Journalist.
  • Crossover: Leave It to Psmith takes place at Blandings Castle.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: After Mike beats Adair in Mike and Psmith, he suddenly realizes that Adair's not such a bad guy after all, and they become fast friends.
  • Distressed Dude: Mike in the first two books; Psmith at at least one point in the third.
  • The Ditz: Jellicoe in Mike and Psmith. In Psmith in the City Psmith eulogizes him as "perhaps the supremest of all the blitherers I have ever met".
  • El Spanish "-o": In Psmith, Journalist, this is how the office boy attempts to make himself understood by an Italian.
    Pugsy as interpreter was energetic but not wholly successful. He appeared to have a fixed idea that the Italian language was one easily mastered by the simple method of saying "da" instead of "the", and tacking on a final "a" to any word that seemed to him to need one.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Mike's first encounter with Psmith, wherein Psmith tells him "the painful story" that led him to Sedleigh.
  • Every Man Has His Price: Psmith solves a lot of problems by simply bribing people.
  • Expy: When Psmith, Journalist was rehashed into the US version of The Prince and Betty, Psmith himself appeared as an American named Rupert Smith.
  • Fate Drives Us Together: In Leave it to Psmith.
  • Fleeting Passionate Hobbies: Psmith's dad in Psmith in the City. As a matter of fact, he can't really commit to anything, to the point where Psmith is justifiably concerned about his own future (Mr. Smith has the power to set his son on whatever path he himself is currently interested in, which changes weekly). Psmith himself is only a slightly milder example, developing fleeting obsessions with things like running a newspaper.
  • Friendship Moment: In Mike and Psmith, Mike gets the blame for a prank he wasn't responsible for, and can't defend himself because it would mean admitting he was out of school at night; his usually diffident best friend Psmith owns up, even though he didn't do it either and it means probable expulsion.
  • Holding Hands: Psmith makes a lot of references to himself and other people (mostly Mike) doing things "hand in hand". It appears to merely be Psmith-speak for "together".
  • Golf Clubbing: When Psmith is told he has to subdue an insane Baxter, he makes sure to bring Freddie Threepwood's golf club (however, since it turns out Baxter has collapsed on the ground, all he does is poke him with it).
  • Intrepid Reporter:
    • Billy Windsor in Psmith, Journalist.
    • Psmith also takes a stint as one of these, as indicated by the title.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: Gang leader Bat Jarvis in Psmith, Journalist.
  • King Incognito: Psmith tells the head waiter of a restaurant that Billy is this in Psmith, Journalist, thus saving him from being kicked out.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Psmith, Journalist is full of them.
  • Lonely Together: The reason Mike and Psmith become friends in the first place.
  • Lovable Jock: Mike. He's far better at cricket than schoolwork, but he's a nice chap all the same.
  • Meet Cute: Psmith and Eve in Leave It to Psmith; he sees her caught in the rain, and chivalrously offers her an umbrella — having first had to find an enterprising solution to the problem of not owning an umbrella to offer.
  • Mob War: In Psmith, Journalist.
  • Nerves of Steel: Psmith.
  • The Nicknamer: Bristow in Psmith in the City, who calls Psmith "Smithy" and Mike "Mr. Cricketer". Also Psmith himself, to a certain extent; he's fond of making up names for strangers or people whose first name he doesn't know.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Psmith, Journalist gives us two; a scathing exposé journal called "Cosy Moments" (it was a family magazine before Psmith took it over) and the slummy set of unlivable tenements which make up "Pleasant Street".
  • Not My Driver: In Psmith, Journalist, Psmith is caught by the bad guys when he hails a cab on an urgent errand; the cab driver is one of the enemy, and the errand itself turns out to have been a fraud designed to inspire Psmith to incautiously hail a cab at that particular moment.
  • Odd Couple: Mike and Psmith. Unlike most examples, they get along quite well.
  • Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: Psmith and Eve in Leave It to Psmith.
  • One-Gender School: Sedleigh, Wrykyn and the rest.
  • One-Steve Limit: At the beginning of the series, Psmith gives his first name as Rupert, but in Leave It to Psmith he's become a Ronald, probably because the Blandings series already contained a Rupert Baxter. (Psmith technically has a prior claim to the forename, but as he's Psmith to all and sundry he was less attached to it.)
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: In Mike and Psmith, it's pointed out that Psmith always walks at a leisurely pace; when he starts running, something is most definitely afoot.
  • Outlaw Couple: Ed Cootes and Liz Peavey in Leave it to Psmith.
  • Pass the Popcorn:
    • In Psmith, Journalist, Psmith and Billy climb onto a roof to fend off the gangsters who are attacking them. The resulting scene draws a crowd of spectators, mostly Fighting Irish, who perch on the roof of a house nearby to watch the show.
    • This is Psmith's attitude toward humanity in general.
  • Placebo Eureka Moment: Most likely the reason that Psmith finds Mike's intelligence so invaluable.
  • Plucky Girl: Eve Halliday.
  • Police Are Useless: New York's police force in Psmith, Journalist.
  • Poor Communication Kills: In Leave It To Psmith, Ada Clarkson tells Eve Halliday that mutual friend Cynthia Mc Todd's husband has run away on her. While this is true, Cynthia failed to mention (or Ms. Clarkson failed to hear) that this was about the sixth time Mr. Mc Todd had "run away never to be seen again" and that Cynthia had no doubt that he would return to her in a few weeks' time at worst. Had Eve been aware of this particular detail, a great deal of unnecessary trouble between herself and Psmith might have been avoided.
  • Properly Paranoid: Freddie Threepwood in Leave it to Psmith. Turns out one of the maids really is a professional spy assigned to keep an eye out for thieves.
  • Psmith Psyndrome: The Trope Namer. Even though the P is silent, Psmith can tell when someone pronounces his name without it.