Friday, August 29, 2014

Still fresh

This is a bit premature. Had I waited just a few months to read P.G. Wodehouse's Something Fresh, published in 1915, I could have celebrated the 100th anniversary of Blandings Castle, the dotty Lord Emsworth and, next to Jeeves and Wooster, Wodehouse's most celebrated series of stories. But I read it in 2014, so I will just have to celebrate the 99th anniversary instead.

There is much to celebrate here. Something Fresh remains just as entertaining as the day it was published. There is a timelessness in so many of Wodehouse's stories, including this one. A Blandings short story, "The Custody of the Pumpkin," published in 1935, contains a reference to Franklin D. Roosevelt, but there is nothing like that in this novel. Here Blandings is in a world of its own in a time of its own.

The plot, while simple enough to follow when reading the novel, is too complicated to explain here. Simply put, Lord Emsworth's younger son, Freddie, is engaged to the daughter of a wealthy American named Peters, who collects scarabs, the most valuable of which Lord Emsworth absentmindedly slips into his pocket, then imagines that Peters must have given it to him. Peters, staying with his daughter and several other people at Blandings Castle, plots to get the scarab back without causing a row that will interfere with the approaching marriage. There are, of course, other characters and other complications, all of which, in Wodehouse's hands, make for a delightful story.

To give those unfamiliar with Wodehouse the flavor of his writing, here are my three favorite lines from Something Fresh:

 "I have often wondered what General Sherman would have said about private tutoring, if he expressed himself so breezily about mere war."

"Cold is the ogre which drives all beautiful things into hiding."

"One of the Georges -- I forget which -- once said that a certain number of hours sleep each night -- I cannot recall at the moment how many -- made a man something, which for the time being has slipped my memory. Baxter agreed with him."

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