Blandings Castle, by P.G. Wodehouse
I remember having read this book, and many other books by Wodehouse, before, but since it was before I was in the habit of writing about books at length, and because I figured that among the best ways of keeping a sense of gloom at the approaching darkness and cold would be to cultivate the habit of reading more lighthearted material than usual, I decided it would be worthwhile to read this book and others again. Given my fondness for British humor , this sort of book is a no-brainer for light enjoyment and it was not a book that took me long to finish despite being 300 pages long. The stories are an excellent example of Wodehouse’s skill with short fiction, a skill that is worth appreciating in times like these where short stories do not seem to be quite as valued by readers as they once were and everyone wants to write the next great epic novel. Even in his own time, of course, Wodehouse reflected somewhat humorously on his own tendency to write epics, long series of novels, by which he made his enduring literary reputation even to this day. Yet there is something enjoyable in seeing familiar characters in smaller pieces. The length of a story or of any writing should reflect the scope of what the writer has to say, and neither be too short that it misses the detail that makes it worthwhile and intriguing nor too long that it contains fluff and padding.
The twelve short stories of this book make for an interesting group of material, and that related to Blandings Castle is only a slight plurality of the material, with the first six stories (taking up about 160 pages) being related to the affairs of that noble fictional castle. “The Custody Of The Pumpkin” shows Lord Emsworth dealing with the relationship drama of his ne’er do well younger son while trying to get his groundskeeper back to work so that his pumpkin can win a prize. “Lord Emsworth Acts For The Best” has the absent-minded lord working to patch up a misunderstanding in his son’s marriage to a wealthy dog-food heiress. “Pig Hoo-o-o-o-ey” has Lord Emsworth dealing with a niece’s romantic scrapes, and on it goes. The stories are humorous and well told. The seventh story of the collection involves a sometime fiance of Bertie Wooster and belongs in that canon, and the last five stories of this collection of short stories are all narrated by Mr. Mulliner and relate to the goings on of his distant relatives in Hollywood and are quite entertaining–I can relate, for example, to being a nodder, and the stories have the right tone of light-hearted cynicism at Hollywood that was au courant even in the period before World War II.
As a reader and a reviewer I am of somewhat two minds with this material, and with Wodehouse’s writing as a whole. On the one hand, much of this material is funny in a light-hearted and silly way and that is something to be appreciated. Wodehouse does down easy, a good deal less cynical than Waugh but of the same type of over-the-top ridiculousness. On the other hand, the stories all focus on either widowers or bachelors, and the sort of mad capers they show of young men trying to deal with the pressures of their lives resulting from finding women, trying not to marry, trying to stay married, and so on strike a little close to home. There is a genuine note of sadness and melancholy relating to the instability of relationships and the desire of many people for a stable and consistent life, and I can certainly feel a great deal of pathos from these stories about a man who wrote so eloquently about the tension between love and money, between the novel and the familiar, and set it in such a way that instead of seeming tedious or pedantic that it is genuinely funny. Medicine goes down easier with a big of honey, I suppose.
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