Leave It To Psmith, by P.G. Wodehouse
As someone who is quite fond of the works of Wodehouse , I must admit that the character of Psmith himself, who changed his name from Smith in school in order to distinguish himself from so many others by that name, was foreign to me. The character study that Psmith provides is one that is entertaining, troubling, and highly relevant for contemporary society. Psmith calls people Comrade, showing himself to be a socialist who, ironically enough, is a member of the Senior Conservative Club and who therefore is assumed not to be a thief even though he is, and he believes in the sort of practical socialism that actually steals property from the rich for the benefit of the poor rather than merely talking about it as so many socialists do. That Wodehouse, whose skill at comic writing is often assumed to have been insensitive to the issue of politics, could use such matters thoughtfully and skillfully in a novel that mixes two of his sagas together is something that other people may not assume him capable of. This book and the sharpness and cleverness of its wit is a reminder that we should not underestimate writers or assume them to be ignorant of politics simply because they choose not to make it the center of their works.
For the most part, this is a story that contains a great deal that is familiar to fans of Wodehouse, in particular his Blandings Castle series. In many ways, this book marks the end of the Psmith saga, which had featured the hijinks of Mike Jackson and Psmith over the course of several novels, most of them about their experiences in school as well as in the city. It also is towards the beginning of the Blandings Castle saga and helps to establish some of the themes of deception and imposture that mark so many of those entertaining and glorious novels. At the center of this novel, and connecting so many of its threads together, is the figure of Psmith himself, a man of uncanny resourcefulness and a strong dislike for fish. Finding himself impoverished after leaving a family job, he finds himself hired by Freddie to steal Lady Constance Kreeble’s diamond necklace in order to help out Mike and his wife Phyllis. Meanwhile, he keeps on missing chances to meet the woman of his dreams over and over again, and finds himself invited to Blandings Castle as a poet in disguise, while more thieves find themselves drawn to the castle like moths to the flame. In the end, true love and a bit of social justice prevail, with comedy all around, at least for the most part.
In many ways, this book is a combination both of familiar elements from Wodehouse’s other novels and some striking alterations that make this novel fresh and original as well as familiar. This works for the best for the reader, who is left to appreciate the quirks of character as well as the loving descriptions of Blandings that have made his work so appealing to so many. While the plot of this novel is somewhat madcap, as it generally is in a place filled with so many imposters so often, what stands out as being of enduring value is the characters and the way they are described. Psmith is someone who claims to be a socialist and shows no qualms about repossessing property for the benefit of his friends and associates, and also someone whose quirks come off as generally appealingly odd. Freddie Threepwood is dense and inconsequential but also someone of genuine decency and surprising persistence. Eve is portrayed as conscientious and generally good-natured, a suitable match for the dazzling Psmith. All of this speaks highly to the capacity of Wodehouse to keep control of his array of characters in all of their complexity.
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