Wodehouse’s Uncle Fred In The Springtime – Everything That Could Go Wrong…

 

P. G. Wodehouse’s Uncle Fred In The Springtime has all the elements that make his books so much fun: mistaken identities, potty Earls and Dukes, love-stricken young persons who face insurmountable odds to getting married, and endless plot complications that all manage to get solved. It is set in Blandings Castle, where Clarence, the Earl of Emsworth, only seeks peace and quiet to raise his prize-winning pig, The Empress of Blandings. Alas, peace and quiet are the last things he gets in this tale.

It begins with Pongo Twistleton (no one since Charles Dickens is as good at creating characters’ names as Wodehouse) visiting his friend, Horace Davenport, to touch him for 200 pounds. He has a bookie’s enforcer breathing down his neck, and he has to raise the funds to save it. Horace is engaged to Pongo’s sister, Valerie. Unfortunately, while she was vacationing in France, the jealous Horace hired a private investigator, Claude “Mustard” Pott, to tail her. She found out and was justifiably furious, breaking their engagement.

Horace had lately been spending his evenings taking dancing lessons, because Valerie insisted he improve his dancing before their wedding. His instructor is one Polly Pott, who just happens to be Claude Pott’s daughter. (By the way, the cover illustration shown above is Horace after attending a masquerade ball as a Zulu warrior with Polly.) She is engaged to Ricky Gilpin, who needs 250 pounds to open an onion soup stall in London. His uncle (and Horace’s) is Alaric, Duke of Dunstable, who is adamantly opposed to Ricky getting any money and marrying Polly. He has invited himself to stay at Blandings Castle. He has an explosive temper and is liable to destroy furniture with a poker if he doesn’t get his way. He’s nuts, and he insists everyone around him is “potty”. His personal secretary is one Rupert Baxter, who was once Clarence’s secretary, but he keeps getting into situations – through no fault of his own, except that he’s an “extremely unpleasant tick” – that make him look like he’s off his rocker. Anyway, Dunstable mentions to Clarence that he would do a better job caring for The Empress, so he should give her to him. Clarence is speechless with shock, but his sister, Constance, insists he must hand over his beloved pig, or else their furniture is liable to be destroyed.

The Uncle Fred in the title is The Earl of Ickenham and uncle of Pongo and Valerie. He’s also an old friend of Claude Pott. He meets Polly and immediately decides to help her and Ricky get the money for his onion soup venture by pretending to be Sir Roderick Glossop, the famous brain specialist, and visiting Blandings Castle to treat Dunstable. Polly will pose as his daughter and charm Dunstable to the point that he has to give her and Ricky his blessing (and money). Pongo will pose as the fake Glossop’s secretary. Unbeknownst to them, Horace is already at Blandings, where he is hiding from a jealous Ricky who saw him dancing with Polly.

Polly’s father Claude may be a detective, but he used to be a racetrack bookie, and he is always on the lookout for an easy mark to score money off of. As Uncle Fred explains,

   “I wouldn’t for the world say a word against Mustard – one of Nature’s gentlemen – but his greatest admirer wouldn’t call him a social asset to a girl. Mustard – there is no getting away from it – looks just what he is – a retired Silver Ring bookie who for years has been doing himself too well on starchy foods. And even if he were an Adonis, I would still be disinclined to let him loose in a refined English home. I say this in no derogatory sense, of course. One of my oldest pals. Still, there it is.”
   Pongo felt that the moment had come up to clear up a mystery. Voices could be heard in the passage, but there was just time to put the question which had been perplexing him ever since Polly Pott had glided imperceptibly into his life.
   “I say, how does a chap like that come to be her father?”
   “He married her mother. You understand the facts of life, don’t you?”

Uncle Fred’s scheme goes off the rails from the beginning, when the real Sir Roderick Glossop boards their train bound for Market Blandings and joins them in their compartment. To avoid any further spoilers, suffice it to say that every single person whom Uncle Fred wouldn’t want to show up at Blandings Castle, eventually does show up. Despite everything going wrong that possibly could, Uncle Fred remains unflappable and manages to rise above the chaos he creates. The book is laugh-out-loud funny in many places, and, of course, there is a happy ending.

One of the delights of reading Wodehouse is his wonderful use of the English language to elevate the most mundane things. Here’s Uncle Fred opining on lorgnettes (a pair of glasses with a long handle):

God bless my soul, though, you can’t compare the lorgnettes of today with the ones I used to know as a boy. I remember walking one day in Grosvenor Square with my aunt Brenda and her pug dog Jabberwocky, and a policeman came up and said that the latter ought to be wearing a muzzle. My aunt made no verbal reply. She merely whipped out her lorgnette from its holster and looked at the man, who gave one choking gasp and fell back against the railings, without a mark on him but with an awful look of horror in his staring eyes, as if he had seen some dreadful sight. A doctor was sent for, and they managed to bring him round, but he was never the same again. He had to leave the Force, and eventually drifted into the grocery business. And that is how Sir Thomas Lipton got his start.”

Here Wodehouse extols the quality of the local beer:

Nothing can ever render the shattering of his hopes and the bringing of his dream castles to ruin about his ears really agreeable to a young man, but the beer purveyed by G. Ovens, proprietor of the Emsworth Arms, unquestionably does its best. The Ovens home-brewed is a liquid Pollyanna, forever pointing out the bright side and indicating silver linings. It slips its little hand in yours, and whispers, “Cheer up!” If King Lear had had a tankard of it handy, we should have had far less of that ‘Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks’ stuff.

Every Wodehouse novel is great fun, and Uncle Fred In The Springtime is especially wonderful. Wodehouse set several tales at Blandings Castle, and you can read them in any order. Uncle Fred is a perfect introduction to that idyllic estate.

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  1. Some Call Me ...Tim Coolidge
    Some Call Me ...Tim
    @SomeCallMeTim

    That’s some big time cultural appropriation on the book cover.  It’s giving me the vapors. 

    • #1
  2. Lunchbox Gerald Coolidge
    Lunchbox Gerald
    @Jose

    Fractad: One of the delights of reading Wodehouse is his wonderful use of the English language to elevate the most mundane things.

    Well said!

    I recently finished Leave it to pSmith, also featuring Clarence Threepwood (referred to as the Earl of Elmsworth).  In that story his obsession is his flower gardens rather than a pig.

    Rupert Baxter is the Earl’s secretary, who falls into disfavor and is replaced by pSmith.  The “p” is silent, although that isn’t revealed until about halfway through the story.  It’s rather an odd touch, but genuine Wodehouse.

     

    • #2
  3. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    Lunchbox Gerald (View Comment):

    Fractad: One of the delights of reading Wodehouse is his wonderful use of the English language to elevate the most mundane things.

    Well said!

    I recently finished Leave it to pSmith, also featuring Clarence Threepwood (referred to as the Earl of Elmsworth). In that story his obsession is his flower gardens rather than a pig.

    Rupert Baxter is the Earl’s secretary, who falls into disfavor and is replaced by pSmith. The “p” is silent, although that isn’t revealed until about halfway through the story. It’s rather an odd touch, but genuine Wodehouse.

     

    Have Psmith from the library and just getting ready to read it. One of Wodehouse’s earlier books. I’m starting to read them in order. I tried to read some of the very early school boy/cricket books. Let’s just say he was still learning his style.

    • #3
  4. Yarob Coolidge
    Yarob
    @Yarob

    Some Call Me …Tim (View Comment):

    That’s some big time cultural appropriation on the book cover. It’s giving me the vapors.

    Or, in Wodehouse’s language, the vapours. 

    • #4
  5. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    Thanks for your reviews Fractad. Enjoying them immensely. I need to do a post on What I’m reading as I’ve been through some good books this year.

    • #5
  6. Yarob Coolidge
    Yarob
    @Yarob

    There’s a splendid account on Twitter, Wodehouse Tweets, @inimitablepgw. Two gems it has brought to my attention:

    “It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.” 

    “Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to speak French.”

    • #6
  7. Fractad Coolidge
    Fractad
    @TWert

    colleenb (View Comment):

    Thanks for your reviews Fractad. Enjoying them immensely. I need to do a post on What I’m reading as I’ve been through some good books this year.

    Thank you for the kind words, Colleen! I’ve been a Ricochet member for years, but I wasn’t very active. I figured writing reviews of what I’m reading would be a good way to post more often. 

    • #7
  8. Fractad Coolidge
    Fractad
    @TWert

    Yarob (View Comment):

    There’s a splendid account on Twitter, Wodehouse Tweets, @ inimitablepgw. Two gems it has brought to my attention:

    “It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.”

    “Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to speak French.”

    Love those! I’ll have to follow that account.

    • #8
  9. Fractad Coolidge
    Fractad
    @TWert

    Yarob (View Comment):

    Some Call Me …Tim (View Comment):

    That’s some big time cultural appropriation on the book cover. It’s giving me the vapors.

    Or, in Wodehouse’s language, the vapours.

    It’s from Everyman Library’s 2004 edition. I don’t think it would get approved nowadays.

    • #9
  10. Fractad Coolidge
    Fractad
    @TWert

    colleenb (View Comment):
    Have Psmith from the library and just getting ready to read it. One of Wodehouse’s earlier books. I’m starting to read them in order. I tried to read some of the very early school boy/cricket books. Let’s just say he was still learning his style.

    Something Fresh, the first Blandings Castle book, is also the first “mature” Wodehouse novel, in my opinion. It’s a stitch.

    • #10
  11. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Fractad: One of the delights of reading Wodehouse is his wonderful use of the English language to elevate the most mundane things.

    For me that is the major delight of Wodehouse. 

    I remember reading a many-pages-long passage that a mundane writer would have shortened to “He fell down the stairs” but by Wodehouse were several hysterical descriptions of how different characters in different parts of the house heard the commotion, what they thought was happening, and the conclusions to which they leapt. 

    Another time on a road trip we were listening to an audio reading of a story in which the hero was sneaking into the house library to purloin something or another, so he’s trying to be silent, but of course he bumps into a side table with trinkets, and other mishaps. I had to pull over to the side of the road because I was laughing so hard I couldn’t see to drive safely. 

    • #11
  12. David Carroll Thatcher
    David Carroll
    @DavidCarroll

    Leave it to pSmith is out of copyright protection and available at http://www.gutenberg.org.  I didn’t see Uncle Fred in the Springtime, so I assume it is still under copyright protection.

    • #12
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