Sunday, December 13, 2020



 


SUNSET AT BLANDINGS


P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975)

Richard Usborne (1910-2006)


Sir James Piper, Chancellor of the Exchquer, is disgruntled.  His sister Brenda has made arrangements for them to visit Blanding Castle for a summer soiree, thus bringing to naught his hopes of fishing in Scotland during his vacation.  What's more, he has to take his stepdaughter, Victoria, along with him to get her exposed to some decent people.  And he knows that his nemesis, Sergeant Murchison, will be trailing along with his eyes open for villains of all stripes who may harbor resentment against the Chancellor for any one of a number of reasons.  Other persons belonging to the Threepwood tribe will be present:  Florence, the dowager-in-charge, Diana Phipps, her divorced sister, together with Rollo the son, and probably Galahad will show up in case there are situations to resolve or spare champagne to absorb.  James and Galahad are former members of the Pelican Club, no longer extant, which in former days was a riotous center for wildly uncivilized goings-on, like bread-throwing contests, and marathon wine-bibbing, not to mention undisciplined skirt-chasing.  Clarence, Lord Emsworth, (the freeholder in residence)is "up to his collar stud in the Slough of Despond", mainly because he wants to hire a painter to make a portrait of the Empress, his prize-winning pig, to hang in the art salon even though Florence is dead set against it as being crude and offensive.  Florence and her sisters (all eight, or sometimes ten) are all possessed of stares capable of inducing panic in the hearts of any normal person, particularly if there are intentions or activities anticipated as being against the comportment of members of the upper classes.  Victoria is the niece of Galahad, and as he is interested in her welfare, he begins plotting to assist her romantic designs on Jeff Bennison, a painter with whom she has struck up a friendship.  Jeff taught art at a girl's school run and operated by another Threepwood sister, Daphne, who has just, as the story opens, fired Jeff for, according to Threepwood standards,  moral decrepitude.  Florence dislikes Jeff as well, having discovered at an earlier date that his father Arthur was an inveterate swindler.

As the opening scene presents itself, we see Lord Emsworth "drooping over the Empress's sty like a wet sock", because he can't find a painter who will do a picture of his prize-winner.  Galahad steps to the fore, however, and arranges for Jeff to be invited to the party under a different cognomen.  An ancillary person, Claude Duff, had something to do with Jeff being fired, but he's invited also, as a friend of Daphne's.  Freddie Threepwood may appear at some point, although that's not clear at this point.  Freddie has gotten rich in America as a member of the staff of Donaldson's Dog Joy, a johnny-come-lately nouveau riche corporate entity, with fingers in the purses of English as well as American pet owners.  During a break in the festivities, Galahad meets Chancellor Piper in a local saloon and he confesses his long ago love for Diana and the impossibility of proposing to same because of the eternal indefatigable presence of Murchison.  The latter, by the way, is in love with one of the Blandings maids, Marilynn.  Galahad is not bashful about either his exploits or his problem-solving capabilities.  "I was one of those young men my mother always warned me against".  He is not dissuaded by discovering that Clarence hates Jeff's (now known as Smith the portrait artist) father because he once bilked him out of two thousand pounds.  Finding out that Freddie is in an immediate state of arrival, he side-tracks him and convinces him not to come because he's afraid that Freddie the loud mouth will wreck his plan to marry Victoria and Jeff and James and Diana and Murchison and his maid, and another couple I lost track of.  

Beach (the butler)accidentally locks Jeff out of the house on the first evening and the latter, determined to get in, in order to assuage the feeling of Victoria who's upset because Jeff won't elope with her because he is supposed to paint the Empress, climbs up to an open window (Victoria's as it were) and falls into Victoria's burglar trap:  a collection of golf clubs, cricket wickets, assorted lacrosse cudgels, and several soccer balls.  Claude has stated his love for Victoria, so Jeff is in a condition of distress.  Murchison arrests Jeff(Smith) in the hall because he thinks Sir James is in danger.  Daphne arrives and is about to identify Smith as Jeff;  meanwhile Lord Emsworth is singing a ditty in the piano room about how Americans eat jam with peanut butter.  Brenda and Daphne corner Beach and are trying to get him to oust Smith, and...  the story ends.

It was very unfortunate that P.G. passed on before he could finish this, his last book.  His more or less official biographer and Scholar, Mr. Usborne, adds all of Wodehouse's notes at the finish of the text, and sums up what was most likely the termination of all the plot complexities: four marriages and some sort of solution to the Empress's artistic debut, presumably.  There were eight books written about the Blandings group and their travails, of which this was the last.  They're perhaps they best anxiety relievers ever published;  every stock market entrepreneur or corporate lackey needs to have the complete set to hand with immediate access.  They're even great for the literary itinerant of advanced age, determined to unravel and hack out in some sort of presentable form a precis and/or  indicator of academic worth intended for a peripatetic book blog, haha...


18 comments:

  1. I love Wodehouse and have bunches of his books, although not this one. He's so witty and sharp. I think I would also like to read a biography of his life, because I know he was somewhat controversial.

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    1. i read one a long while ago and it was informative. i realized that he was a very hard worker at his profession and the bon mots and hilarious metaphors he came up with were not obtained without a great deal of effort and thought. he's one of my favorite authors. the controversy arrived when he was caught by the Germans and placed in a concentration camp. he made some broadcasts over German radio that got people mad merely because he was there. my understanding was that he was just trying to get out of the place. it's telling that when he left Germany he never returned to
      England, but became an American citizen.

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  2. I have not read Woodhouse. I had barely heard of The Blandings books but based on your description, I would like to give them a try. I find that unfinished books are a bit frustrating, precisely because they are unfinished.

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    1. they can be frustrating, true... but since i've read quite a few of the Blandings books i had a pretty good idea what was going to happen. the greatest pleasure that Wodehouse offers, though, is, imo, just the way he writes, the similes and clever word plays are delightful... Jeeves is a good place to start if you get a chance this Xmas season...

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  3. I agree wholeheartedly! Wodehouse is the perfect antidote for stress and anxiety. 😁

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    1. he has a degree in distraction, that's a fact!

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  4. My head is spinning. So many characters. If I were to read Wodehouse, with which book would you recommend I start?

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    1. probably with one of the Jeeves books; they're the best known and the funniest... although anything he writes about is hilarious; i really like his golf books...

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  5. Oh fun! I've been reading some books like this ..... Jeeves & Wooster and Christie's The Seven Dials Mystery and even Stella Gibbons' books can sound similar.

    I think I would like his golf books too!

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    1. I (blush) don't know Stella Gibbons; what sort of book does she write? Wooster and Jeeves are the top...

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  6. I've never read any of the Blandings books. I should try them. One of these days... Wooster and Jeeves are pretty great.

    You'd probably like Gibbons--Cold Comfort Farm is the best known. It's very funny. There's this Gothic thing going on--as parody--so it's a bit different from Jeeves. If you've read Appleby's End--seems like the sort of thing you might have--it's a takeoff on Cold Comfort Farm. There's something nasty in the woodshed!

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    1. if the "Appleby's End" is the one about the Scotland Yard inspector, i think i've read all of them... at least i couldn't find any more, drat... if Gibbons is any thing like Innes (Stewart) i'm all in, haha... i'll see if the library in it's extremely reduced circumstances has a copy... tx

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    2. i have to add, i got hooked on Appleby when i picked up the first one and there he was, stranded on top of a sunk (what was it?) whatever it was in the middle of the Pacific... great books, all of them...

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    3. oh, and if you haven't been introduced to Edmund Crispin, you've really got a treat in store: zany/hilarious mysteries!

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  7. Sadly I've read all the Crispins multiple times. Though I can always read Moving Toyshop one more time...

    Appleby is the Scotland Yard guy. Appleby's End is the one where he meets his wife.

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  8. This book sounds like a blast! I'm glad there are other series after Jeeves & Wooster to read.
    I read commentary somewhere that Wodehouse, in his books, created an England that "never existed." If that's true, we really need more imaginations like his. :)

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    1. that's undoubtedly true... read closely, his books almost always are turning the more extreme and irrational prejudices of the English upper classes on their heads and making fun of them. but they are also more cosmic in nature, having to do with human folly in general... as well as being super funny!

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  9. This books sounds like an absolute trip! Unfortunate that he was not able to finish it, but sounds like one can guess where things were headed based on the notes.

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