collections

Leave it to Psmith (1923)

Leave It To Psmith, Werner’s nomenclature of colours; Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1821.

P. G. “Plum” Wodehouse was a staggeringly prolific and deeply influential British humorist. The list of writers and entertainers full of praise for Wodehouse is a long one. T. S. Eliot’s admiration was said to be “just this side of idolatry”. Douglas Adams named him a “great genius” who “writes pure word music”. Stephen Fry has called Wodehouse “the most amiable benefactor of mankind ever to tap a typewriter key” and labels him as a bridge “between great literature and ordinary, popular literature.” Wodehouse’s influence is not just restricted to the West. In 2018, the Japanese publishing company Kokusho Kankokai reported that, when Empress Michiko announced that upon retirement she intends to enjoy reading Wodehouse novels, they went from printing 100 copies annually, to “receiving orders for 100 a day”.

Of the countless number of characters Wodehouse invented in his seventy-two year career (over which time he published more than ninety books, forty plays, and two hundred short stories – as well as trying his hand at song lyrics and screenplays) the best known is the phlegmatic, savvy, and sagacious valet called Jeeves, from the long-running Jeeves & Wooster stories. But before Jeeves was Psmith — a character Wodehouse called “the only thing in my literary career which was handed to me on a silver plate with watercress around it”. Wodehouse based Robert Eustace Psmith on an acquaintance from his school days, Rupert D’Oyly Carte — an English hotelier and impresario. Psmith is an unflappable and witty eccentric. Never without his monocle and always ready to dive into improbable (even criminal) scenarios. Psmith is also a keen mind and a fan of Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, the oft-quoted line “Elementary, my dear Watson” is never uttered by the original Holmes. Its first appearance in any novel is when spoken by Psmith in Psmith, Journalist (1909).

Psmith’s most popular adventure took place in Leave it to Psmith (1923), a novel which has just entered the US public domain this year. The book is a crossover — the blending of two of Wodehouse’s most beloved universes: The Psmith Adventures (four novels) and The Blandings Castle Saga (11 novels and nine short stories). Psmith enters the world of Blandings Castle to pursue romance with the modern and vivacious Eve Halliday. There they encounter characters like the pottering and doddy Earl of Emsworth, the suspicious “extremely efficient” secretary Rupert Baxter, and a bevy of swindlers, imposters, dandies, and poets. It’s a classic Wodehouse rom-com, or, as he used to call his style, a musical comedy without music.