Attentive readers – if any are reading this* – will be aware of my slow-burn devotion to the works of P G Wodehouse (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site) including How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide.
The latter drew, with humility appropriate to a neophyte, on the expertise of Wodehouse specialist Plumtopia – recommended for all things Jeeves and Wooster and beyond.
Sadly, I have been devoting an unreasonable proportion of recent months reading all three volumes of50 Shades of Grey (click link for my review) which, while fascinating, was not quick or easy.
So it was with immense pleasure that I returned last week to Wodehouse, with “Jeeves in the Offing”.
The front and back cover of my Folio Society edition of “Jeeves in the Offing”: Jeeves waits, reading Spinoza, outside the Fox & Goose, while Bertie, within, meets Bobbie Wickham
“In the Offing”, published in 1960, is a well-crafted contribution to the Wodehouse canon and a reminder (cf Aunts aren’t Gentlemen, published in 1974) that the master’s skills never faded in 72 years of novel-writing. It would be misleading to suggest that the plot bulges with novelty. But the mood at Brinkley Court is fantastically febrile, bordering on the surreal, as Sir Roderick Glossop, brain specialist and “eminent loony-doctor”, appears as a fake butler named, at Roberta (“Bobbie”) Wickham’s whim, “Swordfish”. The bubbling Bobbie herself, notable for her espieglerie, is wondrous to behold.
In fact, Jeeves in the Offing is notable for having an above-average quota of obscure Wodehousian vocabulary (Plumtopia – is this the correct adjective?) – see the end of this blog.
So, without further ado, here are fifteen favourite quotes I have noted from my pleasurable journey through In the Offing:
- I mean to say, when a girl, offered a good man’s heart, laughs like a bursting paper bag and tells him not to be a silly ass, the good man is entitled, I think, to assume that the whole thing is off.
- He would, in short, have been an unsafe entrant to have backed in a beauty contest, even if the only other competitors had been Boris Karloff, King Kong and Oofy Prosser of the Drones.
- One had to remember that most of the bimbos to whom Roberta Wickham had been giving the bird through the years had been of the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ type, fellows who had more or less shot their bolt after saying ‘Eh, what?’ and slapping their leg with a hunting crop. Kipper must have come as a nice change.
- I eyed her sternly. Bertram Wooster has no objection to listening to drivel, but it must not be pure babble from the padded cell, as this appeared to be.
- When she spoke, it was with the mildness of a cushat dove addressing another cushat dove from whom it was hoping to borrow money.
- It just showed once again that half the world doesn’t know how the other three-quarters lives.
- ‘Apart from wishing I could throttle the young twister with my bare hands and jump on the remains with hobnailed boots, I don’t feel much about her one way or the other.’
- [Speaking of Anatole, Aunt Dahlia’s famed French cook] ‘There is none like him, none,’ said Kipper, moistening the lips with the tip of the tongue and looking like a wolf that has just spotted its Russian peasant. ‘He stands alone.’
- He bowed from the waist, not that he had much waist.
- ‘She must have driven like an inebriated racing motorist.’
- The moment had come for the honeyed word. I lowered my voice to a confidential murmur, but on her enquiring if I had laryngitis raised it again.
- ‘Where I went wrong,’ he said, still speaking in that low, husky voice as if he had been a ghost suffering from cararrh, ‘was in getting engaged to Phyllis Mills.’
- [Of Phyllis Mills] …though shaky on the IQ, physically she was a pipterino of the first water. Her eyes were considerably bluer than the skies above, she was wearing a simple summer dress which accentuated rather than hid the graceful outlines of her figure, if you know what I mean, and it was not surprising that Wilbert Cream, seeing her, should have lost no time in reaching for the book of poetry and making a beeline with her to the nearest leafy glade.
- I have mentioned before that Bertram Wooster, chilled steel when dealing with the sterner sex, is always wax in a woman’s hands, and the present case was no exception to the r.
I was puzzled by the following quote. All help welcome!
- ‘The male sex is divided into rabbits and non-rabbits and the female sex into dashers and dormice, and the trouble is that the male rabbit has a way of getting attracted by the female dasher (who would be fine for the male non-rabbit) and realising too late that he ought to have been concentrating on some mild, gentle dormouse with whom he could settle down peacefully and nibble lettuce.’
I mentioned the concentration of rare words in Jeeves in the Offing. I noted:
- parasang (‘You don’t get the subtle strategy?’ ‘Not by several parasangs.’). This is described by Wikipedia as “a historical Iranian unit of itinerant distance”;
- welkin (They had scarcely swum into my ken when the welkin started ringing like billy-o). I find references to “making the welkin ring” meaning “to make a loud sound”, but none to this usage;
- most baffling, guffin and gaby: ‘”Cannot understand how you can be contemplating marrying that guffin.” Close quote. I suppose it’s more or less the same as a gaby, which was how you figured in one of her earlier communications.’ This seems a Wodehouse special. The story “Archibald” also has the line: “Behind his back she not infrequently referred to him as a ‘gaby’; sometimes even as that ‘guffin’. Collins defines “gaby” as a simpleton; but I have found no definition of a guffin… except in Wodehouse, who himself comes to our aid in Love among the Chickens, which features a debate on what a guffin is, concluding that it is one who guffs;
- espieglerie – also featuring in several Wodehouse stories, meaning playful, impish behaviour;
- alienist (referring to Sir Roderick Glossop), an archaic term for a psychiatrist or psychologist;
- aurist, meaning a specialist in the treatment of ear diseases; and, finally,
- keg of nails, as in I returned to the metropolis and was having the pre-dinner keg of nails in the smoking room. This is again a specialised usage: the closest I came was “To open a keg of nails”, meaning to have a strong alcoholic drink, or getting the party started.
Thoughts welcome! And if you are a Wodehouse fanatic, slow-burn or not, you may enjoy my reviews of Thank You, Jeeves, Ring for Jeeves, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves and others – see the “PG Wodehouse” tab under “Categories”.
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P.P.S. If you, too, appreciate Wodehouse, you might like to look at Plumtopia, a P G Wodehouse specialist. Recommended.
*This formulation is of course a reference to a revered professor of mine at a certain university int he 1970s, who often used to say “the alert student – if he or she is present”. Anyone know who?