“Uncle Fred in the Springtime” by PG Wodehouse

Robert Pimm
Robert Pimm

A review of Uncle Fred in the Springtime, one of PG Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle comedies.  Bonus: 21 springy quotations. 

The six Blandings Castle novels by PG Wodehouse in my Folio Society edition are:

I have so far reviewed those highlighted in the bold italics that indicate other posts on this site.  What would you like me to review next?

What’s “Uncle Fred in the Springtime” about?

Uncle Fred in the Springtime stars the eponymous Uncle Fred, alias Lord Ickenham.  This is a man whose ability to create chaos makes the inventive and delightful Galahad Threepwood seem positively sedate.  Uncle Fred’s skill in extemporising tall tales to save sticky situations is on full throttle throughout.  But a host of outstanding minor characters also appear.  I likedthe detective Claude “Mustard” Pott, with his brilliant ability to extract money from dupes.  Also outstanding: the irascible Duke of Dunstable.  Dunstable unexpectedly shows his depth by outwitting  Pott and winning £300 from him at the card game “Persian Monarchs”.

Card games feature prominently both in P G Wodehouse and Ian Fleming.  I urge all readers to learn what “shills” are.  They are highlighted in the final paragraph of my review of Fleming’s Diamonds are Forever.

Uncle Fred in the Springtime has some magnificent comic passages.  I particularly enjoyed the scene on the two-forty-five express to Market Blandings.  Uncle Fred has decided to sneak into Blandings Castle masquerading as notable brain specialist Sir Roderick Glossop.  He then copes brilliantly when the real Sir Roderick, also en route to Blandings, enters his railway compartment.  My laugh-o-meter was fully engaged.

The quotations

Here are 21 springy quotations from Uncle Fred in the Springtime:

  • Hearing Horace speak of his Uncle Alaric and thinking of his own Uncle Fred, [Pongo] felt like Noah listening to someone making a fuss about a drizzle.
  • Nature, stretching Horace Davenport out, had forgotten to stretch him sideways, and one could have pictured Euclid, had they met, nudging a friend and saying: ‘Don’t look now, but this chap coming along illustrates exactly what I was telling you about a straight line having length without breadth.’
  • This morning [The Earl of Emsworth] was experiencing that perfect happiness which comes from a clear conscience, absence of loved ones, congenial society and fine weather.
  • Valerie Twistleton had paused to stare at a passing snail – coldly and forbiddingly, as if it had been Horace Davenport.  Looking up, she transferred this cold stare to her brother.
  • ‘The trouble with Pongo’s Uncle Fred’, he had said, and the Drones is about the only place nowadays where you hear sound, penetrating stuff like this, ‘is that, though sixty if a day, he becomes on arriving in London as young as he feels – which is, apparently, a youngish twenty-two.’
  • [Uncle Fred] ‘When you reach my age, you will know that it is an excellent sign when a girl speaks of a man as a goggle-eyed nitwit and says that her dearest wish is to dip him in boiling oil and watch him wriggle.’
  • He spoke a little huskily, for he had once more fallen in love at first sight.  The heart of Pongo Twistleton had always been an open door with ‘Welcome’ clearly inscribed on the mat, and you never knew what would walk in next.
  • ‘There may be men who are able to invite unattached and unexplained girls of great personal charm to their homes, but Emsworth is not one of them.’
  • The ninth Earl of Earl of Emsworth was a man who in times of stress always tended to resemble the Aged Parent in an old-fashioned melodrama when informed that the villain intended to foreclose the montage.  He wore now a disintegrated air, as if someone had removed most of his interior organs.
  • When pleasing inspirations floated into Lord Ickenham’s [Uncle Fred’s] mind, the prudent man made for the nearest bomb-proof shelter.
  • The two-forty-five express – Paddington to Market Blandings, first stop Oxford – stood at its platform with that air of well-bred reserve which is characteristic of Paddington trains.
  • [Uncle Fred] ‘When you reach my age, you learn to avoid these reunions.  The last man I met who was at school with me, though some years my junior, had a long white beard and no teeth.  It blurred the picture I had formed of myself as a sprightly young fellow on the threshold of life.’ [Comment: I thought this such an exquisite quotation I simply had to highlight it]
  •  If the Duke [of Dunstable]’s heart was touched, his rugged exterior showed no sign of it.  His eyes came out of his head like a prawn’s, and once more his moustache foamed up against his breakwater of a nose.  ‘Married?’ he cried.  ‘What do you mean, married?  Don’t be an ass.’
  • The Duke’s moustache was rising and falling like seaweed on an ebb-tide.
  • A deep flush had spread itself over Ricky’s face.  His temper, always a little inclined to be up and doing, had begun to flex its muscles like an acrobat about to do a trick.
  • ‘This Duke is tough, Mustard.  He nails his collar to the back of his neck to save buying studs.’
  • 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, for ever 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.
  • [Uncle Fred] ‘The only way of ensuring a happy married life is to get it thoroughly clear at the outset who is going to skipper the team.  My own dear wife settled the point during the honeymoon, and ours has been an ideal union.’
  • The Empress of Blandings was a pig who took things as they came.  Her motto, like Horace’s, was nil admirari.  [Let nothing astonish you]

A couple of quotes about the wonderful Blandings castle itself:

  • that haunt of ancient peace, Blandings Castle.
  • We have seen spring being whimsical and capricious in London, but it knew enough not to try anything of that sort on Blandings Castle.

Feedback welcome!  Any other Wodehouse you would like me to review, let me know.  And if you’d like to look at my own efforts at comic writing do take a look at my “black feminist comedy” collection, Seven Hotel Stories.

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