Sydney M. Williams
Burrowing into Books
Reviews of Selective Readings
July 26, 2017
“He was rather a melancholy young man,
with a long face, not unlike a pessimistic horse.”
P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975)
Uneasy Money, 1917
Laughter, it is said, keeps one young, and what better place to find humor than in the books of P.G. Wodehouse. One can never read too much Wodehouse, nor re-read one’s favorites too often. He wrote over a hundred novels, dozens of short stories, along with scripts and screen plays. He teamed up with Guy Bolton and Jerome Kern to write lyrics for Broadway shows like “Oh, Boy!” “Have a Heart” and “Leave it too Jane.” In fact, the year Wodehouse wrote Uneasy Money he had five shows running simultaneously on Broadway.
While Wodehouse never went to University – his schooling ended with graduation from Dulwich College in 1900 – he was well read, especially in the classics. Wodehouse used Jeeves, a valet for Bertie Wooster who ate fish and whose forehead bulged, as his fount of knowledge, particularly when speaking to the hapless Wooster and his friends. In the Clicking of Cuthbert, Wodehouse placed himself next to Leo Tolstoi. His character, the “great” Russian novelist Vladimir Brusiloff speaks: “No novelists anywhere any good except me. P.G. Wodehouse and Tolstoi not bad. Not good, but not bad. No novelists any good except me.”
Uneasy Money is one of Wodehouse’s early novels, written in 1917. It was the second novel he sold to the “Saturday Evening Post,” cementing his relationship with that magazine, thus always one of Wodehouse’s favorites. As he writes in its preface, it had given him a “…minimum of trouble, the golden words pouring out like syrup.” It came before his better-known works: the stories of Jeeves and Bertie, and the Blandings’ series, with Lord Emsworth and his “Empress of Blandings,” an enormous black Berkshire sow. Uneasy Money which mainly takes place on Long Island, was written while the author was living there.
Lord Dawlish, or Bill to his friends, is a young man of large stature whose principal assets are a pleasing personality and a good game of golf. While amiable, he had low self-esteem: “He had always looked upon himself as rather a chump – well meaning, perhaps, but an awful ass.” Wodehouse describes him: “As a dancer, he resembled a Newfoundland puppy trying to run across a field.” He is engaged to a beautiful young actress Claire, but she doesn’t want to live on a shoestring. Without giving the story away – too convoluted for a short review anyway – Bill, by chance and due to his prowess at golf, inherits a million dollars, but feels the need to discover who the rightful beneficiaries were, thus his embarkation from London to New York. Bill admits to having little knowledge about the new world: “He knew there had been some unpleasantness between England and the United States in seventeen-something and again in eighteen-something, but that things had eventually been straightened out…Of American cocktails he had a fair working knowledge, and he appreciated ragtime. But of the other great American institutions he was completely ignorant.”
As in all his novels, the ball of twisted twine eventually untangles. The right young men get matched with the right young women. The sun shines. Peace and love prevail. And the reader, like the characters we have come to know, sits back contentedly in the knowledge that all is well. For Wodehouse, like his lovable character Uncle Fred, knew his job was to “spread sweetness and light.” This he still does, even from beyond the grave.
Read Wodehouse, any of his books, and you will smile all day long! J