Monday, January 6, 2014

Five more Ukridge stories by P. G. Wodehouse

I recently read five stories featuring Stanley Featherstone Ukridge found in the collection The Most of Wodehouse. I enjoyed them enough that, when I visited the Southern branch of the Des Moines Public Library on the weekend, I took the time to check through their Wodehouse holdings, looking for more Ukrdige pieces. I found five I had not yet read spread over two collections; these collections, the eagle-eyed reader will note, are considered by the Des Moines Library to be “classics.” Here in Iowa when we read stories about incompetent English goofballs stealing cow creamers, lying to their aunts, and avoiding marriage, we read them with pride!

Four of the stories appear in an old 1946 volume, Nothing But Wodehouse, edited by Ogden Nash. “Ogden Nash” is one of those famous names that I recognize, but know nothing about. I promise to google him when I am done with this blog entry. The stamp on the inside cover of this book indicates that it was rebound in October of 1964 by HNM; HNM, which stands for Hertzberg New-Method (that, I googled already), selected a mesmerizing mid-century modern cover design consisting of stylized leaves.  Or maybe trees.  Either way, looks perfect as Windows Wallpaper!

“First Aid for Dora” (1923): Again we encounter Ukridge’s Aunt Julia and her six Pekingese. This story takes place during one of those periods when Ukridge is living with her in her fine home in Wimbledon. We learn that Aunt Julia is a successful and popular novelist. “Your aunt writes novels?” asks Corky, our narrator. “The world’s worst, laddie, the world’s worst,” Ukridge replies. Aunt Julia has taken on a secretary, a young woman named Dora, to type her “rotten” and “beastly” novels, and Ukridge has taken a liking to her. In a stereotypical Wodehousian plot development, the police catch Ukridge and Dora when they are trying to climb in an upper story window of Aunt Julia’s house at 4:00 AM after a night out on the town, for which occasion Ukridge stole Corky’s best suit. Dora is fired in the ensuing uproar, and a guilt-ridden Ukridge seeks Corky’s help in getting Dora’s job back.

The resolution and final scenes of this one felt a little weak, not as surprising or funny as I had expected. It just wasn’t climactic, perhaps because the adventure of Dora was not over.

“Ukridge Sees Her Through” (1923): Corky and Ukridge having failed to convince Aunt Julia to rehire Dora, Ukridge uses his connections to get Dora an interest in a small business. To seal the deal, Ukridge, who can’t afford to feed or clothe himself, has to raise one hundred pounds in sixty days!  After his first stab at the problem (acting as a real estate broker to a drunken Canadian) he makes the money by selling seven hundred counterfeit tickets to a dance being held by Aunt Julia's snobby club of writers, a club which has only one hundred members.

This story includes a bit of slang I had never before encountered: the use of the word "o'goblins" for "pounds [money]."  Not just a classic, but educational!  Wikipedia indicates that this usage is a shortened form of "Jimmy O'Goblins."  The story also refers to "Battling Billson," a character from Ukridge stories I have not been able to get my hands on yet.

No Wedding Bells for Him (1923):  This is a good one.  Ukridge is pursued all over London by an irate creditor - he has to move from one address to another, like Saddam Hussein fleeing justice after the invasion of Iraq!  And that is not his only problem.  Ukridge fools a decent religious family into thinking he is rich so that he can drop in on them and eat for free.  But the joke is on him when he is caught holding the overweight daughter's hand, and quickly finds himself engaged to this woman, whom he describes as "beastly" and whom Corky considers "something of a blister."  How to escape these two menaces?

"No Wedding Bell for Him" is very funny, and the different plot threads all dovetail together very well in the finale.  Our man P. G. was firing on all cylinders when he penned this one.

Ukridge Rounds a Nasty Corner (1924):  In this story Ukridge has fallen in love with a Millie, a young woman with "round eyes exactly like a Persian kitten's," according to Corky.  For reasons unfathomable, Millie returns Ukridge's love, but the aunt with whom she lives, the widow of a colonial administrator who spent his career governing "various insanitary outposts," must also be won over.  The wooing process involves kidnapping a parrot, sending a fraudulent telegram, surviving a dangerous encounter with Ukridge's Aunt Julia, and liberal use of the snake oil Ukridge has been selling, Peppo, known for its slogan, "It bucks you up."

Though not as perfect as "No Wedding Bells for Him," this is a good story and I laughed quite a bit.

"Ukridge Starts a Bank Account" (1967):  This story first appeared in Playboy's July 1967 issue, along with a novel by Evan Hunter (AKA Ed McBain and Richard Marsten) and a short story by Henry Slesar.  The centerfold girl was Heather Ryan, who shows off her pet ocelot.

I read "Ukridge Starts a Bank Account" in the 1967 collection Plum Pie.

After not seeing Ukridge for some months, Corky bumps into him on the street.  Ukridge appears to have struck it rich; he even buys Corky lunch.  During lunch he relates to Corky the tale of how he came by his current affluence - he's been selling antique furniture!  "For mark you, Corky, though you and I wouldn't be seen dead in a ditch with the average antique, there are squads of half-wits who value them highly--showing, I often say, that it takes all sorts to make a world."  One of those half-wits turns out to be Ukridge's Aunt Julia, who has reason to believe the furniture her nephew is selling was recently stolen from her home.

Oddly enough, the beautiful Millie of the Persian kitten eyes is not mentioned in this story.  Ukridge even opines, "Women have their merits, of course, but if you are to live the good life, you don't want them around the home."  Perhaps this story, through written 40 years after "Ukridge Rounds a Nasty Corner," takes place earlier in Ukridge's career.


So, four solid stories and one very fine one.  And an excuse to say "ocelot."  Next stop on the Wodehouse express: the 1921 version of Love Among the Chickens, the Stanley Featherstone Ukridge novel.

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