Saturday, July 6, 2013

Book Review: Piccadilly Jim by P. G. Wodehouse

Piccadilly Jim by P. G. Wodehouse


It has occasionally been noted that P. G. Wodehouse's novels, including even his much later ones, all seem to be set in the bucolic 1920's.  I would add to that the observation that Piccadilly Jim, a book first serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in 1916 during the first World War and subsequently published in the U.S. in 1917 and in the U.K. in 1918, already seems to anticipate the impossibly carefree attitude of the 1920's rather than the harsh realities of its own time. 

The several transatlantic crossings in the story are presented with no topical mention of either the Titanic which famously struck an iceberg in 1912 or of the Lusitania which was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915.  In fact, the most serious problem alluded to regarding crossing the Atlantic is, as you might guess, sea-sickness.

In the middle of World War I, Wodehouse has already invented his own benign world mostly untroubled by war and other serious calamities.  The sole reference to war here, in fact, is a newly-invented but farcically-untested explosive which various unnamed and unscrupulous governments may be interested in illicitly acquiring even without knowing if it actually works.

The 1920's were doubtless a boon to Wodehouse's delightful writing, but I think he may have been well on his way to inventing them before they just happened to come along. 

Piccadilly Jim by P. G. Wodehouse, Dodd, Mead & Company (1917), First Printing (USA)

Piccadilly Jim by P. G. Wodehouse
 Herbert Jenkins Limited (1918)
 First Printing, 2/6 Net (UK)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PiccadillyJim.jpg


Piccadilly Jim by P. G. Wodehouse, Herbert Jenkins Limited (1918), 1931 Reprint 5/- Net (UK)

Piccadilly Jim by P. G. Wodehouse, Herbert Jenkins Limited (1918), 6/- Net Reprint (UK)

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6 comments:

  1. Piccadilly Jim was, like nearly all of P.G.'s books, well-received when it was published, and the reviewer here (New York Times Feb 25 1917) doesn't mention war or ship-sinkings. Readers of Wodehouse's books have to understand that they were written for their times, not our times many years into the future (although many of them are timeless). One simply can't look at a 1917 book with 2013 eyes. NYT: "The tale is swift-moving, highly ingenious, and very funny - not quite as funny, not quite as ingenious as "Something New," perhaps, but very entertaining all the same. The average meant-to-be-humorous novel is one of the saddest, most depressing things in this world, but Mr. Wodehouse's productions have a whimsical irresponsibility which can be counted on to make almost anyone laugh..." P.G. didn't become a successful novelist in the 1920's - his school books were highly popular when they were written and his first forays into adult fiction were always well-reviewed. Hundreds of thousands of people were reading his stuff well before Blandings and Jeeves in 1915. This contemporary reviewer didn't need wars or ship-sinking in his humorous book of fiction, and it's rather myopic to to bring social causes or sensibilities of today into books written nearly a hundred years ago. It's "apples and oranges." And I'm wondering if "bucolic" is really the word you want here. P.G. "went to the country" when he needed to, but as a whole the books are far more "metropolitan" than bucolic.

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    1. Thanks, Editor. My brief comments were meant more as observations than as criticism of the author. I wouldn't want to change the tone of any of Wodehouse's writing, which by 1917 is generally pitch-perfect. I'm delighted that Wodehouse's writing was well-received in its day, and I wish many more people were familiar with it today. Still, I do have to "look at a 1917 book with 2013 eyes" because that is where I get my perspective, and I think it's helpful to see how Wodehouse created his care-free--is that better than "bucolic?"--world at a time when the ailing world sorely needed it.

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  2. Piccadilly Jim was, like nearly all of P.G.'s books, well-received when it was published, and the reviewer here (New York Times Feb 25 1917) doesn't mention war or ship-sinkings. Readers of Wodehouse's books have to understand that they were written for their times, not our times many years into the future (although many of them are timeless). One simply can't look at a 1917 book with 2013 eyes. NYT: "The tale is swift-moving, highly ingenious, and very funny - not quite as funny, not quite as ingenious as "Something New," perhaps, but very entertaining all the same. The average meant-to-be-humorous novel is one of the saddest, most depressing things in this world, but Mr. Wodehouse's productions have a whimsical irresponsibility which can be counted on to make almost anyone laugh..." P.G. didn't become a successful novelist in the 1920's - his school books were highly popular when they were written and his first forays into adult fiction were always well-reviewed. Hundreds of thousands of people were reading his stuff well before Blandings and Jeeves in 1915. This contemporary reviewer didn't need wars or ship-sinking in his humorous book of fiction, and it's rather myopic to to bring social causes or sensibilities of today into books written nearly a hundred years ago. It's "apples and oranges." And I'm wondering if "bucolic" is really the word you want here. P.G. "went to the country" when he needed to, but as a whole the books are far more "metropolitan" than bucolic.

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  3. thanks for adding this to the library. I read some Wodehouse in my teens but should go back to it. Cheers

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    1. It's always a good time to read Wodehouse, Carole!

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