Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Back to the Classics Challenge 2021 – P.G. Wodehouse


I chose to read some Wooster and Jeeves for the category “Classic Humor or Satire”. I’ve seen a few episodes of the hilarious adaptations starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry but had never read any Wodehouse before. And here I had this chunky  bind up that I bought at a library sale or Goodwill years ago, just begging to be read.  I am so very glad I took the plunge - they were so very, very funny!  

The below listed three titles are sequential but late in the series, published in 1960, 1963 and 1971 respectively. There is a lot to be gained reading them in order, I believe, since there is usually a little throw back to events and characters in previous novels and when I reached the third book, I was laughing out loud while reading.  

So now my plan is to read all the Wooster and Jeeves novels in order. It won’t take me too long to achieve this – a couple of years maybe. There’s a total of 16 novels I believe, but the individual books are fairly short – under 300 pages.  The plots are pretty much all the same, Bertie gets into trouble, usually meaning well, and Jeeves gets him out of it. Some of the humor is in that repetition.

How Right You Are, Jeeves

When Bertie Wooster’s valet, Jeeves, takes a holiday, Bertie heads down to Brinkley Court to stay with his Aunt Dahlia. Dahlia wants Bertie to prevent her goddaughter, Phyllis Mills, from marrying the American playboy Willie Cream, both of whom are also staying at Brinkley Court. Also guests of the manor are Willie’s mother, the thriller writer Mrs. Homer Cream, a novelist, Phyllis step-father, Aubrey Upjohn who unfortunately was also the headmaster at Bertie’s boarding school and has a long memory, and the spunky Roberta “Bobbie” Wickham who tends to get Bertie in trouble whenever she is around. The ridiculous plot thickens and Bertie gets into all kinds of trouble due to both Bobbie and his own silliness.

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves

Bertie is induced to return to Totleigh Towers despite the fact that its owner Sir Watkyn Bassett once jailed him for a college prank and frankly can’t stand him. Also, Sir Watkyn’s daughter, Madeline, has vowed to become Mrs. Wooster if her current engagement to Gussie Fink fails. When that affiance is threatened, Bertie has no choice but to enter the lion’s den and patch up Gussie and Madeline’s relationship to avoid dreaded matrimony himself. Of course, many other hijinks ensue: Bertie is (falsely) accused of theft and then kleptomania, spends a night in jail; Jeeves impersonates a Scotland Yard Chief Inspector; a garish alpine hat is sacrificed.

Jeeves and the Tie That Binds

We learn that Jeeves belongs to a club for manservants in which pertinent details of their employers are committed to a book “to inform those seeking employment of the sort of thing they will be taking on”. Bertie is afraid that the book (with an incredible 18 pages devoted solely to him) will fall into the wrong hands. For once, Bertie isn’t wrong. Jeeves and Wooster go to stay at Aunt Dahlia’s with the aim of helping Bertie’s old pal Harold “Ginger” Winship who is standing for Parliament in the by-election at Market Snodsbury. Unfortunately, Ginger’s impetus for politics is his fiancée, Florence Cray, one of Bertie’s old paramours. Also staying at Brinkley Court is Madeline Bassett and her suitor, Lord Sidcup, one of Bertie’s avowed enemies. Without any spoilers, this is the novel where Bertie finally commits to a relationship.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Back to the Classics Challenge 2021: The House of Ulloa


The earthy and gothic atmosphere of this 19th century Spanish classic novel reminded me at tad of Wuthering Heights in its rustic setting reflecting a landscape of corruption, cruelty and decay, only instead of the Yorkshire moors, the majority of the novel takes place in provincial Galicia. But that comparison only goes so far. Don Pedro Ulloa is no Heathcliff and Pardo Bazán  using the backdrop to tell a story steeped social satire and criticism and not that of a doomed, star-crossed relationship and ghosts. 

The book is narrated in close third person through the eyes of Father Julian, a naïve, very young priest who has been commissioned to come to the Ulloa estate and manage it for the marquis, Don Pedro. However, Father Julian is entirely out of his element. The house and farms are, in fact, “run” by Don Pedro’s farmhand/huntsman, Primitivo, who has the lazy, feckless Don Pedro completely under his thumb. The more Julian tries to get a handle on the situation, the worse it becomes. When Don Pedro marries, Julian hopes this will change the balance of power on the estate, but things don’t work out as he hopes and Julian’s chaste but close relationship with the new mistress of the house is also threatened. Then, when the entire region is in the grips of a local election where Don Pedro has been made the candidate for the conservative faction, things come to a head. 


One factor of the novel that I particularly enjoyed was the descriptions of the countryside, which is rough, wild and sometimes bleak but also beautiful. The comparison of this provincial landscape is juxtaposed with the dissipated and claustrophobic atmosphere of Santiago de Compostela, where Father Julian and Don Pedro go to visit the marquis’ cousins and find Don Perdo a wife. 


The backdrop of the novel is the Glorious Revolution which took place in Spain in 1868 when Queen Isabella II was deposed and exiled. Of course, I know virtually nothing about Spanish history, so getting even an inkling of that background was great in the context of the novel and in the notes in the annotated Penguin edition that I read. It’s a pity that more books by Pardo Bazán are not available in English, though maybe more are in the works?  In the introduction, it was suggested she is often compared to Emile Zola, a comparison she personally disagreed with. But, while I’ve only read two books by Zola, I can see where one might make the comparison, in particular because Pardo Bazán is quite frank about the more earthy and realistic sides of life. 


I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2021 category “Classic by a New to You Author”. I was introduced to The House of Ulloa and Emelia Pardo Bazán by the blogger Sylvia Cachia. Thanks Sylvia!