Up until now, I’d never had a desire to read Wodehouse’s Psmith, much less create eBooks out of them. Then I ran into the double-header of a terrible Jeeves and Blandings rewrite and a dearth of P. G. Wodehouse public domain eBooks. The third out was the lack of even public domain Wodehouse in the Feedbooks library, since such eBooks must of necessity be stored on US servers—anywhere else and said servers can be seized.
There’s nothing like forbidden fruit to inspire desire. Fortunately, I live in the U.S., and so do the servers of my hosting provider.
After spending a full weekend researching, writing, and otherwise hacking some perl scripts together to process Project Gutenberg texts into something approaching nice HTML (and which have since come in handy for the conversion of other formats), I descended from the storm-ringed mountains of righteous anger to the placid green valley of “well, what now?”
So I decided to read some Psmith to convalesce and enjoy, for at least a little while, the fruits of my labors. (You know, up until I found out that a perl script of mine had not managed to root out all the stupid little single-quote-double-quote suckers in Psmith in the City.)
Ah, Wodehouse. Now I read Psmith and miss you all the more. Even when you weren’t perfect, and especially when you are.
The loose 4-book series of Psmith books is not a perfect shot, unlike most of the Jeeves run, in large part because Psmith was an earlier creation, around when Wodehouse was still finding himself and growing up (which is why three of the Psmith series are clearly public domain in the US). It’s in reading Psmith that we get to observe the fullness of Wodehouse’s development as a writer, from the beginning into his prime, as the Psmith books spread themselves out over years (which is why the fourth of the Psmith series is clearly not public domain), while multiple Jeeves stories and books occur within months of each other.
Psmith and Jeeves dovetail in an interesting manner; the third of the Psmith books, Psmith, Journalist, was published in 1915. Two years later, the very first Jeeves story, “Extricating Young Gussie”, was published—succeeded by 14 more Jeeves stories into 1923. The final Psmith book, Leave it to Psmith, was published a few months after the Inimitable Jeeves story collection, and is considered by many to be among the best comedic novels ever written. After that, Jeeves takes over.
Not that there is anything wrong with Jeeves taking the helm, since Wodehouse ended things so nicely for Psmith, when all is said and done. Psmith has an arc of sorts, and thus must end; Jeeves does not, and can go on forever (and ever and ever, through to 1974, a year before Wodehouse’s death).
What to say about Psmith himself, as a character? He’s cheeky and dignified; selfish and generous; incorrigible trickster who’s one half Jeeves in his powers of manipulation and coolness, and one half Fred (another popular Wodehouse character) in his sending up of society and comical insouciance. In other words, a powerhouse of a character, and one that the beginning writer may not fully appreciate at first. We’ll see this next time in the first Psmith book, Mike and Psmith ((Technically, Mike and Psmith is a later joining of a Mike book and Enter Psmith, but we’ll leave that information just between you and me, merry footnote reader.)) , where we learn that Rowling’s Harry Potter is definitely in fine tradition.
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