Thursday, October 08, 2020

Uncle Fred in the Springtime by P.G. Wodehouse

I've written a lot about P.G. Wodehouse here over the years, mostly in reading through Overlook's marvelous Collector's Wodehouse series -- I believe they republished all or basically all of his hundred-plus books over the first couple of decades of this century in matching small hardcovers.

I've even written a bit about Wodehouse's series character Uncle Fred (the puckish Earl of Ickenham, who can accomplish anything, absolutely anything, in the springtime), with the novels Service with a Smile and Uncle Dynamite. But I seem to have read this book, the last time around, well before I started this blog fifteen years ago.

And, frankly, I don't think I can do justice to Uncle Fred in the Springtime here: it's one of Wodehouse's best novels, in which all of the gears of his plots mesh perfectly, his characters are amusingly quotable, the random observations are funny and true, and the sunniest of all possible worlds shines before us as if it could possibly be real.

It's about young people in love, of course, as with the best of Wodehouse. But also about the old people around them: the friendly ones, like Ickenham, trying to help them along to bliss. The grumpy ones, like the Duke of Dunstable, who must be gotten around to allow his nephew to marry. And the scatterbrained ones, like Lord Emsworth, who would be far happier if left just to think about and care for his beloved prize-winning pig, the Empress of Blandings.

There are impostors and the theft of the aforementioned pig. There is a major betting flurry on the clothing worn by a random gent temporarily trapped in a phone booth in the lobby of the Drones Club. There is a private detective who does not fit quite so smoothly into polite rural society as one might wish.

I'm not sure if Uncle Fred counts as a distinct series in Wodehouse's work, or if it's best characterized as an offshoot or cadet branch of the Blandings stories. There may perhaps be a major scholarly disagreement on exactly that point. But Uncle Fred is a wonderful character, and a character who shows to Jeeves-and-Wooster fans that Wodehouse had other arrows in his comedy quiver: he could spin complications almost as easily out of a man who could always talk his way out of trouble as he could with a man always talking his way into it.

This is a marvelous, funny book. Would that we all had Uncle Freds to smooth our paths, and that we could live forever in the Wodehousian springtime.

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