These days I wouldn't usually read two Wodehouse books back to back, because past binge readings have taught me that, wonderful as they are, they lose some of their savor when read too closely together. But half-way through Galahad at Blandings, I realized that I had its prequel of sorts on the TBR stacks as well, and I couldn't resist picking it up next.
I think I've mentioned before that for years, all I knew of P.G. Wodehouse were the Bertie and Jeeves stories. I had no idea that he wrote so many different series or connected stories, let alone all the stand-alone books. I feel like I only truly came to appreciate Wodehouse in 2004, when a comment on the Georgette Heyer listserv I belong to led me to Leave It to Psmith, my introduction not just to the inimitable Rupert Psmith (of the Shropshire Psmiths), but also to Blandings Castle. Blandings is of course the Shropshire home of Clarence Threepwood, ninth Earl of Emsworth, and his prize-winning pig, the Empress of Blandings.
The Earl is afflicted with four sisters, the kind of domineering women that haunt so many of Wodehouse's characters, frequently as interfering aunts. He also has a younger brother, the Honorable Galahad Threepwood, who is a much more welcome visitor at Blandings, except to whichever of his sisters is currently in residence. He's another of my favorite characters.
Gally Threepwood was the only genuinely distinguished member of the family of which Lord Emsworth was the head. Lord Emsworth himself had once won a first prize for pumpkins at the Shropshire Agricultural Show and his pig, Empress of Blandings, had three times been awarded the silver medal for fatness at that annual festival, but you could not say that he had really risen to eminence in the public life of England. Gally, on the other hand, had made a name for himself. The passage of years had put him more or less in retirement now, but in his youth he had been one of the lights of London, one of the great figures at whom the world of the stage, the racecourse and the rowdier restaurants had pointed with pride. There were men in London - bookmakers, skittle sharps, jellied eel sellers at race meetings and the like - who would have been puzzled to know whom you were referring to if you had spoken of Einstein, but they were all familiar with Gally.
Gally has a kind heart and ready sympathy for young people in trouble, especially in matters of the heart. He still remembers the love of his own younger days, Dolly Henderson, a music-hall singer from whom he was forcibly separated by his appalled family, who shipped him out to South Africa and the army. He is always ready to help young lovers torn apart by families or fate - or by their own rash actions. He finds plenty of scope for his good deeds at Blandings. As Freddie, Lord Emsworth's younger son, explains, "I ought to mention that all the younger generation of my family get sent to Blandings when they fall in love with the wrong type of soul mate. It's a sort of Devil's Island."
In Full Moon, it is Prudence Garland, the daughter of Freddie's aunt Dora, who is sent to Blandings, because she has gotten engaged to William Lister. Bill is an aspiring artist with no money and no prospects, except an inn near Oxford that he recently inherited. That makes him a completely ineligible suitor for a member of the Threepwood family, even though he is Gally's godson. (Actually, for Gally's sisters, that is a strike against Bill.) Already in residence at the castle is another aunt, Hermione, with her husband Colonel Wedge and their beautiful but witless daughter Veronica. Though like his father the elder Wedges look on Freddie with a jaundiced eye, they are thrilled to hear that he is bringing a friend to stay, since the friend is a young millionaire, Tipton Plimsoll, who recently inherited America's largest chain of grocery stores. But the course of love doesn't run smoothly for either Bill or Tipton, until Gally takes a hand to sort everything out.
Galahad at Blandings was written almost twenty years later, but little time has passed at the castle. It is a shorter and more compact book than Full Moon, despite the three couples who need Gally's help to a happy ending this time. In my new favorite line, at one point he tells one of the young women, "Take that lemon out of your mouth, Mona Lisa." Unlike his usual role, Gally here has to protect his brother Clarence against a designing female, a widow with a loathsome young son, whom Lady Hermione has invited to Blandings. This book features another resident of the Castle, Beach the butler, who knows most of the family secrets and often takes a hand in the complicated affairs of the younger generation. He had only a cameo in the earlier book, and it was good to see him again on center stage in the later one. In the course of the story, he loses a beloved silver watch, the prize of a darts tournament, to one of the distraught young lovers. We're never told if he gets it back in the end. Perhaps I'll find out in the next installment, A Pelican at Blandings, which is still on the TBR stacks.
My Arrow edition of Full Moon has a quote from Stephen Fry on the back cover: "You don't analyze such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour" (you can read the essay from which it's taken here). I couldn't agree more, and I am always happy to spend a few days at Blandings.