RogerBW's Blog

Psmith, Journalist, P. G. Wodehouse 04 December 2018

1915 comic novel, compilation from magazine publication in 1909-1910. Bored in New York, Psmith gets involved with a local newspaper, turning it from a provider of pap into a crusader.

While Mike is still nominally present in parts of the story, it's clear that Psmith is the character who now interests Wodehouse, and the narrative follows him as he talks the paper's temporary editor into doing something amusing with it, sponsors a promising young boxer, discovers the terrible state of New York tenement houses, and stirs up trouble among the gangs by offending one of their patrons.

A recurrent theme is that, well, yes, things are indeed entirely corrupt beyond any possible hope of redemption, but it's America and that's just the way things are there (presumably with an aim of stirring up the reader to ask why things have to be like that). Sometimes the social consciousness sits uneasily against the comedy, and while Wodehouse is clearly enjoying playing with the language – particularly in narrative paragraphs – he hasn't quite reached his full skill.

The New York gangs, and especially the Groome Street Gang, have brought to a fine art the gentle practice of "repeating"; which, broadly speaking, is the art of voting a number of different times at different polling-stations on election days. A man who can vote, say, ten times in a single day for you, and who controls a great number of followers who are also prepared, if they like you, to vote ten times in a single day for you, is worth cultivating. So the politicians passed the word to the police, and the police left the Groome Street Gang unmolested and they waxed fat and flourished.

There are some tediously racist passages (apparently they were expected to bring merriment at the time, and they may even have done so); but there's also a cat-loving crime boss and a Wyoming cowboy turned newspaperman; not to mention the paper's newly appointed fighting-editor.

"You're a genius," said Billy Windsor.

"You think so?" said Psmith diffidently. "Well, well, perhaps you are right, perhaps you are right."

It's all light-hearted fun with a very occasional edge to it; not the Master Wodehouse but rather good even so.

Much of this book was rewritten into the expanded American edition of The Prince and Betty. Followed some years later by Leave it to Psmith.

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