Mitten, Mitten, who’s getting the mitten?

To drop the final shoe from our final discussion, I couldn’t resist turning to the OED to see what it said about “getting the mitten”. Here are the most relevant definitions (click on the picture below to enlarge the text).

So Wodehouse’s usage first appears in 1838;  and note how quickly the illustrative quotations start coming from American sources.  I also like the earlier (16th-18th century) entries that lay the figurative groundwork for the later colloquialism.

And for those who enjoy browsing the OED, here’s a link to a slightly larger excerpt about “mitten.”

More from the OED about ‘mitten.’

V.S. Pritchett: a last word on Wodehouse (?)

I’ve found a review of Benny Green’s centenary biography of P.G. Wodehouse, A Literary Life, by the distinguished critic, V.S. Pritchett, writing in The New York Review of Books in 1981.  Pritchett presents what I think is a full and very sensible evaluation of Plum’s comedy, putting it into the historical context of “English Light Humour” … which includes Restoration Comedy, Gilbert and Sullivan, etc.  Nothing especially new for us, except for the elegant and insightful way Pritchett writes.  A couple of brief examples:

The age of lightheaded imperial innocence began to vanish after 1914 and we have grown up in the black laughter of outrage, enhanced by the obsession with sex. One can only say that laughter for its own sake [my emphasis] is never passé for very long: we still laugh at Goldsmith and Restoration comedy after a spell of sneering at their subjects, their oaths and delivery. …

The strength of Wodehouse lies not in his almost incomprehensibly intricate plots – Restoration Comedy again – but in his prose style and there, above all, his command of mind-splitting metaphor. To describe a girl as “the sand in civilization’s spinach” enlarges and decorates the imagination [my emphasis].

It’s a short review (four pages) and, I think, a quick read.

VS Pritchett on Wodehouse, NYRB Dec 1981

Note:  Pritchett refers to a comedic novel, Zuleika Dobson, by Max Beerbohm (1872-1956), an Edwardian satirist who was a little older than Plum. Below is some information about him and his book:

About Max Beerbohm (from Penguin-Random House)


Another “Plum Take” (from the NY Review of Books)

Here’s another voice chiming in on Wodehouse’s “silliness”:  in the New York Review of Books in 2013, Geoffrey Wheatcroft reviewed the same book as Leithauser and came to different conclusions.  He repeats much of what we already know, but adds a few new twists.

G Wheatcroft on ‘Wodehouse A Life in Letters’ (NYRB, 2013)

Half-thoughts:  Perhaps part of what we’re discussing here (pace Gary et al) is the difference between British and American attitudes about what constitutes “a sense of humor” (…or is it a sense of seriousness?)  Lewis Carroll vs Mark Twain?  Monty Python vs Woody Allen?  … (I started to look through some James Thurber to see how he compared with Plum – and that’s when I thought of Woody Allen.)  – Tom


A taste of later Plum: the opening of “Right Ho, Jeeves”

In our discussions about My Man Jeeves, those of us who have read more of Wodehouse have often talked about the changes in his Jeeves’ stories as “Plum” refined his style and sharpened his characterizations.  As Seth has mentioned, it’s probably in the Jeeves’ novels from the 1930’s that Wodehouse best demonstrates his his mastery of the comedic world inhabited by Bertie, Jeeves, and supporting cast.

I’ve been trying to find a way to illustrate some of these developments short of reading an entire novel.  I think that the opening two chapters of Right Ho, Jeeves (1934), which lay the groundwork for the rest of the book, give a good sample of Wodehouse’s mature style – his increasingly supple humor, his more rounded sense of character, and the inimitable gracefulness with which he introduces and develops the building blocks of his plots.  You’ll note also that Plum slips in a fleeting picture of “Bertie as (self-conscious) writer” (for the post-modern critics among us).

The two chapters run 12 pages.

— Tom

Wodehouse, ‘Right Ho, Jeeves’ (1934), Chapters 1-2

Jeeves and Bertie’s debut

Thomas Ashton’s edition of early Jeeves and Wooster stories includes a “bonus” story, first published in The Saturday Evening Post in New York in 1915.  Ashton says “Extricating Young Gussie” marks the first appearance of Bertie and Jeeves in print.  It certainly can be considered a “prequel” to My Man Jeeves as the story explains what Bertie is doing in New York and why he’s delaying his return to Aunt Agatha.  As such it’s a fun (and short) read in conjunction with our other stories.

‘Extricating Young Gussie’ (1915)

Some introductory material to Jeeves and Bertie by Thomas Ashton, MA (Cantab.)

I’ve found a curious anthology containing My Man Jeeves and Right Ho, Jeeves, edited by someone identified as “Thomas Ashton, MA (Cambridge)”  I think he’s a secondary school teacher but, in any case, he’s got four short introductory notes to Wodehouse and Wooster.  I think some of his historical background is useful and if his analysis of Wodehouse and his language seems a little soft overall, Ashton does make a few interesting points along the way.

The book is called Jeeves and Wooster: Evolution of a Genius.  Below is a link to a PDF containing his four mini-essays:  “Historical Context,” “The Peerless Writing Technique of Wodehouse,” “Development of Technique in the Early Jeeves Stories” (in which he comments on a couple of the stories we’re reading), and “Biographical Notes” on Wodehouse.  Worth a skim, perhaps.      — Tom

Thomas Ashton brief essays on Jeeves

Orwell on Wodehouse’s German Broadcasts

P. G. Wodehouse’s reputation suffered a steep fall in Britain as a result of radio broadcasts he made while a civilian prisoner in Germany in WWII. In his 1946 essay, In Defense of P. G. Wodehouse, George Orwell pushes back against the censure Wodehouse received, offers compelling explanations for what Wodehouse did, why the Germans wanted him to make the broadcasts, and why the reaction in Britain was so fierce and undeserved. In short, Orwell says, “the events of 1941 do not convict Wodehouse of anything worse than stupidity.”

Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest, 1919 and 1925 Versions

P.G. Wodehouse republished with extensive revisions several of the stories in “My Man Jeeves”. Here’s a side-by-side view of two versions of the story Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest.


Tom’s ADDENDUM (June 8th)

I’ve been able to reformat the original PDF so that the columns of 1919’s and 1925’s texts line up better and it’s easier to see the revisions.  I’ve also cleaned up some of the scanner’s mistakes and reduced the font size a bit.   (Final revision [that prints out better] posted 6pm, 6/8)

Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest (1919 and 1925) (TL Revision)