The following notes attempt to explain cultural, historical, and literary allusions in Wodehouse’s text, to identify his sources, and to cross-reference similar references in the rest of the canon. These notes were compiled by Neil Midkiff with contributions from Ole van Luyn [OvL] as noted.

Something Fishy was published in the UK on January 18, 1957 by Herbert Jenkins Ltd., and in the US as The Butler Did It by Simon & Schuster on January 28, 1957. Condensations of the novel had been serialized in US Collier’s and UK John Bull magazines in 1956; see Neil Midkiff’s novel pages for details.

Page numbers in the notes below refer to the UK first edition, published by Herbert Jenkins Ltd.


Chapter 1

pre-October days of the year 1929 (p. 7)

The Wall Street crash of 1929 began on October 24 (“Black Thursday”) and continued until October 29 (“Black Tuesday”), when share prices on the New York Stock Exchange as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 25 percent over four trading days.

Keggs (p. 7)

Augustus Keggs is one of several butlers with the occupationally-appropriate surname of Keggs in the Wodehouse canon. Earlier butlers named Keggs appear in “An Official Muddle” (1903); “The Gem Collector” (1909); “The Good Angel” (“The Matrimonial Sweepstakes”) and “Love Me, Love My Dog” (1910), possibly the same butler as in A Damsel in Distress (1919); and in The White Hope (1914)/Their Mutual Child (1919)/The Coming of Bill (1920). Augustus Keggs returns in The Ice in the Bedroom (1961).

the stuff (p. 7)

Slang for money; cited in the OED as early as 1775 in Sheridan’s play The Rivals. Used by Wodehouse as early as 1915; see “Concealed Art”.

(Mortimer Bayliss) …considered his fellow diners clods and Philistines (p. 8)

Fr. Rob Bovendeaard’s note in Biblia Wodehousiana remarks that “The Philistines were among the most bitter enemies of Israel in the Old Testament. Figuratively speaking, a philistine is an uncultured, prosaic person.”

“Oh God, oh Montreal!” (p. 8)

A repeated refrain from Samuel Butler’s 1878 poem “A Psalm of Montreal” – which is not a psalm either, but a humorous critique of a museum in that city that refused to put on show any copies of Greek statues without clothes on. [OvL]

“That was Tosti, my poor oaf.” (p. 8)

Paolo Tosti (1846–1916), Italian composer and music teacher, active in Britain 1885–1913. His 1880 song “Good-bye” (lyrics by George Whyte-Melville) was among his most popular compositions. A performance by Deanna Durbin is on YouTube.

The Wrong Box (p. 9)

Stevenson’s novel (co-authored with Lloyd Osbourne) is online at gutenberg.org.

“I don’t suppose you read anything except the Wall Street Journal and Captain Billy’s Whizz Bang.” (p. 9)

Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang (the additional z is Wodehouse’s) was a popular American humour magazine in the 1920s. It was created by Wilford Hamilton Fawcett, who had been a captain in the U.S. Army during World War I. According to Fawcett he had started his magazine to give the doughboys – as World War I servicemen were popularly called – something to laugh about. [OvL]

A representative issue is online at archive.org.

“apparently it did not penetrate the concrete” (p. 9)

See Very Good, Jeeves.

“Compound interest” (p. 10)

Wodehouse mentions the advantages of compound interest as early as 1923, in “Ukridge Sees Her Through.”

“ ‘It is too large, a bubble blown so big and tenuous that the first shock will disrupt it in suds.’ ” (p. 10–11)

A quote from James Branch Cabell, The Cream of the Jest: A Comedy of Evasions (1917).

“Shoot, if you must, this old grey head, but these things will come to pass.”

The first portion of the quotation is from John Greenleaf Whittier’s 1863 poem “Barbara Frietche”; the poem continues “but spare your country’s flag.” [NM]

“It came to pass” and “it shall come to pass” may be seen as typically biblical turns of phrase, but they have little or no meaning and are considered redundant in more recent translations such as NRSV. One example out of many: Romans 9:26 in the KJV / “And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.” [OvL]

Mephistopheles (p. 11)

Wodehouse introduces this personification of the devil in one of his earliest humorous essays, “Work” (1900). Jimmy Pitt rebukes Spike’s temptation by calling him “a regular Mephistopheles” in The Intrusion of Jimmy/A Gentleman of Leisure (1910). Most famously, Jeeves advises Gussie Fink-Nottle to costume himself as Mephistopheles for a fancy-dress ball in Right Ho, Jeeves (1934).


Chapter 2

Valley Fields (p. 13)

The television antennae are mentioned here for the only time so far found in Wodehouse’s fiction, but much of the description of the suburb is familiar to long-time readers. See the notes to Sam the Sudden for its real-life model, West Dulwich, and for other mentions of Valley Fields and its desirable residences in the novels and stories.

Major Flood-Smith (p. 13)

In one of Wodehouse’s more puzzling references to earlier stories, much of this is lifted from a similar passage in chapter 5 of Big Money (1931), but with significant alterations. The Gas Light and Water Company of the earlier book is replaced with the Rates and Taxes Department, suggesting perhaps that the utilities have been municipalized. Flood-Smith’s earlier letter alluded to Mulberry Grove as a fragrant backwater, rather than the whole of Valley Fields as a fragrant oasis. The earlier letter was given to his parlour-maid instead of his cook, but the outcome was the same. In the next paragraph, the central point of London is cited as Hyde Park Corner in Big Money instead of Piccadilly Circus as in the present book, but the distances of seven and five miles (if a crow) are the same. One wonders why these changes in otherwise stock descriptions came about; could Wodehouse have been quoting himself from imperfect memory? Surely he would have had copies of his own earlier books at hand.

more garden-rollers borrowed (p. 13)

This image of ideal suburbia is used by Wodehouse as early as 1907, in the spoof newspaper serial “For Love or Honour” (ch. 18, July 27, 1907). It recurs in Sam the Sudden (1925) and in Big Money (1931), chapter 4, part VI. A more complete echo of this sentence appears in chapter 1, part 3, of The Purloined Paperweight/Company for Henry (1967).

green fly (p. 13)

Another name for the aphid; see the notes to A Damsel in Distress. In that book, an insecticidal soap made from whale oil was the treatment; by the time of Sam the Sudden (1925) “patent mixtures” had taken over, as in the present book.

island valley of Avilion (p. 14)

From Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, the passing of King Arthur:

But now farewell. I am going a long way
With these thou seëst—if indeed I go
(For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)—
To the island-valley of Avilion;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard lawns
And bowery hollows crown’d with summer sea,
Where I will heal me of my grievous wound.

Reginald Humby, in “Reginald’s Record Knock” (1909), and his golfing alter ego Archibald Mealing, in the parallel story “Archibald’s Benefit” (1910), each know this passage because of having to write it out one hundred and fifty times at school. One suspects that Wodehouse may have suffered the same imposition as a student.

Mulberry Grove (p. 14)

The description of Mulberry Grove’s trees is repeated from Big Money, chapter 5; that the mention of Rosendale Road is new here, and there is a Rosendale Road in the real-life West Dulwich. Norman Murphy (In Search of Blandings, A Wodehouse Handbook) identifies Mulberry Grove with the real-life Acacia Grove, which is longer and not a cul-de-sac, but which contains a house fitting the description of Peacehaven, the home next door to Castlewood.

Augustus Keggs (p. 14)

In the magazine serializations of this novel, Keggs’s name is given as Harold, and in the following paragraph he looks precisely as he did a quarter of a century earlier; there is no mention of his having become stouter.

The date on the paper was June 20, 1955 (p. 14)

Exact dates are extremely unusual in the Wodehouse canon of fiction; the mention of September the tenth, 1929, in the opening paragraph of chapter 1 and the newspaper date here are the only ones I can recall at present.

Wodehouse’s writings are copyright © Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate in most countries;
material published prior to 1925 is in USA public domain, used here with permission of the Estate.
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