This is part of an ongoing effort by the members of the Blandings Yahoo! Group to document references, allusions, quotations, etc. in the works of P. G. Wodehouse.

These initial notes by Neil Midkiff are a placeholder and outline for a forthcoming complete set of annotations to Very Good, Jeeves.

 

Very Good, Jeeves was first published in the US by Doubleday, Doran & Co. on 20 June 1930, and appeared in the UK published by Herbert Jenkins Ltd. on 4 July 1930, with a preface by Wodehouse. The UK version only has a dedication to E. Phillips Oppenheim. The eleven stories had appeared in magazines from 1926 through 1930, sometimes in slightly different versions; somewhat unusually, the US book in many cases reprints the US magazine versions of the stories, while the UK book versions are nearly always substantially similar to the Strand magazine versions, as is the usual case. Further details about differences between magazine and book appearances can be found at Neil Midkiff’s web page of the Wodehouse short stories.


Preface

The page numbers in the Preface are for the original Herbert Jenkins printings of the 1930s.


some fourteen summers since I started to write Jeeves stories (p. vii)

The first story in which Jeeves is mentioned is “Extricating Young Gussie” (Saturday Evening Post, September 18, 1915); the first in which he plays a prominent role is “Leave It to Jeeves” (SEP, February 5, 1916), later adapted into “The Artistic Career of Corky” in Carry On, Jeeves! (1925).


the third volume of a series (p. vii)

Wodehouse omits to mention the early story collection My Man Jeeves (George Newnes Ltd., 1919) which contained four Bertie and Jeeves stories and four Reggie Pepper stories; the two predecessor collections mentioned in this paragraph were both published by Herbert Jenkins.


half-a-crown apiece (p. viii)

Two shillings and sixpence, or one-eighth of a pound sterling. (The Bank of England inflation calculator gives a multiplier of approximately 62 from 1930 to 2017.) The two earlier volumes had been priced at 3/6 when first published then reissued after a year or so at 2/6.


in a plain van (p. viii)

This seems to be a stock phrase from advertisements, equivalent to the “plain brown wrapper” in which potentially embarrassing items would be mailed. A 1919 hardware trade magazine describes a cut-price paint and varnish store delivering in a plain van so that the customers’ neighbors would not know with whom the recipients were dealing. A London furniture store that initiated sales on credit used a plain van so as not to let neighbors know that the delivered goods had not yet been paid for. Bertie promises that his gift of Spinoza’s books to Jeeves in Joy in the Morning will be “delivered at your door in a plain van without delay.”


Jules St. Xavier Popinot (p. viii)

Possibly a glancing reference to Jean-Jules Popinot, a character in Balzac’s Le Comédie humaine, an honest and competent judge.


AU COIN DE LIVRES (p. viii)

“At the book-corner”; the dialogue following contains many common phrases from elementary textbooks for students of French. A very rough translation by a very poor student of French:

Good morning, Mister Bookseller.
Good morning, sir. What beautiful weather today, is it not?
Absolutely. Do you have The Inimitable Jeeves and Carry On, Jeeves! of the master Wodehouse?
But certainly, sir.
Give me the two, if you please.
Yes, for example, (expression of surprise). And also the pen, the ink, and the aunt of the gardener?
I don’t care about those. I want only the Wodehouse.
No shirts, no ties, or hair tonic?
Only the Wodehouse, I assure you.
Perfect, sir. Two-and-six for each item (“trinket”)—exactly five bob. [Note the bilingual pun here; “bob” is English slang for “shilling[s]” but “roberts” for “shillings” is pure invention by Wodehouse.]
Good morning, sir.
Good morning, sir.

Note that McIlvaine’s monumental Wodehouse bibliography does not include the French titles mentioned in the dialogue above; the earliest listed French version of Carry On, Jeeves! is a 1934 work titled Monsieur et servi, and L’Inimitable Jeeves did not appear until about 1983. So Popinot is presumably asking to buy the English editions (he is in London, after all) but using French equivalents of the titles to refer to them.


See that the name “Wodehouse” is on every label (p. ix)

Another stock phrase from advertisements of proprietary foods and patent medicines, warning against imitations. “The large and increasing demand [for Worcestershire Sauce] has caused unprincipled traders to manufacture a spurious article, but the ‘genuine’ all bear Lea and Perrins’ name on the bottle, label, and stopper.” (Advertisement in London Observer, July 8, 1860, p. 8) “See the names of Lea and Perrins on every label, bottle, and stopper.” (Advertisement in London Times, August 4, 1860, p. 13)


Jeeves and the Impending Doom

First published in the Strand magazine, December 1926, and in a slightly abridged version in Liberty, January 8, 1927.


Aunt Agatha’s place at Woollam Chersey in the county of Herts

The first of Bertie’s formidable array of relatives to be mentioned (in “Extricating Young Gussie”, 1915) she is the sister of his late father, and is married to Mr. Spenser Gregson. This story is the first to mention her newly acquired country home in Hertfordshire, a county not far north of London (the center of the county is less than thirty miles from central London). Norman Murphy notes (In Search of Blandings) that some features of her home, including the lake and the Octagon, are modeled on Hunstanton Hall in Norfolk, the home of Wodehouse’s friend and frequent host Charles Le Strange, so this is another example of Wodehouse modeling a fictional setting on a place he knew well, but resetting it in a geographic locale more convenient to his plot.


fragrant eggs and b.

The common abbreviation b.-and-s. for brandy and soda had appeared as early as “Leave It to Jeeves” (1916), but the use of initial-letter abbreviations for some of the words of stock phrases is a habit of Bertie’s that first seems to have appeared in “The Great Sermon Handicap” (1922), in which he is “quaffing deeply of the flowing b.” (for “bowl”). The present instance, with b. for bacon, seems to be the second appearance of the habit, which will occur more frequently in later stories and novels. Note the inverted usage “e. and bacon” later in this scene.


moody forkful

Another instance of the transferred epithet (see Right Ho, Jeeves); a more straightforward way of saying this would be “I pronged a forkful moodily.”


floater

Slang, originally from British universities, for a social mistake or faux pas.


lair

Wording more suggestive of a dangerous animal’s den than the boudoir or sitting room of an English lady.


smut

A black smudge, possibly soot from a coal-burning railroad engine.


the stage-door

Aunt Agatha recognizes, as we do frequently in these notes, how familiar Bertie is with theatrical jargon.


beetled out

The OED cites a 1925 [Royal] Air Force slang dictionary: to beetle off: to fly straight, to go off direct, as a beetle flies.


Rosie M. Banks

See “Bingo and the Little Woman” for the story of their marriage.


Ascot

Used without other qualification, this must mean the Royal Ascot races held each June at the Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire, England.


gave tongue like a bloodhound

Cried out as a hunting dog does when its quarry is scented or sighted.


I must have forgotten to post it

This bit of absent-mindedness is borrowed from Ukridge, who similarly fails in Love Among the Chickens.


get it right through the concrete

Archie Moffam ought to have “more brains and less concrete above the neck-band” in Indiscretions of Archie. Gussie Fink-Nottle is “all right up to the neck, but from there on pure concrete” in The Code of the Woosters. Stilton Cheesewright is also solid concrete above the neck in Joy in the Morning.


fiend in human shape

See The Mating Season.


life-giving cocktail

Other instances of Bertie treating alcoholic beverages as healthful are noted as “restoratives” in The Mating Season.


soup-and-fish

See Right Ho, Jeeves.


in the soup … knee-deep in the bisque

See The Inimitable Jeeves.


pest-house

Historically, a hospital for patients with infectious diseases such as plague or cholera; figuratively, any place perceived as the locus of wickedness or iniquity.


black-jack

Wodehouse had used this American term for an assailant’s tool for concussing an opponent in the American-set Psmith, Journalist as well as once in “Leave It to Jeeves” but more frequently employed the stuffed eel-skin in his fiction.


couple of hundred quid

The Bank of England inflation calculator gives a multiplying factor of about 58 from 1926 to 2017, so this would be well over £11,000 in modern terms. “Moderate affluence” indeed!


lumbago and the botts

Lumbago is pain of the lower back; though modern veterinary sources do not seem to use the term, it can be found in a 1911 veterinary textbook in reference to horses. “The botts” is not referenced in that same textbook; it is a colloquial term for an infection of the horse’s stomach by the maggots of the horse bot fly. Wodehouse more frequently refers to a similar disease in sheep, as in “The Salvation of George Mackintosh,” in which the fly maggots infect the sheep’s sinuses.


Kingsbridge, Kent

At present there is a new housing development named Kingsbridge at Headcorn in Kent, but the only Kingsbridge I can find which existed when this story was written is a market town in the South Hams of Devon.


oojah-cum-spiff

See Right Ho, Jeeves.


like a bull-dog that has been refused cake

Norman Murphy tells us (In Search of Blandings, p. 61) that Wodehouse was given a bulldog in 1917 which he named Sammy after the bull-terrier painted red in Mike (1909), and who was the inspiration for The Mixer, Percy in “A Room at the Hermitage” (Indiscretions of Archie, ch. 12–13), and other bulldogs especially including Smith in The Girl on the Boat/Three Men and a Maid:

…closely followed by Smith, who, now convinced that interesting events were in progress which might possibly culminate in cake, had abandoned the idea of sleep and meant to see the thing through.

The conclusion is inescapable that Wodehouse’s Sammy too was a cake-hound.


pie-faced

U.S. slang, chiefly derogatory; having a round, flat face or a blank expression; stupid [1910–15]


I now came down to earth with a bang

The phrase “down to earth” is now such a common expression alluding to everyday, mundane matters rather than flights of fantasy that it seems surprising that this story is the earliest citation in the OED for the phrase.


Aunt Agatha’s spaniel, Robert

For unknown reasons, Robert is replaced by Aunt Agatha’s terrier, McIntosh, in the US book edition of Very Good, Jeeves. Both magazine versions refer to the spaniel Robert.


messuages

A dwelling house with outbuildings and land assigned to its use [OED].


tout ensemble

French for “everything together”: the general effect of all the parts taken as a whole.


Octagon

See Plum Lines, vol. 33, no. 3, Autumn 2012, page 3 for a photo of the real Octagon at Hunstanton Hall, showing the “grooves at regular intervals” mentioned later in the story.


Sure-Grip tennis shoes

Wodehouse seems prescient here, as there is currently a line of shoes using the Suregrip name, now part of the Shoes for Crews family. I suspect, though, that he was influenced by 1920s ads for Keds saying that their soles “give a sure grip of any playing surface.”


in my puff

From the association of puff with breath: slang for “in all my life.”


Home Counties

Loosely defined as the counties of England that surround London; various lists of them range in number from four to twelve. Hertfordshire is included in nearly every such list.


infinite resource and sagacity

A description of the Mariner in Kipling’s “How the Whale Got His Throat” in Just So Stories (1902).


caught a crab

Made a bad stroke in rowing, so that either the oar blade gets too far beneath the water to be easily lifted out (thus driving the handle against the rower’s body, in the more traditional definition), or so that the blade skips across the water surface, causing splashing but not efficient propulsion of the boat.


salved

For many years I failed to notice this particular term here, reading it as “saved” although all editions agree on “salved” here: a nautical term referring to a ship or its cargo rescued from destruction or loss at sea; a back-formation from salvage. One wonders if Wodehouse’s early education at a naval preparatory school was responsible for his use of this uncommon term here. The use of “from stem to stern” later in the sentence instead of “from head to toe” seems to support this idea. It is possible that Wodehouse intended a dual meaning here too, in the sense of salve as a soothing ointment: Bertie thinks that his rescue may have had the effect of buttering Filmer up, giving him the old oil, so to speak.


Purvis, the butler

When this story was collected in the Jeeves Omnibus and its later expansion as The World of Jeeves, Purvis was renamed Benson for unknown reasons.


The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy

Originally appeared in the Strand magazine, April 1926, and in a slightly abridged form in Liberty, April 17, 1926.


beetled off

See beetled out above.


Ne sutor ultra whatever-it-is

Ne sutor ultra crepidam: literally, “Not above the sandal, cobbler” (see World Wide Words for the phrase’s history); the same idea is expressed in the familiar phrase “the cobbler should stick to his last”—the meaning is that one should refrain from criticism outside one’s area of expertise, as Bertie implies in the rest of the paragraph.


hipped

Irritable, depressed, low-spirited; derived from hyp, a clipped form of hypochondria.


rag

Informal or pejorative term for a newspaper; the original edition of the OED describes “rag” as a contemptuous term for such items as “a flag, handkerchief, theatre-curtain, newspaper, paper money, etc.” Robert L. Chapman’s American Slang (1987) gives one definition as simply “a newspaper or magazine, esp. one that the speaker does not like.” See “How Kid Brady Joined the Press” and Piccadilly Jim for other examples in Wodehouse.


tabasco

Hot stuff; see Carry On, Jeeves!


vapid and irreflective

See the notes to episode 5 of The Head of Kay’s for the literary background of this term.


Hawkshaw the detective

Originally a character in Tom Taylor’s 1863 play The Ticket of Leave Man; popularly produced as a Victorian melodrama. A newspaper cartoon by Gus Magor (1913–22 and 1931–52) revived the character name.


Love’s Young Dream

A reference to Thomas Moore’s poem of that title; “But there’s nothing half so sweet in life / As love’s young dream.”


the Metropolis

London.


copped it

Usually slang for getting caught, being punished, or even dying, so Bertie is giving us his opinion of romance in stark terms here.


a year ago … thirty days without the option

See “Without the Option” (1925), collected in Carry On, Jeeves!. Sippy, in other words, could not choose to pay a fine in lieu of the jail term.


Boat-Race night

See The Code of the Woosters.


whiffled

This is the earliest (published 1926 in magazines) use of the term to mean “intoxicated” cited in the OED, although since their citation is dated 1930 (from the date of the book collection) they list it after another Wodehouse usage, in “The Story of William” (1927 in both magazine and book appearances) in Meet Mr. Mulliner:

Intoxicated? The word did not express it by a mile. He was oiled, boiled, fried, plastered, whiffled, sozzled, and blotto.

In any event, Wodehouse seems to have been the first to use it in print, whether recording real-life slang or as a coinage of his own.


sozzled

Though the OED has one Victorian usage of sosselled from a 1903 slang dictionary, I suspect that Wodehouse learned this synonym for “intoxicated” from George Ade, as in “The Fable of Successful Tobias and Some of His Happy New-Years” in True Bills (1904); we know from many other quotations that Wodehouse found Ade to be a reliable source of American slang. This and the above quotation under “whiffled” seem to be his first uses; the term also shows up in Thank You, Jeeves (1934).


“He’s dead.”

Bertie seems to be either misinformed or indulging in wishful thinking here; the Rev. Aubrey Upjohn is alive and well in How Right You Are, Jeeves/Jeeves in the Offing (1960) in which Bertie meets him for the first time as an adult, as well as “Bramley Is So Bracing” (1939) where Freddie Widgeon leaves Bingo Little’s baby in Upjohn’s study. Possibly it is Wodehouse himself feeling the relief as he wrote this story in 1926, as his own headmaster had died in 1911. See the note to the following item for more.


six of the juiciest on the old spot with a cane

Six strokes of the cane on the seat of the trousers. See The Mating Season annotations for further details; also compare Sam the Sudden and magazine versions of Leave It to Psmith.


bit like an adder

Conflating a pair of phrases from Proverbs: see the first listing at Biblia Wodehousiana for the 1930s.


inferiority complex

A fairly new term in popular culture at the time, based on the psychoanalytic theories of Freud and Adler; outside of professional texts the earliest OED citations in print are from the mid-1920s.


mount the deadly breach

The oldest appearance of this phrase so far found is in The Missionary Gazetteer (1828, reprinted numerous times).


“What is it Shakespeare calls sleep, Jeeves?”

Lots of things, of course; but “Tired Nature’s sweet restorer” isn’t one of them. See The Mating Season annotations. This is a rare lapse in Jeeves’s citations.


Foch

Marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851–1929), French general who rose from infantryman during the Franco-Prussian War to supreme Allied commander during World War One.


yestereen

Yesterday evening. A deliberate archaism; the most recent OED citation for this spelling is from 1863, and in the more common spelling yestreen from 1894.


the scales will fall from his eyes

See the second item at Biblia Wodehousiana for the 1930s.


Aunt Agatha accused the maid at that French hotel … still in her drawer

Recounted in the Strand magazine version (also in The World of Jeeves) of “Aunt Agatha Takes the Count” (1922). The US magazine version and its adaptation for The Inimitable Jeeves end somewhat differently.

{}픽 {}픽 {}픽 {}픽 {}픽 {}픽 {}픽

Jeeves and the Yuletide Spirit


Jeeves and the Song of Songs


Jeeves and the Dog McIntosh


Jeeves and the Spot of Art


Jeeves and the Kid Clementina


Jeeves and the Love That Purifies


Jeeves and the Old School Chum


The Indian Summer of an Uncle


Tuppy Changes His Mind

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