The stories in this collection reflect Wodehouse’s own happy schooldays at Dulwich College but they also do a good deal more. Although among his earliest attempts at fiction they give fascinating glimpses of a time when motor cars were novelties, schoolmasters wore mortar boards and gowns, and America was a rising power in the world.
The best of them display the author’s love of games and knack for neat plotting. In one, a resourceful teenaged heroine helps a truant schoolboy cricketer by marooning his credulous schoolmaster at the top of a church tower until the match is over. Another describes a boy escaping from the scene of his crime by a passing car, only to be caught out by a last-minute revelation. Several Sherlock Holmes parodies read as what they are – high-spirited experiments – but the longer stories delve deeper into character: together, they recreate a vanished world of school shops, fagging, Latin prep and hearty teas.
Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (always known as ‘Plum’) wrote about seventy novels and some three hundred short stories over seventy-three years. He is widely recognised as the greatest 20th-century writer of humour in the English language.
Perhaps best known for the escapades of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, Wodehouse also created the world of Blandings Castle, home to Lord Emsworth and his cherished pig, the Empress of Blandings. His stories include gems concerning the irrepressible and disreputable Ukridge; Psmith, the elegant socialist; the ever-so-slightly-unscrupulous Fifth Earl of Ickenham, better known as Uncle Fred; and those related by Mr Mulliner, the charming raconteur of The Angler’s Rest, and the Oldest Member at the Golf Club.
In 1936 he was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for ‘having made an outstanding and lasting contribution to the happiness of the world’. He was made a Doctor of Letters by Oxford University in 1939 and in 1975, aged ninety-three, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He died shortly afterwards, on St Valentine’s Day.