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Something Fresh

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P.G. Wodehouse around age 38

Something Fresh is a comic novel by the British writer P.G. Wodehouse that introduces the absentminded backwoods peer Lord Emsworth of Blandings Castle. It was first published as a book in the United States, by D. Appleton & Company on 3 September 1915, under the title Something New, having previously appeared under that title as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post between 26 June and 14 August 1915. It was published in the United Kingdom by Methuen & Co. on 16 September 1915. Emsworth's stately home and its rich collection of assorted denizens would continue to appear in many more short stories and novels for the next 55 years. In the preface to a new edition published in 1969, Wodehouse dubbed this series of stories "the Blandings Castle Saga".[1]

Plot overview

Young neighbors in a London boarding house as well as being fellow-writers of a lowly nature, Ashe Marson and Joan Valentine have recently met. Both feel they need a change of direction in their careers and their financial situations. Through typical Wodehousian machinations and outrageous coincidences, they soon find themselves on the way to Blandings Castle, where each of them intends to retrieve, for a suitable reward, the valuable Egyptian scarab belonging to an American millionaire that has recently been absentmindedly abstracted by Lord Emsworth. Once within the Castle's idyllic walls, however, where they are obliged to play the role of personal servants, romance blossoms. To complicate matters even more, Freddie Threepwood, Lord Emsworth's equally dim-witted second son, is engaged to that very same American millionaire's comely daughter—and he is now greatly worried about the possibility of incriminating letters surfacing and leading to an action for breech of faith that would thwart their forthcoming nuptials.

Plot, detailed

The novel begins in London with Ashe Marson, a young writer employed by the Mammoth Publishing Company and the creator of the popular "Gridley Quayle" detective novels, doing his daily exercises outside his front door. Joan Valentine, a young girl living in the same apartment building in a small cul de sac, looks on and laughs at him. Thus she and Ashe meet, and discover that they work for the same publishing house; and Ashe is pushed by Joan to seek the possibility of a better career through newspaper ads.

Meanwhile, Freddie Threepwood, the younger son of the 9th Earl of Emsworth, is engaged to be married to Aline Peters, the beautiful young daughter of American millionaire J. Preston Peters. Freddie pays a visit to his supposed friend R. Jones, hoping to recover some letters he sent in the past to a chorus girl, suddenly fearing they might be dangerous in her hands, especially following the recent public embarrassment of his cousin Lord Percy Stockheath, who has just lost an expensive breach of faith lawsuit against him. Freddie pays Jones £500 to sort things out for him.

About the same time, Clarence Threepwood, the elderly Earl of Emsworth, and Freddie Threepwood's father, calls on J. Preston Peters, Aline's father, and Emsworth's prospective brother-in-law. Peters is a passionate collector of Egyptian scarabs and proudly shows him the most precious piece in his collection: a 4th dynasty Cheops. But Peters is called away to the phone, and the woolly-minded Lord Emsworth absently puts the scarab into his pocket and instantly forgets about it.

Aline Peters, in the meantime, has just had lunch with her old friend George Emerson, a Hong Kong police official who fervently wants to marry her. He proposes to her yet again, and tells her that, having recently befriended Freddie Threepwood, he has been invited to Blandings for an indefinite stay.

Peters discovers the disappearance of his scarab and instantly suspects the Earl, but cannot confront him for fear of endangering his daughter's marriage. The Earl, of course, has already forgotten everything that happened, and, when he eventually comes across the scarab in his pocket a day or so later, thinks the scarab was a gift from the extraordinarily generous American millionaire.

R. Jones, a businessman of shady reputation, finds the address of Freddie's ex-sweetheart, who is, of course, in standard Wodehousian plotting, Joan Valentine, who once briefly supported herself as a chorus girl. She tells Jones, truthfully, that she has long since destroyed any letters she may have had from Freddie. As Jones is leaving, however, Aline Peters, a close friend of Joan from their schooldays, arrives on a visit, which allows the ever-suspicious Jones to listen at the door. He hears that Aline's father is offering £1,000 to anyone who can retrieve his missing scarab. Joan decides that she herself, posing as Aline's personal maid, will go to Blandings Castle, recover the scarab, and gather in the reward.

Ashe, in the meantime, following Joan's advice, has been scouring advertisements in the newspaper, and, seeing one that grabs his attention, he immediately goes to an interview with Peters, who is looking for somebody to pose as his valet and to steal the scarab back from Lord Emsworth. Ashe, showing Peters the pep that the American millionaire admires, gets the job.

Ashe tells Joan about this, and they take the train to Blandings together, along with their purported employers, Aline and her father J. Preston Peters. During the trip Joan warns Ashe of the highly complicated system of etiquette observed among servants of a large house. She hopes her words will persuade him to give up his quest and remove himself as her competitor for the reward, but he resolves to do his best.

After their arrival, Ashe encounters Rupert Baxter, the Earl's highly efficient and suspicious secretary, on the way to Peters' room, addressing him in a highly unvalet-like manner. He finds that Peters, like Sebastian Beach, the butler at the castle, has problems with his stomach, and, in an emotional tirade, persuades him to do exercises and to stop smoking cigars.

Ashe and Joan have learned that the scarab is resting, unprotected, in the castle's museum room. That night, both of them are trying independently to get to the scarab when the ever-watchful Baxter hears them and tries to intercept them. Ashe, with a prepared excuse of being on his way to reading a book to the insomniac Peters, helps Joan escape undetected. Next morning, Ashe and Joan decide to become formal allies and, by flipping a coin, determine that Ashe will make the first try at stealing the scarab.

Aline is following the same diet as her father, composed mainly of legumes, and George, worrying she is suffering from malnutrition, prepares a feast to bring to her at night. As he makes his way to her room, he and Ashe collide in the dark hall of the castle and start a noisy fight. Baxter rushes in, but by the time the lights finally come on, Ashe and George have fled, shots have been fired by Lord Emsworth and Baxter is found surrounded by food and broken china. He is blamed for waking everyone and roundly criticized by his employer, Lord Emsworth, for sneaking food in the middle of the night.

The next night is Joan's turn, but she finds the scarab is already gone. The following morning, Ashe finds out that Freddie needs money to pay R. Jones for the letters to Joan; he confronts Freddie, who confesses to the theft, and Ashe gets the scarab and returns it to the rightful owner, J. Preston Peters, who is ecstatic with happiness.

George Emerson, suddenly recalled to his post in Hong Kong, sadly wishes Aline good luck with Freddie; Aline, her mothering instinct finally aroused by his disappointment, decides to jilt Freddie and elope with George. Ashe and Joan finally realize they are made for each other, and enter Peters' employ. Lord Emsworth agrees to let Freddie return to London, on condition he doesn't make a fool of himself yet again.

Characters in Something Fresh

  • Ashe Marson, an ill-paid writer of pulpy detective novels
  • Joan Valentine, Ashe's neighbor, who writes stories for a gossip magazine
  • Aline Peters, an old friend of Joan Valentine
    • J. Preston Peters, Aline's father, a wealthy scarab collector
  • The Earl of Emsworth, absent-minded master of Blandings
    • Freddie Threepwood, his second son, engaged to Aline
    • Lady Ann Warblington, Emsworth's widowed sister, chatelaine of Blandings
  • Rupert Baxter, Lord Emsworth's very efficient secretary
  • Sebastian Beach, dignified head butler at Blandings Castle
    • Mrs Twemlow, housekeeper at the Castle
  • George Emerson, a Hong Kong police official, in love with Aline
  • R. Jones, an obese bookmaker with a shady reputation, and a purported friend of Freddie Threepwood

Something New

There are some significant differences between the U.S. edition and the later U.K. edition, though they do not affect the main plot.

Something New includes a lengthy scene in which Baxter finds a paint-splashed lady's shoe in the library after the theft of the scarab and attempts to identify its owner: this scene was omitted from Something Fresh; Wodehouse had previously used the same sub-plot in the second part of his school novel, Mike.

In Something New, Ashe Marson, Joan Valentine, and George Emerson are all Americans; Ashe (who comes from a town called "Hayling", near Boston, Massachusetts) and Joan (who was born in New York) are living in England, while George is a member of a New York law firm. Because of the change of nationality, there are numerous subsequent changes in descriptive passages and, particularly, in the dialogue.

Hayling Island is an actual peninsula on the South Coast of England very near a fishing village named Emsworth.

The 1972 U.S. paperback edition published by Ballantine (still titled Something New) contains the text of the original U.K. edition of Something Fresh.

See also

References

  1. Wodehouse, P. G. (1969). “Preface [new since the 1969 edition]”, Something Fresh. “Something Fresh was the first of what I might call – in fact, I will call – the Blandings Castle Saga.” 

Sources

External links