Summer Lightning is a comic novel by P.G. Wodehouse, first published in the United States on 1 July 1929 by Doubleday, Doran, New York, under the title Fish Preferred, and in the United Kingdom on 19 July 1929 by Herbert Jenkins, London. It was serialized in The Pall Mall Magazine (U.K.) between March and August 1929 and in Collier's (U.S.) from 6 April to 22 June 1929.
It forms part of the Blandings Castle saga and of its owner, the amiable but woolly-minded backwoods peer Lord Emsworth, being the third full-length novel to be set there, after Something Fresh (published in 1915) and Leave It to Psmith (published in 1923). Heavy Weather (published in 1933) forms a sequel of sorts to the story, with many of the same characters involved.
Lord Emsworth's younger brother Gally is making an extended stay at Blandings and writing his "Reminiscences", to the horror of all who knew him in their wild youths, particularly Lord Emsworth's neighbor and pig-fancying rival Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe. While sinister forces, including the Efficient Baxter and the unpleasant private detective Percy Pilbeam, scheme to put a stop to the book, Ronnie Fish and his old pal Hugo Carmody are entangled in difficult relationships with their respective girlfriends, which require much subterfuge, some pig-theft, and the usual Wodehousian imposturing to resolve....
Hugo Carmody, who became secretary to Lord Emsworth following the failure of The Hot Spot, a nightclub he briefly ran with Ronnie Fish, is conducting a secret affair with Millicent Threepwood, one of Emsworth's many nieces. They are hiding this from Lady Constance, the châtelaine of Blandings, who is distracted with worries that the book of memoirs her brother Galahad is working on will bring shame to the family.
Ronnie, meanwhile, is secretly engaged to Sue Brown, a chorus girl and an old friend of Hugo. When they run into Lady Constance in London one day, Ronnie introduces Sue as Myra Schoonmaker, an American heiress he and his mother, Lady Julia Fish, recently met in Biarritz.
Ronnie travels to Blandings, where the Efficient Baxter has just returned, called in by Lady Constance to steal the memoirs being written by Gally. Hoping to get money out of Lord Emsworth, his trustee, Ronnie claims to love pigs, but his usually mild-mannered uncle has just seen him bouncing a tennis ball on the back of his prize pig, the Empress of Blandings, and is, of course, enraged. Ronnie, inspired by desperation, steals the pig that night, planning to return it and thereby earn his uncle's gratitude, roping in Beach the butler to help; they hide her in a cottage in the woods.
Hugo is sent to London to fetch a detective to find the pig; the job is refused by Percy Pilbeam. Hugo takes Sue out dancing and when Ronnie arrives at that dinner club he sees Pilbeam, who also admires Sue, sitting at her table. Already suspicious of Hugo, Ronnie runs amok, and subsequently spends the night in jail. In the morning he snubs Sue, who he believes has betrayed him. Back at Blandings, Millicent, feeling the same about Hugo, breaks off their engagement also. Meanwhile, Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe, worrying about Gally's Reminiscences, hires Pilbeam to retrieve them; Pilbeam agrees to take the job, realizing he can use Lord Emsworth's pig-finding job to get into the castle.
Sue heads to Blandings, posing as Myra Schoonmaker. Gally soon finds out the truth, when he has a meeting with Mortimer Mason, Sue's erstwhile employer, and Mason sees her in the gardens. Percy Pilbeam, the private detective, also arrives, recognizes Sue, and tries unsuccessfully to enlist her help in his memoir-stealing scheme. Baxter, meanwhile, is nursing a suspicion that the pig was stolen by Carmody as a means of insuring his job with Lord Emsworth; he spots Beach heading off to feed the pig, and follows him, just as a major thunderstorm breaks.
Beach reaches the cottage and finds Hugo and Millicent already there, sheltering from the rain. Their relationship has been healed, Hugo having explained about Sue and Ronnie, and Beach, now protecting Ronnie, claims he stole the pig in order for Hugo to return it and win Lord Emsworth's favor. Beach leaves, and Carmody and Sue head off with the pig to a new hiding spot.
Baxter accuses Beach in front of Emsworth of having stolen the Empress of Blandings, and the three of them head for the cottage, Emsworth growing ever more skeptical of Baxter's sanity. They find no pig, Carmody having already moved it to Baxter's caravan, where Pilbeam, also caught in the rain, is now lurking in its interior and sees the pig being concealed. That evening, while Emsworth, Lady Constance, Gally, and Millicent are at dinner at Parsloe-Parsloe's, who has lured them away in order to leave the memoirs unguarded, Ronnie Fish confronts Pilbeam, and learns that Sue was indeed out in London with Carmody, but that she has come to Blandings to be near Ronnie.
Pilbeam gets tipsy and tells Beach about Sue, and then tells Carmody that he saw him hide the pig. Carmody, in a panic, calls Millicent at Matchingham Hall, and is advised to tell Emsworth where the pig is at once. He does so, Emsworth is overjoyed, and agrees to their marriage, much to Lady Constance's disgust.
Meanwhile, Baxter intercepts a telegram from the real Myra Schoonmaker in Paris and hurries to the imposter Sue's room to try to retrieve a letter he had previously sent her criticizing Lord Emsworth. Trapped by Beach bringing her dinner, he hides under the bed while she and Ronnie are reunited. Ronnie spots Pilbeam climbing into the room to steal Gally's manuscript, and chases him downstairs; the returning dinner party assume they are fleeing Baxter, now confirmed as being mad by the presence of the stolen pig in his caravan, and Emsworth charges into Sue's room with a shotgun. Baxter crawls out from under the bed, and, flustered and enraged by his experience and Emsworth's harsh words, reveals Sue's deception and storms off.
Galahad, learning that Sue Brown is Dolly Henderson's daughter, reveals that he once loved her mother and views her as a kind of honorary daughter. He tells Lady Constance that he will suppress his Reminiscences if she agrees to sanction Sue and Ronnie's marriage, and to persuade her sister Julia to do likewise. Pilbeam, hearing this as he once again climbs up the drainpipe, gives up his mission, leaving Galahad to tell Sue the story of Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe and the prawns...
Characters in Summer Lightning
- Lord Emsworth, absent-minded master of Blandings Castle
- Lady Constance Keeble, his domineering sister, châtelaine at the castle
- Galahad Threepwood, Emsworth's brother, visiting the castle to write his memoirs
- Ronnie Fish, Emsworth's vertically challenged nephew
- Sue Brown, an enterprising chorus girl engaged to Ronnie
- Mortimer "Pa" Mason, theatrical impresario, Sue's employer
- Sue Brown, an enterprising chorus girl engaged to Ronnie
- Millicent Threepwood, Lord Emsworth's niece
- Hugo Carmody, Millicent's fiancé, currently Lord Emsworth's secretary
- Rupert Baxter, formerly Lord Emsworth's secretary
- Percy Frobisher Pilbeam, head of a detective agency, who greatly admires Sue
- Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe, Lord Emsworth's neighbor and rival pig-rearer
- Beach, butler at the castle
The novel has twice been adapted for the screen, with the 1933 version Summer Lightning directed by Maclean Rogers and featuring Ralph Lynn as Hugo Carmody, Chili Bouchier as Sue Brown, Esme Percy as Baxter and Miles Malleson as Beach. A 1938 Swedish adaptation, under the title Thunder and Lightning, was directed by Anders Henrikson and starred Olof Winnerstrand and his wife Frida Winnerstrand.
A stage play, adapted by Giles Havergal, was first performed at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre in 1992; a 1998 revival starred Helen Baxendale as Sue Brown. The play was recently performed at Keswick's Theatre by the Lake in 2009.
Percy Pilbeam first appeared in Bill the Conqueror (1924). Hugo Carmody and Ronnie Fish had previously been introduced to readers in Money for Nothing (1928), while the Empress appeared in the shorts "Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey" and "Company for Gertrude", the latter also featuring the devious Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe.
Most of the cast would remain at Blandings for the excitements of Heavy Weather (1933).
- McIlvaine, E., Sherby, L.S. and Heineman, J.H. (1990) P.G. Wodehouse: A comprehensive bibliography and checklist. New York: James H. Heineman, pp. 56–57. Template:ISBN
- Summer Lightning (1933) at the IMDB.
- Blixt och Dunder (1939) at the IMDB.
- Works of Giles Havergal at Doollee.com.
- Helen Baxendale biography at filmreference.com.
- Review of the 2009 revival in The Stage.