Uncle Fred in the Springtime
Uncle Fred in the Springtime is a comic novel by P.G. Wodehouse, first published in the United States on 18 August 1939 by Doubleday, Doran, New York, and in the United Kingdom on 25 August 1939 by Herbert Jenkins, London.
It is the fifth full-length novel to be set at the idyllic Blandings Castle, home of the amiable but woolly-minded backwoods peer Lord Emsworth. It also features Uncle Fred, the 5th Earl of Ickenham, who first appeared in the short story "Uncle Fred Flits By", which was included in the 1936 collection Young Men in Spats, and who would feature in three further novels.
When Alaric, Duke of Dunstable decides on a whim to take the enormously fat prize-winning pig Empress of Blandings away from her loving master and get her fit enough to run races, Lord Emsworth calls in the services of the redoubtable Uncle Fred. Fred arrives full of the joys of spring, with nephew Pongo Twistleton and old friend Polly Pott in tow, and, despite the efforts of the efficient Baxter, works to scupper the Duke and to bring together a variety of romantic couplings.
In London, Pongo Twistleton is having money troubles, and his wealthy friend Horace Pendlebury-Davenport is in trouble with his girl, Pongo's sister Valerie, for hiring Claude "Mustard" Pott to trail her during the Drones Club weekend at Le Touquet. Pongo resolves to call in his redoubtable Uncle Fred, the 5th Earl of Ickenham, for assistance.
Meanwhile, at Blandings Castle, Horace's uncle the irascible Duke of Dunstable, as well as demanding eggs to throw at whistling gardeners, has taken it into his head that the Empress of Blandings needs some fitness training—the moony and mild-mannered Lord Emsworth, therefore, clearly needs help. In the absence of his trusty brother Galahad, he calls in the next best thing: Gally's old friend Uncle Fred.
Horace, having fallen out with his cousin Ricky Gilpin over Gilpin's fiancée Polly Pott, daughter of Mustard, lands Pongo even further in the financial soup by being dressed as a Zulu warrior rather than a Boy Scout during a round of the Clothes Stakes, run by Pott at the Drones. While Uncle Fred ponders how to get Polly into Blandings to court her prospective uncle-in-law, Emsworth gives them a chance by insulting Sir Roderick Glossop, an eminent London brain specialist whom he was supposed to engage to analyze the increasingly loopy Duke of Dunstable.
Uncle Fred seizes his chance, and heads down to Blandings posing as Glossop, with Pongo playing the role of his secretary and nephew, and Polly the role of his daughter Gwendolyne. They meet the real Glossop on the train, but head him off, only to pass him into the hands of Rupert Baxter, now working for the Duke. Arriving at Blandings station, they are met by Lord Bosham, Emsworth's older son, who had been conned out of his wallet by Uncle Fred the previous day.
Baxter has been sacked by the Duke, having been seen at a ball by Horace, but is taken on again when Uncle Fred persuades Horace, and the Duke, that Horace is suffering delusions. Horace heads off for a rest-cure, and Baxter is outmaneuvered by Uncle Fred so that even though he has seen through his false identity, having once met the real Glossop before, he is unable to reveal the true situation to Lord Emsworth. Baxter, however, is now thoroughly frustrated, and informs Lady Constance; she in turn has Bosham hire a detective to protect her jewels, and he of course selects Mustard Pott.
Dunstable's scheme to acquire the pig continues unabated, and he calls in his strapping nephew, Ricky Gilpin, to steal the pig, but when Gilpin asks for funds to buy an onion soup bar, thus enabling him to marry Polly, the two row bitterly and part ways. Dunstable then ropes in Baxter instead to steal the pig and conceal it in the Duke's bathroom. Uncle Fred, encountering Pott just after he has taken £250 from Lord Bosham at a card game called Persian Monarchs, talks him out of the money, insisting it will help Polly marry wealthy Horace. Pott, then meeting Gilpin at The Emsworth Arms, tells him this story, and the enraged poet chases a fearful Horace back to the castle. Uncle Fred gives the money to Pongo to pass on to Polly for Gilpin's benefit, but she is spurned by him, and lets Pongo use the cash to pay off his debts.
When Uncle Fred has successfully reunited the couple, more money is required. Pott is persuaded to take it from Dunstable at Persian Monarchs, but the wily peer wins £300 from Pott. Uncle Fred tries to get it back, but Dunstable has the pig, captured earlier by Baxter, hidden in his bathroom, and is keeping his room under lock and key. Having knocked out the vigilant Baxter with a Mickey Finn, Uncle Fred finally gains access to the room, Pongo having lured Dunstable away with a rendition of "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond". But he is caught by a shotgun-bearing Bosham, just after Pott has drunk a second Mickey destined for Dunstable, and is locked in a cupboard.
Uncle Fred's niece,Valerie, arrives, reunited with her man and hot for vengeance on the uncle that made Horace think himself insane, and confirms Uncle Fred's actual identity; but the ever-ingenious Earl of Ickenham convinces everyone that Lord Emsworth had become infatuated with Polly, and that he is actually there at Blandings to put a stop to it. He takes Dunstable's roll of cash to pay the girl off, insisting that his visit remain a secret to maintain the Threepwood dignity, and heads back to London with not only the money for Gilpin's soup bar, but an extra fifty quid for himself to blow on a few joyous weeks in the city. And, as a by-product of Uncle Fred's activities, Lord Emsworth is reunited with his beloved pig, the Empress of Blandings.
Characters in "Uncle Fred in the Springtime"
- Lord Emsworth, absent-minded master of Blandings Castle
- Alaric, Duke of Dunstable, a cantakerous peer
- Pongo Twistleton, an impoverished friend of Horace
- Sir Roderick Glossop, a prominent nerve-specialist
- Beach, butler at the castle
Uncle Fred would return in:
- Uncle Dynamite (1948)
- Cocktail Time (1958)
- Service with a Smile (1961) – in which he and Dunstable revisit Blandings
- McIlvaine, E., Sherby, L.S. and Heineman, J.H. (1990) P.G. Wodehouse: A comprehensive bibliography and checklist. New York: James H. Heineman, pp. 76–77. Template:ISBN
- Summaries of most of P.G. Wodehouses books, information on characters, quizzes
- The Russian Wodehouse Society's page, with a list of characters
- Fantastic Fiction's page, with details of published editions, photos of book covers and links to used copies
jealous fiance, Ronnie Fish, thereby giving his mother, Lady Julia Fish, yet another chance to talk him out of an unsuitable marriage.