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Leave It to Psmith

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P.G. Wodehouse around age 38

Leave it to Psmith is a comic novel by the English author P.G. Wodehouse, first published in the United Kingdom on 30 November 1923 by Herbert Jenkins, London, England and in the United States on 14 March 1924 by George H. Doran, New York. It had previously been serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in the U.S. between 3 February and 24 March 1923 and in the Grand Magazine in the U.K. between April and December that year; the ending of the magazine version was rewritten for the book form.

It was the fourth and final novel featuring Psmith, the others being Mike (1909) (later republished in two parts, with Psmith appearing in the second, Mike and Psmith (1953)), Psmith in the City (1910), and Psmith, Journalist (1915)—in his introduction to the omnibus The World of Psmith, Wodehouse said that he had stopped writing about the character because he couldn't think of any more stories.

It was also the second novel set at Blandings Castle, the first being Something Fresh (1915). The Blandings saga, featuring the idyllic but intrigue-ridden castle and its owner, the amiable but woolly-minded backwoods peer Lord Emsworth, would be continued in many more novels and short stories.

The novel was adapted into a play by Wodehouse and Ian Hay. It first played at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London on 27 September 1930 and ran for 156 performances. An Indian television serial called Isi Bahane was based on the same novel.

Plot overview

Although the main character is Psmith, the bulk of the story takes place at Blandings Castle and involves various intrigues within the extended family of Lord Emsworth, the absent-minded elderly Earl. In this book Psmith (the P is silent) is called Ronald Eustace rather than Rupert as in previous ones, apparently because the first name of another important character in the book, The Efficient Baxter, is also Rupert—Lord Emsworth's invaluable secretary, he had previously appeared in Something Fresh.

The plot is a typical Wodehousian romantic contrivance, full of complications and improbable coincidences, with Psmith inveigling himself into the idyllic castle, where there are the usual crop of girls to woo, crooks to foil, imposters to unmask, haughty aunts to baffle, and valuable necklaces to steal. Psmith's good friend Michael "Mike" Jackson from earlier books, married to Phyllis Jackson and in dire need of some financial help, is a motivating force for Psmith's shenanigans; and the ever-suspicious Efficient Baxter is on watch as usual.

The item around which the plot revolves is a valuable diamond necklace belonging to Lord Emsworth's imperious sister that needs to be stolen in order assure the future prosperity of a number of the castle's other denizens.

Plot, detailed

At Blandings, Lord Emsworth is dismayed to hear from Baxter that he is expected to travel to London to collect the Canadian poet Ralston McTodd, invited to the castle by his domineering sister Lady Constance Keeble (Connie), a keen supporter of the Arts; another poet, Aileen Peavey, is already installed at the castle thanks to Connie.

Joseph Keeble, the millionaire but hen-pecked American husband of Lady Constance, tries to persuade his imperious wife to let him give some money to his beloved stepdaughter, Phyllis Jackson, but is bullied out of it by her, and when Emsworth's feckless younger son Freddie suggests stealing Connie's necklace in order to raise some cash, Keeble is taken with the idea. Freddie, however, is not keen on actually doing the job himself; but he sees Psmith's advertisement in the newspaper offering his personal services, and tags along to London with Lord Emsworth in order to meet him.

Meanwhile, in the metropolis, we learn that Mike Jackson, having married Phyllis on the assumption that his job as estate manager for Psmith's father would be secure, found on Mr. Smith's death that the old man was bankrupt, and is obliged to work as a poorly paid schoolmaster. Psmith himself worked for a time for an uncle in the wholesale fish business but finally could stand the fish no longer and quit.

Phyllis meets some old school friends, including Eve Halliday, an assertive young girl who pities the once-rich Phyllis, believing her too soft to cope with penury. Eve, we learn, is a friend of Freddie Threepwood, and with his encouragement has taken a post cataloguing the Blandings library. Yet another of the girlfriends, Cynthia, has recently been abandoned by her husband, the famous Canadian poet Ralston McTodd.

Not long after this, Psmith sees Eve sheltering from the rain opposite the Drones Club, and chivalrously runs out to give her the best umbrella from the club's umbrella rack. A few hours later they meet once more at an employment agency, where Psmith has come seeking work and Eve is visiting an old friend. Psmith then meets up with Freddie Threepwood, who describes his scheme to steal Connie's necklace but dashes off without revealing his name.

Soon after, Psmith runs into Lord Emsworth at the Senior Conservative Club, where the Earl is lunching with Ralston McTodd. The poet is annoyed by Emsworth's absent-mindedness, especially when the old man leaves him to potter across the street to inspect a flower shop. As a consequence. McTodd departs in a rage. When Emsworth returns, he mistakes Psmith for his guest, and when Psmith then sees Eve Halliday meeting Lord Emsworth, he decides to visit Blandings, posing as McTodd.

Welcomed at the castle, especially by fellow poet Peavey, he is nevertheless suspected by the ever-vigilant Baxter, the real McTodd having just telegrammed to cancel his visit. Eve arrives and Psmith begins wooing her with some initial success despite her belief that he is McTodd and that has jilted her old friend. Freddie, meanwhile, worried that one of the maids is an undercover detective, is advised by Psmith to kiss her and to judge by her response whether she is a real maid or not. Psmith and Eve run into him just as he is embracing the girl.

A week or so later a stranger arrives at the castle claiming to be McTodd, but Psmith, in his guise as the real McTodd, turns him politely away. The man, Edward Cootes, runs into Aileen Peavey on his way back to the station, and we learn that they are both American crooks, estranged lovers from years past who are now both after the diamond necklace. Cootes returns to the castle, and forces Psmith to help him get in, which Psmith does, now passing him off as his valet. But Psmith also arranges for the use of a small cottage in case he needs to hide the necklace from Cootes.

Cootes and Peavey make a plan to steal the necklace during a poetry-reading, while Eve, having heard from Freddie that Joe Keeble plans to give him a large amount of money, questions Keeble about why he isn't helping out her friend; he then enlists her as a helper in the diamond-stealing plot. That evening, as Psmith begins his reading of McTodd's poems, Cootes turns off all the castle's lights and Peavey grabs the necklace from the neck of Lady Constance, flinging it out of the window to where, unbeknownst to her, Eve is standing. Eve hides it in a flowerpot before Cootes can arrive to retrieve it according to Peavey's plan. Returning later in the early hours of the morning to fetch the hidden necklace, Eve awakens the vigilant Baxter but evades him, leaving him locked out of the castle, and stashes her flowerpot on a nearby windowsill.

Baxter, now locked out of the house in his lemon-colored pyjamas, throws flowerpots through an upper window to awaken Lord Emsworth, who naturally assumes that Baxter is mad and calls in Psmith to help subdue him. The next morning Baxter is fired from his job, and Eve finds the flowerpot, not on the windowsill but empty at Psmith's cottage. Enlisting Freddie's help, she searches the place but finds nothing; Psmith surprises them by returning unexpectedly and subsequently explains his motives and his friendship with Mike and Phyllis. He also shows Eve where he has hidden the necklace inside a stuffed bird. Cootes and Peavey then appear, gun in hand, and are about to escape with the necklace, but Psmith takes advantage of Freddie's leg suddenly falling through the ceiling overhead to overpower Cootes and to retrieve the necklace.

All ends well as the grateful Keeble gives Mike the funds he needs to buy his farm and gives Freddie enough to get him into the bookmaking business. Psmith and Eve are now engaged, and Psmith persuades Lord Emsworth to take him on as Baxter's replacement as the castle's secretary.

Characters in Leave it to Psmith

  • Clarence Threepwood, 9th Earl of Emsworth, master of Blandings
  • Lady Constance Keeble, Emsworth's imperious sister
    • Joseph Keeble, Connie's husband.
  • Rupert Baxter, Lord Emsworth's very efficient secretary
  • Sebastian Beach, head butler at the castle
  • Eve Halliday, hired to catalogue the library, an old friend of Phyllis
    • Ronald Psmith, an adventurous but impoverished youth who falls for Eve, an old friend of Mike
  • Ralston McTodd, a Canadian poet invited to the castle
    • Cynthia, his wife, an old friend of Eve and Phyllis
  • Ada Clarkson, a former schoolteacher of Eve and Phyllis, now running an employment agency
  • Aileen Peavey (a.k.a. Smooth Lizzie), an American poetess
    • Edward Cootes, a former card-sharp, in love with Aileen Peavey

See also


External links