Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Something Fresh

1915 - 2015
Still Fresh!

In late September of 1915 the British Army launched the Battle of Loos on the Western Front.  This marked the first use of poison gas by British forces in the Great War.  The Tommies would suffer nearly 60,000 casualties in this appalling battle.

That same month, just over a hundred years ago, a novel called Something Fresh by PG Wodehouse was published (www.amzn.com/1585676586).  Something Fresh was the first in a series of novels that would be set in and near Blandings Castle -- Jeeves and Wooster would follow.  Some of those poor Tommies in the trenches could, therefore, have had a copy of the Wodehouse classic.  Fiction provides us with a means of escape and the soldiers on the Western front were sorely in need of that.
Blandings Castle...?
In spite of the wartime horrors that loomed so large at its writing and publication Something Fresh does not give even a hint of being a "wartime" book.  Instead it is a brilliantly written comedy masterpiece.  Its hero and heroine are two young hack writers living in London's Leicester square.  Ashe Marson is the athletic creator of The Adventures of Gridley Quayle Investigator with installments such as The Adventure of the Wand of Death.  Joan Valentine writes short stories about the nobility for a "horrid little paper" called Home Gossip.  She is described as being "a tall girl, with wheat gold hair and eyes as brightly blue as a November sky when the sun is shining on a frosty world."  Comely Joan is, of course, the love interest.

The really astounding thing about Something Fresh is that, a hundred years later...it still is.

Roast Beef of Old England
Simpson's in the Strand, London
Two Wodehouse characters dine out in London.  "Simpson's in the Strand is unique.  Here, if he wishes, the Briton may, for the small sum of half a dollar, stupefy himself with food...A pleasant, soothing, hearty place.  A restful Temple of Food."  Having dined there myself, I can testify that, with the exception of the prices, Simpsons remains just as Wodehouse described it (http://www.simpsonsinthestrand.co.uk/).  When the silver trollies roll by your table be sure to slip your waiter a fiver for a larger slice of roast beef!
Egyptian Cheops Scarab of the Fourth Dynasty!
An American millionaire, J. Preston Peters, has his prize Scarab pilfered by the scatter-brained Lord Emsworth, Blandings' owner.  Our impecunious hero and heroine are engaged to recover it.  Will Lord Emsworth's idiot son, Freddie Threepwood, marry Peter's daughter Aline?  Or will another win her heart?  Will love triumph in the end?

The cigar-chomping Peters suffers almost as much from indigestion as from his lost Scarab.  He agonizes over the contents of his stomach lining like a 21st century hypochondriac popping his Probiotic pills.  Something Fresh remains timely.

If you are an anglophile seeking escape from depressing American Election year news or an insipid sixth season of Downton Abbey pick up a copy of Something Fresh.  One hundred years later it still has the power to make us laugh and lift our spirits.

Christopher Kelly is the author of America Invades and Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World.

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