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16. August 2020

Literary Looks: Rupert Psmith


Yves Yannick Stork

No, there is no typo in the title. The protagonist of P. G. Wodehouse’s novel Leave it to Psmith (1923) is indeed called Psmith. He explains that his original name, Smith, is too ubiquitous and banal. That’s why he has added a silent P – just like in ‘Pshrimp’, he asserts. 

Apart from this somewhat idiosyncratic approach to surnames, what is the novel actually about? For the most part, Wodehouse’s novel is set at Blandings Castle and, if you know his work, it contains some characters that appear in his other novels. However, this novel focuses on the young Psmith. Having been expelled from Eton, he now spends his time at the Drones Club in Mayfair. (Editor’s note: A drone is a male bee which does no work whatsoever – its entire raison d’être is to mate with a queen.) He is extremely eloquent, wears a monocle and his clothes are always impeccable. One day, Psmith is sitting in the Drones Club again, he observes a lady pass by across the street. He doesn’t want to leave her standing in the rain and grabs the best umbrella from the stand to come to the rescue – the owner will certainly be able to forgive him, he assumes. 

Psmith will meet the lady, Eve Halliday, again but there is another reason for his trip to Blandings. After spending some time at his uncle’s fishing business, Psmith puts an ad in the newspaper, offering to take any job that is not related to fishing. Frederick Threepwood, the son of Lord Emsworth who owns Blandings Castle, seizes the opportunity. Freddie has accrued some gambling debts from horserace betting and now wants to try his luck again. In order to ease the situation a little, he has the brilliant idea of starting a bookmaker business. The only problem: He is utterly broke. Hence, Freddie wants (somebody) to steal his aunt’s pearl necklace to finance his business idea. He is convinced that he will succeed this time and contacts Psmith. 

Freddie offers Psmith a generous reward of 1000 pounds to implement the plan. In order to get ahold of the necklace, Psmith relies on his eloquence, his slightly eccentric clothing and of course his imperturbable self-confidence. But the longer he stays at Blandings, the more confused and complicated the matter becomes. Other contenders for the necklace show up and want to preempt Psmith. 

I’ll spare you any more spoilers though. Instead, I’ll get to what really matters: the description of one of our main character’s outfits. On his quest to restore Freddie’s financial situation, Psmith wears a charcoal grey three-piece suit with chalk stripes, a crisp white shirt with a very high collar, as was customary in the early 20th century, and black loafers. The jacket has three closing buttons and welt pockets. The tie shimmers in a muted green, the boutonnière is white and the walking stick adds the finishing touch. Who wouldn’t want to be robbed by a gentleman with such a good taste in clothing? YYS/MM