Saturday, 16 March 2013

The worlds of Wodehouse and Fleming: potential connections

Sebastian Faulks, author of the continuation James Bond novel, Devil May Care, is to turn his attention to another English literary institution and continue the adventures of PG Wodehouse's best-known characters. Invited by the Wodehouse estate to revisit the world of Bertie Wooster and his valet, Jeeves, Faulks' novel, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, will be published in November.

Just as with Bond, Faulks encountered Jeeves and Wooster from an early age, reading his first Jeeves story by the age of 12 (he first read Fleming aged 13). And both Bond and Wooster have been victim to Faulks' ingenious literary parodies, initially written for the BBC radio quiz, The Write Stuff, and subsequently published in the 2006 volume, Pistache. In his Fleming parody, Faulks imagined Bond shopping in a supermarket. For Wodehouse, Faulks gave Wooster the voice of Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled detective, Philip Marlowe.

Beyond these rather loose connections, the worlds of Wodehouse and Fleming have only fleetingly coincided. When we are introduced to Donovan 'Red' Grant in Fleming's From Russia, with Love, we learn that Grant is reading, or at least carries for form's sake, a copy of Wodehouse's 1913 novel, The Little Nugget. As far as I can tell, Wodehouse doesn't appear to have returned the compliment by having one of his characters read a Bond novel, but there are suggestions in his novels written after the release of the film of Dr No in 1962 that Wodehouse responded to the success of the Bond films.

Frozen Assets, published in 1964 (the year Goldfinger was released and a year after the release of From Russia With Love) features a sub-plot in which one of the main characters, Christopher Biffen, or Biff, is persuaded to take who he thinks is a Russian spy to a club to get him drunk and reveal his secrets. But “aren't international spies inclined to be on the cagey side?”, Biff wonders. In Do Butlers Burgle Banks, Wodehouse's novel published in 1968 (a year after the release of You Only Live Twice and Bond spoof Casino Royale), burglar Horace Appleby, having been away, asks one of his gang-members, Ferdie the Fly how he occupied himself during Appleby's absence. “Went to the of those spy things”, is the response. And in The Girl in Blue, published in 1970, we learn that Crispin Scrope, owner and resident of Mellingham Hall had not acquired the taste for any book with spies or a couple of good murders.

Well, as George Baker's Sir Hilary Bray says in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, “It's not the sort of thing we rely on”, but it is possible that these references to spies reflect an awareness of the Bond films (and novels) and growing 'Bondmania', just as a passage
in Aunts Aren't Gentlemen (published in 1974) in which Bertie Wooster encounters a protest march in London, reflects a period of protest against the government and the Vietnam War, among other issues.

In any case, there is one more certain connection between Fleming and Wodehouse – a dislike of a particular way of serving boiled eggs. In Live and Let Die, when Bond and Solitaire eat at a diner in Jacksonville (chapter 12), Bond complains of the American habit of serving boiled eggs mixed up in a teacup. Galahad Threepwood has the same complaint in Wodehouse's Galahad at Blandings (1965). “When you ask for a boiled egg, they bring it to you mashed up in a glass”, he complains.

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