Ukridge, P.G. Wodehouse (Everyman, 2000)
Ukridge (pronounced YOO-kridge) is my favorite of Wodehouse’s characters and the only things that disappointed me about this Everyman collection were the unexciting woodblock-ish cover and the fact that it doesn’t contain all the stories of Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, “that man of wrath” and “animated blob of mustard” (because of the yellow mackintosh he always wears). He’s a confidence trickster who always has confidence in his own tricks, until they fail and land him in the soup yet again, before, after, or with the friend he’s persuaded to help him. That friend is the narrator here and their friendship is explained in part by the fact that he is the same height and build as Ukridge: “As always when he looted my wardrobe, he exuded wealth and respectability” (“No Wedding Bells for Him”). I’m smiling just thinking about which quote to use in illustration of the way Wodehouse mixes the sublime with the ridiculous, the high-falutin’ with the homely. It’s hard to choose, but this one stood out in my memory:
Ukridge drew the mackintosh which he wore indoors and out of doors in all weathers more closely around him. There was in the action something suggestive of a member of the Roman senate about to denounce an enemy of the state. In just such a manner must Cicero have swished his toga as he took a deep breath preparatory to denouncing Clodius. He toyed for a moment with the ginger-beer wire which held his pince-nez in place, and endeavoured without success to button his collar at the back. In moments of emotion Ukridge’s collar always took on a sort of temperamental jumpiness which no stud could restrain. (“Ukridge’s Accident Syndicate”)
One thing that is always sublime about Wodehouse is his prose, seamed with the gold of Shakespeare, the Bible and the classics. If you can mine that gold (I can’t always), you’ll get much more out of Wodehouse, but he’s great in his own right and he’s at his best in Ukridge, where Stanley battles the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as represented by his aunt Julia and the boxer Battling Billson, before he rounds a nasty corner in the final story and marries the girl of his dreams. Parrots, Peppo, and peculation at the Pen and Ink Club’s annual dance — it’s all here.