In a 1948 letter, Wodehouse said he liked his Blandings Castle stories over his others because his character Lord Emsworth is his favorite. The dottering old earl, more content weeding in his garden than doing anything else, is introduced in the novel Something New (later published in the U.K. as Something Fresh (the two books are not exactly the same)), Wodehouse’s first story about the quirky folk of Blandings Castle.
The story gives us the young man Ashe Marson, a writer of monthly juvenile detective adventure novels, being challenged by a beautiful new acquaintance to take his life in his own hands and try something new. This beauty, Joan Valentine, soon discovers that the Honorable Freddie Treepwood, reprobate son of the Earl of Emsworth, was once terribly in the love with her and would rather that part of his life never see the light of day. The reason is Freddie has proposed to Aline Peters, daughter of American millionaire J.P. Peters, who moved into a home near Blandings several months ago. (Mr. Peters is said to be “suffering from that form of paranoia which makes men multimillionaires.”) Aline intends to marry Freddie, perhaps more to please her father than herself, but she hasn’t given herself much time to think about it. Her father, Mr. Peters, is an Ancient Egyptian scarab enthusiast. When he decides to gush about them to the absent-minded Lord Emsworth, trouble broods.
I laugh easily with Wodehouse’s wonderful stories. The first time I got a head of steam behind my laughing was before the scarab-enthusing incident when Lord Emsworth visited the Senior Conservative Club in London. Here he demonstrates his lack of lucidity with the steward Adams, who attends the Earl professionally while soaking in his many utterances and expressions for imitation among friends later that evening. Adams has developed a reputation as a humorist, imitating the members of the Senior Conservative Club.
The next time I remember rolling along, like one of Adams’ friends, was in a very satisfying scene in Blandings Castle toward the end. It’s something of a climax, so I can’t reveal it for you, but I love when Wodehouse brings his characters together in ways that you may see coming for several pages and still cracks you up when it happens. Often such scenes begin with what you see coming and carry on with what you don’t.
Lord Emsworth doesn’t play much of a role in this character-rich story, but it’s still a great introduction to him. Wodehouse tells us, “His was a life that lacked, perhaps, the sublime emotions which raise man to the level of the gods; but undeniably it was an extremely happy one. He never experienced the thrill of ambition fulfilled; but, on the other hand, he never knew the agony of ambition frustrated.”
Contentment, thy name is Emsworth.