Sam the Sudden

Wodehouse’s readers tend, as is natural, to have favourite characters. Some enjoy the Ukridge stories, while others (of whom I’m one) find him irritating. Many readers are first introduced to Wodehouse via the Jeeves & Wooster stories (often after having seen the excellent TV adaptations featuring Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster), and it’s not surprising that the Jeeves & Wooster stories often remain their favourites. Others (again, I’m one), while not disliking Jeeves & Wooster, prefer the Blandings stories. Even among the ‘lesser’ works, there are some that have the capacity to polarise opinions:Laughing Gas and French Leave are two that arouse contrasting feelings.

But, of all the works in the canon, one rarely hears a word said against Sam the Sudden, and there are a good few of us who rank it among our favourites.

And the question is, why? What is it about Sam the Sudden that appeals to so many people, whose tastes are otherwise rather different? Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

First, perhaps, is the cast of characters. And here’s something of a novelty — no aristocracy, no landed gentry or moneyed classes. It’s true that there is a peer, Lord Tilbury, but he’s a self-made man and, except that it partly accounts for his pomposity, his peerage is an irrelevance. It’s also true that Sam has a wealthy uncle, but the story starts with him being sent out into the big bad world to make his own way — no silver spoon in the mouth for Sam. And though the girl Sam falls in love with, Kay Derrick, comes from a background of wealth and privilege, her father, before he died, had managed to fritter away his wealth — she now works as paid companion to Mrs Wilmington-Bates and lives with her uncle, Matthew Wrenn, who works for Lord Tilbury.

Though Sam the Sudden does not belong to any of Wodehouse’s “sagas” (if the J & W, Blandings and Psmith stories can be so dignified), some of its characters reappear in other stories. It’s in Sam the Sudden that we meet for the first time the trio of American crooks, Soapy and Dolly Molloy (here just married) and Chimp Twist — their unsuccessful escapades are one of the delights of several later novels, Money for NothingMoney in the BankIce in the Bedroom and Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin. We also renew our acquaintance, very briefly, with the oily Percy Pilbeam,