A very long, thin youth, with a solemn face and immaculate clothes, was leaning against the mantelpiece. As Mike entered, he fumbled in his top left waistcoat pocket, produced an eyeglass attached to a cord, and fixed it in his right eye. With the help of this aid to vision he inspected Mike in silence for a while, then, having flicked an invisible speck of dust from the left sleeve of his coat, he spoke.
“Hello,” he said.
He spoke in a tired voice.
“Hello,” said Mike.
“Take a seat,” said the immaculate one. “If you don’t mind dirtying your bags, that’s to say. Personally, I don’t see any prospect of ever sitting down in this place. It looks to me as if they meant to use these chairs as mustard-and-cress beds. A Nursery Garden in the Home. That sort of idea. My name,” he added pensively, “is Smith. What’s yours?” [from “Psmith and Mike”]
Thus, Psmith (the P is silent, as in pshrimp) is introduced. Most have heard of Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster series; fewer have heard of his others, including the Psmith and the Blandings, as well as assorted stand-alone books. I think each one is comedic gold and worth reading, but today we are solely focusing on Psmith.
In conversation you may address me as Rupert (though I hope you won’t), or simply Smith, the P not being sounded. [from “Psmith and Mike”]
“May I go now, sir? I am in the middle of a singularly impressive passage of Cicero’s speech De senectute.”
“I am sorry that you should leave your preparation till Sunday, Smith.
It is a habit of which I altogether disapprove.”
“I am reading it, sir,” said Psmith, with simple dignity, “for pleasure.” [from “Psmith and Mike”]
Psmith was regarding Adair through his eyeglass with pain and surprise.
“Surely,” he said, “you do not mean us to understand that you have been brawling with Comrade Stone! This is bad hearing. I thought that you and he were like brothers. Such a bad example for Comrade Robinson, too. Leave us, Adair. We would brood. ‘Oh, go thee, knave, I’ll none of thee.’ Shakespeare.”
Psmith turned away, and resting his elbows on the mantelpiece, gazed at himself mournfully in the looking glass.
“I’m not the man I was,” he sighed, after a prolonged inspection. “There are lines on my face, dark circles beneath my eyes. The fierce rush of life at Sedleigh is wasting me away.” [from “Psmith and Mike”]
Wodehouse introduces Psmith in this way:
Psmith has the distinction of being the only one of my numerous characters to be drawn from a living model. A cousin of mine was at Eton with the son of D’Oyly Carte, the man who produced the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and one night he told me about this peculiar schoolboy who dressed fastidiously and wore a monocle and who, when one of the masters inquired after his health, replied “Sir, I grow thinnah and thinnah.” It was all the information I required in order to start building him in a star part. [from preface to “Psmith and Mike”]
Psmith is a ridiculous character. He habitually wears a severely polished monocle, is a left-handed cricket bowler, and is a socialist–meaning that he calls everyone “Comrade” and believes in pinching things for the redistribution of property.
His father, Mr. Smith (without a P), is a very eccentric individual, as well. He has dozens of hobbies and never sticks to one for more than a few months. Psmith seems to have inherited this trait, though denies it.
Psmith was originally at Eton, but was kicked out due to his lackadaisical attitude towards schoolwork. This, however, ultimately leads to his meeting Mike, who is to become his best friend and closest confidant.
“Are you the M. Jackson, then, who had an average of fifty-one point nought three last year?”
Barnes’s manner became like that of a curate talking to a bishop. [from “Psmith and Mike”]
“Now what,” pondered Mike, “would A. J. Raffles have done in a case like this? Suppose he’d been after somebody’s jewels, and found that they were after him, and he’d locked one door, and could get away by the other.”
The answer was simple.
“He’d clear out,” thought Mike.
Two minutes later he was in bed. [from “Mike at Wrykyn”]
‘He got you one on the forehead,’ said Mike, ‘or somebody did. Tell us what happened. I wish the dickens I’d come with you. I’d no notion there would be a rag of any sort. What did happen?’ [from “Psmith in the City”]
“I say, Psmith,” said Mike suddenly, “what really made you tell Downing you’d done it?”
“The craving for—”
“Oh, chuck it. You aren’t talking to the Old Man now. I believe it was simply to get me out of a jolly tight corner.”
Psmith’s expression was one of pain.
“My dear Comrade Jackson,” said he, “you wrong me. You make me writhe.
I’m surprised at you. I never thought to hear those words from
“Well, I believe you did, all the same,” said Mike obstinately. “And it was jolly good of you, too.”
Psmith moaned. [from “Psmith and Mike”]
If Psmith is one for philosophizing and reciting Greek and Shakespeare to uninterested parties, Mike is your practical everyman. Where Psmith sees theories and possibility, Mike sees a clear path towards his goal. While not the most effusive man, Mike is certainly intelligent and successful. He has a beautiful charm in character that attracts, similar to Bertie Wooster, sans idiocy.
Mike has several older brothers, and some younger sisters. He has two brothers that play professional cricket, and one brother, Bob, who is less talented than Mike at the sport, which causes slight chafing between them. The first book of the Psmith series actually doesn’t include Psmith at all, but only focuses on Mike’s time at the school Wrykyn, which is famous for its prowess at cricket, and to which all of his other brothers went. It is, therefore, a sharp blow to Mike to be kicked from Wrykyn and end up at Sedleigh.
Mr Rossiter had discovered Psmith’s and Mike’s absence about five minutes after they had left the building. Ever since then, he had been popping out of his lair at intervals of three minutes, to see whether they had returned. Constant disappointment in this respect had rendered him decidedly jumpy. When Psmith and Mike reached the desk, he was a kind of human soda-water bottle. He fizzed over with questions, reproofs, and warnings.
‘What does it mean? What does it mean?’ he cried. ‘Where have you been?
Where have you been?’
‘Poetry,’ said Psmith approvingly.
Out of office-hours he enjoyed himself hugely. London was strange to him, and with Psmith as a companion, he extracted a vast deal of entertainment from it. Psmith was not unacquainted with the West End, and he proved an excellent guide. At first Mike expostulated with unfailing regularity at the other’s habit of paying for everything, but Psmith waved aside all objections with languid firmness.
‘I need you, Comrade Jackson,’ he said, when Mike lodged a protest on finding himself bound for the stalls for the second night in succession. ‘We must stick together. As my confidential secretary and adviser, your place is by my side. Who knows but that between the acts tonight I may not be seized with some luminous thought? Could I utter this to my next-door neighbour or the programme-girl? Stand by me, Comrade Jackson, or we are undone.’
His mouth was full when Comrade Prebble asked him a question. Comrade Prebble, as has been pointed out in an earlier part of the narrative, was a good chap, but had no roof to his mouth.
‘I beg your pardon?’ said Mike.
Comrade Prebble repeated his observation. Mike looked helplessly at
Psmith, but Psmith’s eyes were on his plate.
Mike felt he must venture on some answer.
‘No,’ he said decidedly.
Comrade Prebble seemed slightly taken aback. There was an awkward pause. Then Mr Waller, for whom his fellow Socialist’s methods of conversation held no mysteries, interpreted.
‘The mustard, Prebble? Yes, yes. Would you mind passing Prebble the mustard, Mr Jackson?’
N.B. “Mike at Wrykyn” and “Psmith and Mike” are also sometimes collected into a singular volume titled, “Mike.”
Books 1-4 are available through Project Gutenberg (links above). “Leave it to Psmith,” however, is not. You will have to find it yourself, somewhere.