The Custody of the Pumpkin - P. G. Wodehouse
About the author
The Custody of the Pumpkin - P. G. Wodehouse - PG Wodehouse is a British writer who wrote a long series of humorous stories which had characters drawn from several layers of British society. So you find Earls and Lords, gardeners, never-do-e-well aristocratic young men, gallant girls full of spirit and aristocratic young girls who have not done a day’s work, crooks and thieves, rich industrialists, constables and butlers walking in and out of the pages.
He devised very involved plots where the characters went through all kinds of funny problems to emerge unscathed at the end. He made gentle fun of the British aristocracy who lived off their inheritances never having to work in their lives when common people slaved to keep their heads above water. Most of the characters of PG Wodehouse appear repeatedly in his stories.
Most of Wodehouse’s stories are set in Blandings Castle which was the official residence of the Earl, Lord Emsworth. This was a short distance away from Market Blandings, a market town. Life in Blandings Castle centered on the activities of Lord Emsworth who was known for his eccentric behavior. His only interests were his pig, Empress of Blandings and the garden. His children drove him to distraction by getting into all kinds of scrapes.
Lord Emsworth is the eccentric but harmless Earl of Emsworth who is absent minded about everything but his prize pig, the Empress of Blandings. In this story, his latest toy is the telescope. He has fads that only a short time but for that short period everything else pales into insignificance. Emsworth has all the prejudices that marked people of his class when it came to marriages.
Emsworth’s current preoccupation is Blandings Hope with which he hopes to win the first prize for pumpkin. For that he needs the services of Angus McAllister who has quit in a huff. Emsworth is so concerned about the wellbeing of the pumpkin that he calls back McAllister who refuses. Emsworth is no proud aristocrat who will not bow before a gardener when his presence is required.
McAllister is Lord Emsworth’s head gardener. Mc Allister is no respecter of rank and position. Being a Scot he is fond of his money and when he is told to get rid of his boarder, Aggie Donaldson, his shackles are raised. When told to choose between the boarder and his job as head gardener, he chooses the former. McAllister is more stubborn that his master and refuses to return to Blandings even when his master pleads. Wodehouse’s stories are populated by people who have a staunchly republican outlook.
Themes (major and minor)
The indulgent life led by the rich aristocracy, the life of the younger son in families, the control fathers had over their children, the prejudices the aristocrats had against the working class are all touched upon by PG Wodehouse albeit in a humorous way in The Custody of the Pumpkin.
Lord Emsworth is the Sixth Earl of Emsworth and all he does is look after his eccentricities. Here it is Blandings Hope, a pumpkin with which he aims to win the first prize at the Shrewsbury Flower and Vegetable Show.
Freddie is his younger son. Younger sons did not get much by way of inheritance as the major part went to the eldest son. Lord Emsworth’s disappointment with his younger son had more to do with his ways. He lived irresolutely and was in and out of troubles. It took Emsworth considerable expense to extricate him from them.
In Victorian England, fathers had total control over their children. Fathers could be overbearing and autocratic and decide the direction of the lives of their children Emsworth was too mild mannered for that.
Plot / Summary - The Custody of the Pumpkin - P. G. Wodehouse
PG Wodehouse was a consummate master at plot construction. Here the plot is kept simple. Lord Emsworth does not want his son to marry the head gardener’s cousin, Aggie. Given the option of choosing between the boarder and the job the gardener, McAllister chooses the boarder and quits his job. That puts Emsworth’s plans of winning the prize at a vegetable show in jeopardy. To get a new gardener, Emsworth goes to London where he meets his son who informs him that he is already married to the gardener’s cousin.
Shaken, Emsworth wanders off to a garden and removes some flowers and is accosted by a constable who refuses to believe he is an Earl. McAllister arrives there and identifies him. Lord Emsworth meets Aggie’s father who plans to send Freddie abroad to look after his business. McAllister rejoins work and Emsworth wins the prize.
Analysis - The Custody of the Pumpkin - P. G. Wodehouse
The Custody of the Pumpkin falls in the genre of comic fiction. PG Wodehouse is famous for his involved plots where layer upon layer of complications unfold. Here there are only three problems - Freddie’s engagement to Aggie, McAllister’s departure and Lord Emsworth’s likely arrest for removing flowers.
There is no place in comic fiction for symbols as everything is described as they stand. Even so Blandings Castle can be taken as a symbol for the life of the rich landed gentry in England where none of the inhabitants had to earn a living.
Important vocabulary and expression
PG Wodehouse had a distinct style of writing. He used a mock serious style as though narrating a heroic poem or story. “Every ancient family in England has some little gap in its scroll of honor, and that of Lord Emsworth was no exception. For generations back his ancestors had been doing notable deeds; they had sent out from Blandings Castle statesmen and warriors, governors and leaders of the people; but they had not—in the opinion of the present holder of the title—achieved a full hand”.
Literary devices used with examples
PG Wodehouse sprinkled his writing with classical allusions which heightened the comic effect as they were really not suited to the situation. The allusions were taken from epics where the heroes were warriors or Gods. “White and shining, he tripped along over the turf like a Theocritean shepherd hastening to keep an appointment with a nymph…”