P. G. Wodehouse: The Swoop! or How Clarence Saved England

TheSwoopClarence was a sturdy lad of some fourteen summers. He was neatly, but not gaudily, dressed in a flat-brimmed hat, a coloured handkerchief, a flannel shirt, a bunch of ribbons, a haversack, football shorts, brown boots, a whistle, and a hockey-stick. He was, in fact, one of General Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts.
Scan him closely. Do not dismiss him with a passing glance; for you are looking at the Boy of Destiny, at Clarence MacAndrew Chugwater, who saved England.

P. G. Wodehouse isn’t an obvious candidate for a classic crime blog, but I thought I’d review The Swoop as a warning to the unwary.

Wodehouse usually successfully endeavoured to give satisfaction, however this one is a stinker.

The Swoop is a satire on invasion literature, an early subgenre of thriller which imagined Britain under the heel of various foreign powers. Invasion literature began with George Tomkyns Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking in 1871, which described an invasion of England by Germany. I’ve previously covered William Le Queux and Erskine Childers, both exponents of invasion literature. Le Queux’s 1906 novel The Invasion of 1910 is generally considered one of the classics.  Amusingly, he spent WWI trying to persuade the authorities to offer him special protection from apparently non-existent German threats. According to Wikipedia, ‘by 1914 the genre had amassed a corpus of over 400 books, many best-sellers, and a world-wide audience’.

Anyway, Wodehouse thought he’d have a go at one.

England is simultaneously invaded by a number of foes, including

  • Germany, led by Prince Otto of Saxe-Pfennig
  • Russians, led by Grand Duke Vodkakoff
  • the Swiss Navy
  • the Mad Mullah from Somaliland
  • the Chinese under Prince Ping Pong Pang
  • the Bollygollans in war canoes

Ahem.

The English barely notice the invasion, being too occupied (if you’ll forgive the pun) with cricket scores and their other national pastimes.

SURREY DOING BADLY GERMAN ARMY LANDS IN ENGLAND
Clarence flung the boy a halfpenny, tore a paper from his grasp, and scanned it eagerly. There was nothing to interest him in the body of the journal, but he found what he was looking for in the stop-press space. “Stop press news,” said the paper. “Fry not out, 104. Surrey 147 for 8. A German army landed in Essex this afternoon. Loamshire Handicap: Spring Chicken, 1; Salome, 2; Yip-i-addy, 3. Seven ran.”

After some in-fighting, the invaders are eventually repelled by a Boy Scout plot involving music halls.

There are some nice bits of Wodehouse prose, but the joke is done to death.

Taking it for all in all, the German gunners had simply been beautifying London. The Albert Hall, struck by a merciful shell, had come down with a run, and was now a heap of picturesque ruins; Whitefield’s Tabernacle was a charred mass; and the burning of the Royal Academy proved a great comfort to all. At a mass meeting in Trafalgar Square a hearty vote of thanks was passed, with acclamation, to Prince Otto.

Thankfully short – Wodehouse clearly peaked a few years later.

Spookily, the next book I’ll review on here also covers a German invasion of Britain.



The Swoop

P. G. Wodehouse
First published Alston Rivers Ltd, London, on April 16, 1909
This edition Project Gutenberg


See also:

Graeme Shimmin: Le Queux: How One Crazy Spy Novelist Created MI5 and MI6This is the astonishing story of how a prolific, hugely popular, but now almost forgotten spy novelist, William Le Queux, was responsible for the creation of Britain’s spy agencies.

Criminal Element: On P.G. Wodehouse and Crime Fiction: Or, Wodehouse Writes a Thriller? P.G. Wodehouse stories are full of crooks—mostly amateur, theft, misdemeanors, imposters. One could almost ask what a Wodehouse novel would be without theft, misdemeanors or imposters. The number of imposters at Blandings Castle alone has been estimated at nineteen—or more.

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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13 Responses to P. G. Wodehouse: The Swoop! or How Clarence Saved England

  1. Hmm….think I’ll choose another Wodehouse next time I’m in the mood for one…. Thanks for your candor, as ever.

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  2. Yeah I usually enjoy Wodehouse’s novels so it’s a pity that this one does not come up to scratch. I did read a collection of short stories by Wodehouse entitled ‘Wodehouse on Crime,’ which was quite good. Interestingly Wodehouse is not the only author to suggest Queen Victoria’s Prince Albert devoted building work could benefit from being shelled, as Sayers in The Wimsey Papers (published at the start of WW2), has Lord Peter Wimsey suggest that in regards to the predicted shelling of London ‘we ought to do something constructive in the opposite direction and floodlight the Albert Memorial’.

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  3. Neer heard of this one! And I see why now . . . thanks for always broadening my horizons!

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  4. Santosh Iyer says:

    Death At The Excelsior (1914) is the only detective story written by P G Wodehouse. It is available at Project Gutenberg.

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  5. I think this is one of those cases where you read it so the rest of us don’t have to. Thank you!
    Keep meaning to say, love the new look of your blog, it’s very attractive and nicely laid out.

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  6. honoria plum says:

    The Swoop is early Wodehouse and a rare departure from his usual style. It is not a crime story. It is a satire of the ‘invasion story ‘ genre that was popular in Britain at the time (pre-WWI). I’ve read a bit of this genre, which was sometimes deliberate propaganda rather than genuine literary effort. The Swoop is utterly and intentionally silly, but it doesn’t quite work. Wodehouse knew it too — the book remained out of print for most of his life, and he was keen to keep it that way. It’s only after his death, with we Wodehouse lovers agitating to get our hands on everything he’s ever written, that it has been reprinted. It is definitely not indicative of the writing that has made him so well read and highly regarded.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pastoffences says:

      I have a dim memory of being told it was never reprinted for patriotic reasons – but I can understand him keeping it under wraps.

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      • honoria plum says:

        The Swoop wasn’t singled out for particular reason as far as I know. Wodehouse generally kept his early works out of print. However In the wave of popular fascism that was to follow, some people may well have considered it ‘unpatriotic’.

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      • honoria plum says:

        Actually, when I responded originally I was going to say that I have an inexplicable fondness for this book, but I couldn’t think why. Now I can explain it — because it’s an attempt by Wodehouse to laugh at the manipulation of truth and fear. For most of his writing career he played it safe and rarely upset anyone. We can agree that it wasn’t a successful novel, but I am glad to know that he attempted it.

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      • pastoffences says:

        As I went through I noted he actually directed humour at real people. Edgar Wallace was one, and there’s an entire chapter overwritten in the style of a named Daily Mail reporter (not famous now, but apparently well-known at the time).

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  7. pastoffences says:

    The reporter was Bart Kennedy and he gets a real going over.
    ”Nine-thirty. I had dined. I had eaten my dinner. My dinner! So inextricably are the prose and romance of life blended. My dinner! I had eaten my dinner on this night. This wonderful night. This night of September the eleventh. Last night!”

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  8. Pingback: Wodehouse, P. G.: Death at the Excelsior | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

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