A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
P.G. Wodehouse’s best loved works are still not public domain. Most of Blandings and most of Jeeves are copyright protected. Don’t be too downhearted, though. Think of it as an opportunity to get to know a young, wide-eyed Wodehouse. I’ve been devouring Plum’s public domain gems for a couple years now, and haven’t been disappointed yet. I’ve discovered a few novels that rank among his best, including my personal favorite Picadilly Jim and my latest discovery Love Among the Chickens.
The title is not a tricky one. Love Among the Chickens is in fact a love story set on a chicken farm. There’s very little Hee-Haw humor here, though. It’s a couple of Wodehouse’s urbain Londoners running this farm, basically on a whim. Well, maybe “urbain” is an overstatement in the case of one of them. While narrator Jeremy Garnet fits the bill, Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, despite the haughty name, is really bumbling, bullying and brutish, but in as lovable a way as you can imagine:
It had always been my experience that, when Ukridge was around, things began to happen swiftly and violently… Ukridge was the sort of man who asks you out to dinner, borrows the money from you to pay the bill, and winds up the evening by embroiling you in a fight with a cabman. I have gone to Covent Garden balls with Ukridge, and found myself legging it down Henrietta Street in the grey dawn, pursued by infuriated costermongers.
Garnet and Ukridge have no idea how to farm chickens. Garnet, in fact, has no idea why he let Ukridge convince him to take off to Dorset on such a scheme in the first place. Wodehouse makes enough of their incompetence that you don’t mind it being the running gag of the novel:
The coops were finished. They were not masterpieces, and I have seen chickens pause before them in deep thought, as who should say, “Now what?” but they were coops within the meaning of the Act, and we induced hens to become tenants.
The whole thing is just a lark to Garnet until he discovers the beautiful Molly McEachern next door, then the trip to Dorset becomes very serious indeed. Besides all the responsibilities of an upstart chicken farmer, there’s also a hulking naval lieutenant and an angry Irish professor in the way of Garnet’s romance. All his best laid plans go awry until the inevitable happy ending. It’s nothing new plotwise to the Wodehouse reader, but Plum coaxes some of his funniest scenes from the set-up. Including a breakneck chicken chase with an ornery hen named Aunt Elizabeth: “I had caught Aunt Elizabeth’s eye as she passed me, and the contempt in it had cut me to the quick. This bird despised me.”
Review by Matthew