WODEHOUSE (P.G.) Autograph manuscript of his novel Psmith Journalist, New York, 1909

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Lot 259

£ 20,000 - 30,000
US$ 27,000 - 41,000
Autograph manuscript of his novel Psmith Journalist, originally called "Psmith, U.S.A", signed and dated at the end "P.G. Wodehouse/ New York/ Nov 11. 1909" (and verso "P.G. Wodehouse/ 11 November 1909/ Hotel Earle/ 103 Waverley Place"), a fair copy, although with additions and revisions throughout, some in pencil, as submitted for publication, opening: "The man in the street would not have known it, but a great crisis was imminent in New York journalism./ Everything seemed much as usual in the city. The cars ran blithely on Broadway. Newsboys shouted 'Wuxx-try!' into the ears of nervous pedestrians with their usual Caruso-like vim. Society passed up and down Fifth Avenue in its automobiles, and was there a furrow of anxiety upon Society's brow? None. At a thousand street-corners a thousand policemen preserved their air of massive superiority to the things of this world. Not one of them showed the least sign of perturbation. Nevertheless the crisis was at hand. Mr. J. Filliken Wilburfloss, editor-in-chief of 'Cosy Moments', was about to leave his post and start on a six weeks' holiday...", 175 loose pages, title altered to "Psmith Journalist" at p.71, comprising Chapters I-XIII (pp.1-92), lacking the last few lines of XIII; Chapters XVI-XX (pp.110-150); Chapters XXV-XXX (new pagination pp.1-42, with a p.18a but no p.19), some leaves browned and brittle, small tears and fraying to margins, each leaf preserved in an acid-free pocket, the whole contained in a custom-made box, 4to, New York, 1909


  • 'ONE OF THOSE MASTERPIECES YOU CAN'T ALTER A WORD OF' – P.G. WODEHOUSE AT THE OUTSET OF HIS CAREER AS A COMIC NOVELIST. He had set out as an author of school stories in 1902 but around 1909, the year of our manuscript, was to establish his reputation as a writer of comic genius; in the words of Ian Sproat: 'Each of Wodehouse's school stories is a superior example of the genre, and still readable; but in his last public-school novel, Mike (1909), something extraordinary happened: Wodehouse, as a writer, moved into a higher and dazzling sphere. In its narrative energy, dialogue, characterization, and ability to create sunny laughter, Mike is Wodehouse's first masterpiece. George Orwell called it "perhaps the best light school story in the English language"... It also introduced one of his most memorable characters, Psmith – the letter 'P' was added by Psmith himself, but was not to be pronounced -- who was the central figure in Psmith in the City (1910), Psmith Journalist... and the last Psmith novel, Leave it to Psmith (1923). Psmith was unstoppably talkative, and had a splendid conversational line in mandarin orotundity...' (ODNB). In the opinion of Robert McCrum: 'Psmith Journalist, originally "Psmith U.S.A.", reveals a new side to Wodehouse. It still features Mike and Psmith (he could not risk losing his public school readers) but, for the first time, the action is set exclusively in the magazine and boxing world of New York with which the author had become so familiar. As well as being set in a grown-up world, Psmith Journalist also has ambitions to social realism' (Wodehouse: A Life, 2004, p.91).

    The novel was first published in the pages of the British magazine The Captain between October 1909 and February 1910. As a sequel to Psmith in the City which in its turn is a sequel to the last of Wodehouse's schoolboy stories, Mike, Psmith Journalist has its feet in both camps, that of the apprentice writing for boys and the master addressing adults. This is brought out in a letter that Wodehouse wrote to his friend Leslie Havergal Bradshaw (to whom he later gave our manuscript), probably in the autumn of 1909, in response to an offer to help sell his boys' books in America: 'Thanks awfully for your letter. It's ripping of you wanting to give me a leg-up, but I'm afraid it wouldn't do. So far from wanting my boys' books published this side, I want to start here with a clean sheet as a writer of grown-up stories. The Captain books are all right in their way, but the point of view is too immature. They would kill any chances of doing anything big... I want to butt into the big league' (quoted by Richard Usborne, 'New P.G. Wodehouse Material: Letters & Notebooks of his Apprentice Years', Encounter, July/August 1985, p.60).

    Indeed, taking its date as 1915 (the year it came out in book form), David Damrosch sees it as marking the watershed from which all Wodehouse's mature work was to flow. In What Is World Literature? (2003) Damrosch writes of Psmith Journalist: 'The story begins with the narrator serving as a guide to a reader who, like Psmith himself, has no previous American experience. In his opening paragraphs Wodehouse celebrates America's cultural and linguistic variety... Like his Esquimau counterpart, Wodehouse found his niche in New York, and his foreigner's ear was attuned to the exotic speech patterns of Caruso-like newsboys, portly German-American waiters [see Chapter XX], and Irish-American gangsters working the borders of Chinatown and Little Italy. In a very real sense, Wodehouse began writing world literature in 1915. Not only was his work often focused on themes of transatlantic travel and linguistic incongruity; he was actually writing for an international market, comically exploiting each country's myths about the other and playing with the many varieties of English he encountered' (pp.211-12). And in The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature (2006) he adds: 'The social realism of this setting coincides with a close attention to the varieties of American dialect and ethnicity... Creating a realistic yet absurd America for British audiences and a seriously farcical England for American audiences, Wodehouse... became a truly transatlantic writer' ('P.G. Wodehouse', vol.v, p.304).

    Our manuscript, finished in New York in the autumn of 1909, is clearly a fair copy. But it has not been marked up for any compositor and was retained by Wodehouse and so could never have made its way over to England. The supposition therefore must be that Wodehouse had it typed up, and that the resulting typescript served the English compositors as copytext. As so often, however, even though our manuscript clearly started life as a fair copy, its author could not resist the occasional extra tweak. Take for example the passage on the opening page which provides the nexus for Damrosch's discussion (and that of several other authorities, such as Melvin J. Lasky in his Media Warfare: The Americanization of Language): "In New York one may find every class of paper which the imagination can conceive. Every grade of society is catered for. If an Esquimaux came to New York, the first thing he would find on the book-stalls in all probability would be 'The Blubber Magazine' or some similar production written by Esquimaux for Esquimaux"; the last phrase of this having been tweaked in pencil from "designed for his especial benefit". Two other differences can also be spotted on this opening page. In our manuscript the editor of Cosy Moments is called "J. Filliken Wilburfloss", but by the time he reaches print he has become 'J. Fillken Wilberfloss'; in the manuscript he is described as taking six weeks' holiday, while in print he is allowed ten; adjustments that must have been made either on the typescript or in proof.

    Following its publication in The Captain, Psmith Journalist was to be subjected to a tortuous publication history, which is reflected in our manuscript. Three chapters were cannibalised by Wodehouse and fashioned into the book version of The Prince and Betty; it being these that are missing from the manuscript; indicating that he began work on The Prince and Betty after completing Psmith Journalist, seemingly before it had been typed up or set in type. (Just to complicate matters further, The Prince and Betty exists in two wildly different versions; but both post-date our manuscript and its publication in The Captain.) When at long last his English publishers A&C Black were ready to bring out Psmith Journalist in book form, his editor George Watson asked whether he had any revisions, 'Wodehouse replied airily that "it seems to be one of those masterpieces you can't alter a word of"' (McCrum, p.117).

    The manuscript was presented by Wodehouse to Leslie Havergal Bradshaw, who interviewed him for The Captain in 1909, and himself settled in America; receiving the dedication of Psmith in the City when it came out in book form in 1910. Afterwards it passed into the great Wodehouse collection formed by James H. Heineman, and was the principal item in his sale at Sotheby's, New York, on 26 June 1998 (lot 21). The fact that this manuscript dates from, and indeed marks, the break-through period of Wodehouse's career – rather than dating from the more settled years of his full maturity – makes it all the more precious. Indeed, it is by no means certain that any comparable manuscript by Wodehouse will ever again be offered for sale.
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