Rupert Psmith (or Ronald Eustace Psmith, as he is called in the last of the four books in which he appears) is a recurring fictional character in several novels by British comic writer P. G. Wodehouse, being one of Wodehouse's best-loved characters.
The P in his surname is silent ("as in pshrimp" in his own words) and was added by himself, in order to distinguish him from other Smiths. A member of the Drones Club, this monocle-sporting Old Etonian is something of a dandy, a fluent and witty speaker, and has a remarkable ability to pass through the most amazing adventures unruffled.
Wodehouse said that he based Psmith on Rupert D'Oyly Carte (1876–1948), the son of the Gilbert and Sullivan impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte, as he put it "the only thing in my literary career which was handed to me on a silver plate with watercress around it". Carte was a school acquaintance of a cousin of Wodehouse at Winchester College, according to an introduction to Leave It to Psmith. Rupert's daughter, Bridget D'Oyly Carte, however, believed that the Wykehamist schoolboy described to Wodehouse was not her father but his elder brother Lucas. Lucas was also at Winchester.
Psmith appears in four novel-length works, all of which appeared as magazine serials before being published in book form.
|Original serial appearance||Appearances in book form|
|April–September 1908||The Captain||"The Lost Lambs"||"The Lost Lambs" forms the second half of the novel Mike (1909). (The first half republishes the serial "Jackson Junior", in which Psmith does not appear.) |
"The Lost Lambs" was later republished separately as:
|October 1908 – March 1909||The Captain||"The New Fold"||Psmith in the City (1910)|
|October 1909 – March 1910||The Captain||"Psmith, Journalist"||Psmith, Journalist (1915) |
* Note that parts of this serialised story were rewritten and incorporated into a novel for an American audience, published in the US as The Prince and Betty (1912). This rewritten story does not feature Psmith, but does include a similar character named "Smith".
|February–March 1923||The Saturday Evening Post||"Leave it to Psmith"||Leave it to Psmith (1923) |
* Note that the ending of this serialized story was rewritten for book publication, and differs significantly from the magazine version.
All these works also feature Mike Jackson, Psmith's solid, cricket-playing friend and sidekick, the original hero and central character of Mike and Psmith in the City, until eclipsed by Psmith's wit and force of personality.
In his first appearance (in Mike, Enter Psmith or Mike and Psmith, depending on ion) Psmith introduces himself as Rupert. He is also referred to as Rupert twice in Psmith in the City.
In Leave it to Psmith, however, he introduces himself as Ronald Eustace. This is perhaps because Leave it to Psmith contains another character named Rupert, the efficient Baxter; Wodehouse presumably thought having two Ruperts would be confusing for readers, and since Psmith is generally referred to by his surname only, it was not unreasonable for Wodehouse to assume that the change would go largely unnoticed.
In the United States version of The Prince and Betty, essentially a reworking of Psmith, Journalist, relocated to New York City and merged with some elements of the United Kingdom version The Prince and Betty, the Psmith character is replaced with one Rupert Smith, an American and alumnus of Harvard, who retains many of Psmith's characteristics, including the monocle. A Prince For Hire is another blending of these stories.
Leave it to Psmith differs somewhat in style from its predecessors. While Mike is a school story along the lines of much of Wodehouse's early output, and Psmith in the City and Psmith, Journalist are youthful adventures, Psmith's final appearance fits the pattern of Wodehouse's more mature period, a romantic comedy set in the idyllic, invariably imposter-ridden Blandings Castle, where Psmith fulfils the role of ingenious, unflappable fixer, a part taken elsewhere by the likes of Gally, Uncle Fred, or indeed the mighty Jeeves, and finally shows a romantic streak of his own. Though predating both Jeeves and Uncle Fred by some years, Psmith seems to be a combination of both characters, on the one hand imbued with Jeeves' precision of speech and concern for being well turned out, and on the other hand replete with Uncle Fred's humorous self-expression and insouciant attitude, in which Jeeves would never indulge.
We first meet Psmith shortly after he has been expelled from Eton, and sent to Sedleigh, where he meets Mike, and their long friendship begins. As tall and thin a boy as he will later be a man, he is even then immaculately dressed, and sports his trademark monocle; his speech is fluid and flowery.
The Psmith name, he admits from the start, is one he has adopted that morning, as there are too many Smiths”. His father, Mr Smith, is a fairly wealthy man, although a little eccentric, who lives at Corfby Hall, Lower Benford, in Shropshire, not far from Crofton where his friend Mike grew up; he later moves to Ilsworth Hall, in a "neighbouring county", mostly to find better cricket.
Not the most active of youths, Psmith spends much of his time at Sedleigh lounging in deck chairs. His most notable talent, even at this age, is a remarkable verbal dexterity, which he uses to confound and confuse boys and masters alike; with his sombre, still face, it is often impossible to tell if he is being serious or mocking. This skill frequently comes in handy, to get himself and his friends out of difficulty. In such circumstances, he is even known to move fairly quickly too.
While at Eton, he was a competent cricketer, on the verge of the first team - a slow left-arm bowler with a swerve, his enormous reach also makes him handy with a bat when some fast hitting is required, such as in the match between Sedleigh and Wrykyn at the climax of Mike and Psmith.
After Sedleigh, Psmith goes to work at the New Asiatic Bank, having annoyed his father's schoolfriend John Bickersdyke. After a time there, he persuades his father he should study to become a lawyer, and goes to Cambridge, accompanied as ever by his friend and companion Mike.
During the summer after their first year, Psmith travels to New York, accompanying Mike, who is on a cricketing tour with the M.C.C. There, he gets involved with the magazine Cosy Moments, befriending its temporary or Billy Windsor and helping in its crusade against slum housing, which involves clashes with violent gangsters. We discover in the last chapter, when the head or returns, that Psmith has persuaded his father to let him invest some money he has inherited from an uncle and now, in fact, owns the magazine.
After university, his father dies, having made some unsound investments. As a result, Psmith must work for a time for an uncle in the fish business, something which repels him. He leaves the job shortly before meeting and falling for Eve Halliday, whom he follows to Blandings Castle. Despite having entered the castle claiming to be Canadian poet Ralston McTodd, he is eventually hired as secretary to Lord Emsworth, who knew his father by reputation.
In a preface to the 1953 version of Mike and Psmith, Wodehouse informs us that Psmith went on to become a successful defence lawyer, in the style of Perry Mason.
Psmith is a principled young man and is generous towards those he likes. In a typical example from Leave it to Psmith, he perceives Eve, trapped by the rain under an awning, and decides, as a chivalrous gentleman, to get her an umbrella, which he unfortunately does not possess. He solves this problem by appropriating one, and when confronted by the owner, Psmith attempts to mollify him by saying it is for a good cause; and he later recounts it as: "Merely practical Socialism. Other people are content to talk about the Redistribution of Property. I go out and do it." (Another of Psmith's quirks is his penchant for nominal socialism, observed mostly in his casual use of "Comrade" as a substitute for "Mister.")