Original manuscript of Bill the Conqueror, carbon typescript with autograph corrections.
Original manuscript of Bill the Conqueror, with final corrections for publication, presented by Wodehouse to his musical collaborator Jerome Kern (1885-1945), with the author’s signed presentation inscription in ink on the typed title leaf: “To Jerry from Plum – P. G. Wodehouse 1924”; and with Kern’s ink inscription below, re-presenting the manuscript to another of his collaborators, the German-born lyricist Gus Kahn (1886-1941): “And after fourteen years’ enjoyment Jerry gives it with his affectionate regards to that grand old Wodehouse fan Gus Kahn. June 1938”. Bill the Conqueror was first published in the UK on 14 November 1924 by Methuen & Co., London, and in the US on 20 February 1925 by George H. Doran, New York, the story having previously been serialised in the Saturday Evening Post from 24 May to 12 July 1924. The title leaf has Wodehouse’s pencilled instructions to the typist: “Note to Typist. Two carbon copies, please. Will you bind them. Note. I have changed the names ‘Ernest’ and ‘Dominic’ to ‘George’ and ‘Roderick’ throughout. If I have omitted to make the alteration in any place, will you do it. [Signed with initials] PGW.” At the foot of the page, Wodehouse has added: “Note. Bind Chapters 1-4 in one cover, apart from Chapters 5-11.” And on the second title leaf, to chapters 5 to 11, Wodehouse repeats the instruction: “Note to Typist. Bind Chapters 5-11 in a separate cover from Chapters 1-4. Keep an eye open for the ‘George’ & ‘Roderick’ alterations. [Signed with initials] PGW.” It is not clear why Wodehouse originally had the typescript bound in two: presumably Jerome Kern had them bound up together for reading. The typescript is corrected for publication, and shows (with a very few minor emendations) the final text as it appears in both the UK and US editions, including several additions made at this typescript. The cast of Bill the Conqueror includes the recurring characters Sir George Pyke (later Lord Tilbury), publishing magnate and founder of the Mammoth Publishing Company (who would later visit Blandings Castle in Heavy Weather (1933)), and his subordinate Percy Pilbeam, who appears in several novels, but is perhaps best known for his involvement with the denizens of Blandings Castle, in Summer Lightning (1929) and Heavy Weather (1933). A whole thesis could be written on Wodehouse’s obsessive reworking of the name Bill. He uses it several times in titles: Bill the Conqueror; The Coming of Bill (novel); Good Morning, Bill (play); Bill the Bloodhound (short story in the volume The Man with Two Left Feet, in which Jeeves makes his debut). In Full Moon (1947), one of the imposters flitting round Blandings Castle is Gally’s godson Bill Lister, a former amateur boxer turned artist. In Service with a Smile (1961), the muscular young curate Cuthbert “Bill” Bailey objects strongly to being blackmailed into stealing pigs. A recurrent character in the Ukridge stories is Wilberforce “Battling” Billson, another tough guy with a religious streak. Wodehouse even uses it at least twice for female characters: Wilhelmina (“Billie”) Bennett in Three Men and a Maid (1922, UK title The Girl on the Boat); and “Bill” Shannon in The Old Reliable (1951). And the generally acknowledged highpoint of Wodehouse’s outstanding lyrical work with his musical collaborators, Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton, was the song “Bill”, with lyrics written by Wodehouse in 1917 and used by Kern in Showboat. The most likely prototypical “Bill” in Wodehouse’s life was his Dulwich schoolmate and life-long friend and correspondent, Bill Townend, the dedicatee of his first book, The Pothunters, who provided him with the inspiration for his first humorous book for adults, Love Among the Chickens. Wodehouse gave Townend discreet financial assistance throughout his life, and collaborated with him on Performing Flea (1953). Provenance: from the estate of the lyricist Gus Kahn, who started on Broadway, writing lyrics for Al Jonson, notably the song “Toot, Toot Tootsie” in The Jazz Singer (1927). He also wrote the lyrics for “My Baby Just Cares for Me”, which was to become Nina Simone’s signature song. He went to Hollywood and worked with many composers, Jerome Kern among them, in which he was so successful that MGM eventually produced I’ll See You in My Dreams (1952), a biopic based on Kahn’s life and featuring his best known lyrics, with Danny Thomas as Kahn, Doris Day as his wife, and Michael Curtiz directing. In their combination of simple, direct emotion with comic exuberance, his lyrics are clearly reminiscent of Wodehouse’s best work with Bolton and Kern. Though uncorrected typescripts of late Wodehouse short stories signed by the author (probably to oblige collectors) appear in commerce relatively frequently, complete Wodehouse manuscripts for publication of the full-length early novels are genuinely rare in commerce.
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Quarto (US letter, 11 8 ins), 355 leaves typed on one side only, in blue and black ink; with two title pages not paginated. Bound sometime later in blue buckram, spine lettered in gilt. Housed in a dark blue quarter morocco solander box by the Chelsea Bindery. With extensive pencilled corrections in the author’s hand on every page. Spine a little rubbed and sunned, slight marginal toning, the second title leaf with closed tear at foot, single punch-hole at upper inner corner from first binding, but the condition generally excellent.