Of all the books you’ve written, do you have any favorites?
Oh, I’m very fond of a book called Quick Service and another called Sam in the Suburbs, a very old one. But I really like them all. There are very few exceptions.
—P. G. Wodehouse, the Art of Fiction No. 60, 1975
I wonder how Wodehouse (born today in 1881) came down on Love Among the Chickens, one of his earlier novels and, to my mind, one of his strangest. It is, as its title page quite clearly states, “A Story of the Haps and Mishaps on an English Chicken Farm.” (Wonderful use of haps, there. Why is it that we only hear of mishaps these days?)
Wodehouse published Chickens in 1906, but he wasn’t very pleased with it, apparently, because he rewrote large portions of it for a new edition in 1921; his new dedication is frank about the earlier version’s shortcomings. “There was some pretty bad work in it, and it had ‘dated,’” he writes.
The book was illustrated by Armand Both, who spared no expense in his depiction of cruelty to animals:
The novel is in the public domain, so you can read it at your leisure, when you’re feeling down, when life’s trials have you seeking the solace of poultry, when nothing other than a farm romance will suffice, et cetera. To pique your interest, allow me to quote a bit toward the beginning in which Wodehouse establishes his premise with admirable concision:
“Listen to me! When I said that we were going to keep fowls, I didn’t mean in a small, piffling sort of way—two cocks and a couple of hens and a golf-ball for a nest-egg. We are going to do it on a large scale. We are going to run a chicken farm!”
“A chicken farm,” echoed Mrs. Ukridge with an affectionate and admiring glance at her husband.
“Ah,” I said, feeling my responsibilities as chorus. “A chicken farm.”
And so they do.