Plum wonderful

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Plum Wodehouse at his typewriter

All right, folks, it is time we had a serious chat about the stunning and wonderful brilliance that is P. G. Wodehouse.  If you have never read his books (why not?!), you have deprived yourself of some of the most magnificent work in the English language.  Not only that, but he also had both a truely astonishing output and staying power.  Wodehouse wrote and was published continuously from 1903 to his death in 1975.  What other author can say such a thing?  In addition, Wodehouse was an absolute favorite of another brilliant (and deeply-missed) writer, Douglas Adams.  Adams once called him “a genius of the English language” and then proceeded to compare his writing to a Bach fugue [introduction to Sunset at Blandings].  Well, I mean, what higher praise is there?

“Yes, yes,” I can hear you cry, “But how can this be true? If this P. G. fellow is so brilliant, then why is he not taught in schools along with Shakespeare and Milton?” 

Ah– I have an answer for you, but you’re not going to like it.  Unlike Shakespeare and Milton, P. G. has never written a boring word in his life– thus he has been disqualified from the canon.  In all seriousness, Wodehouse wrote comedy, which is tragically undervalued in so-called “educational” literature.  {please note– I am a teacher and an English major.  I have read my share of truly mind-numbing “literature.”}  Plum, as he was called by his friends, was not interested one wit in changing society, or giving a grand message, or exposing the dark-underbelly of our tragic lives, or mourning the stark futility of our existential existences. 

He, instead, simply wrote the most fun, intelligent, and clever prose to make people laugh.  Yes– all of this just for the sheer joy of it.

I dare you to finish an entire Wodehouse novel and feel not happy with the world.

Now, being the perpetually stubborn optimist that I am (my college classmates may remember that I prefer the term “anti-utopia” to “dystopia” because I adamantly maintain that utopias are possible and that most people are inherently good-hearted), I find nearly all Literature (note the capital letter there), especially those that win the prizes, appallingly dark, grim, and horrible.  There is enough of that hideousness in real life!  I, like Plum, have no interest in glum navel-gazing when I’m reading.  Give me young Bertie Wooster and his bumbling escapades any day! 

this is the hardback version

And so, to that end, I submit for your reading entertainment, what I consider one of P. G. Wodehouse’s masterpieces of prose and plot: The Code of the Woosters (1938). 

You need this book.  Everyone who can read English needs this book.  Don’t worry; it’s definitely still in print.  Your copy is awaiting you at the bookstore as we speak.

“But, why oh why do I need to own this?  I already have bookshelves teetering to dangerous levels with my to-be-read pile.  My cats are huddling for cover under the bed.  What makes this book, which you have already clearly said does not have a deep and dark message, worth space in my house?”

Thank you for asking this, dear readers.  You need this book because every sentence in it is perfect.  To take just the teeniest of samples from pages 1 & 2 {it helps if you read it aloud.  All of Wodehouse is better when read aloud.}:

“He [Jeeves] shimmered out, and I sat up in bed with that rather unpleasant feeling you get sometimes that you’re going to die in about five minutes.  On the previous night, I had given a little dinner at the Drones to Gussie Fink-Nottle as a friendly send-off before his approaching nuptials with Madeline, only daughter of Sir Watkin Bassett, CBE, and these things take their toll.  Indeed, just before Jeeves came in, I had been dreaming that some bounder was driving spikes through my head– not just ordinary spikes, as used by Jael the wife of Heber, but red-hot ones.

He returned with the tissue-restorer.  I loosed it down the hatch, and after undergoing the passing discomfort, unavoidable when you drink Jeeves’s patent morning revivers, of having the top of the skull fly up to the ceiling and the eyes shoot out of their sockets and rebound from the opposite wall like racquet balls, felt better.  It would have been overstating it to say that even now Bertram was back again in mid-season form, but I had at least slid into the convalescent class and was equal to a spot of conversation.”

Enjoyed that, did you?  Good.  Now, close your eyes and imagine that there was an entire book written in exactly this way. Next, imagine that its plot revolved around a silver cow creamer, a bit of friendly blackmail,a good many engagements (intentional and otherwise), and the most perfect butler in all of literature, all with plot so hopelessly muddled by the end that only a cove of Jeeves’s marvelous intellect is able to unravel it and to conduct us all to the happy ending.  You would need to own such a book, would you not?   You may now open your eyes.  Thus,  The Code of the Woosters needs to come and live at your house.   

I should probably warn you at this point that once you have read one of Wodehouse’s novels, you will fall deeply in love with his prose.  Not to worry, though.  Unlike those irritating modern authors who only write one or two books and then bow out of the field, our Plum published over ninety books and musical plays.  All are frothing over with his wonderful words. 

There is no other way to end this but with Plum’s words from the end of this novel:

“Jeeves was right, I felt.  The snail was on the wing and the lark was on the thorn– or, rather, the other way round– and God was in His heaven and all was right with the world” (285-86).

With a Wodehouse book in your hand, all IS right with the world. 

 

p.s.  the only way to magnify the perfection of Wodehouse would be to combine him with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.  Such a thing was done between 1990 and 1993:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098833/

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7 responses »

  1. Haha! I’ve never heard of him, but if the way you described him and the excerpt didn’t convince me the praise from Douglas Adams certainly did. I’ve just ordered it from my local library. 🙂

    • Hooray! Another convert won! 🙂
      Once you’ve read it, please let me know what you think

      As for Adams’s praise– I know, right?!
      I discovered his intro to “Sunset…” when I was reading “The Salmon of Doubt.” It includes all sorts of fantastic Adams stuff.

  2. I need no conversion. I have been a fan of PGW since 1975(I was in the U K when PGW’s obits appeared on the BBC.I got curious and brought ‘Psmith Journalist’ and got hooked instantly). Now I have collected 50+ books of the genius.Glad to find one more die-hard fan. Cheers.

    • Hey, K J. Thanks for visiting and for reading my blog. Lovely to find another Wodehousian.

      I honestly don’t remember when I discovered Wodehouse. I think I probably got hold of a short story or two in college, and it snowballed from there.

      50 books, do you say? How marvelous! With my very limited shelf space in the apartment, I have room for only a handful, but my library has quite the collection, so I rely on them. 🙂

      Your blog looks like great fun. I will definately be coming over to play often.

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