Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"The funniest writer ever to have put words on paper"

Wooster: "If you ask me Jeeves, art is responsible for most of the trouble in the world."
Jeeves: "It's an interesting theory, Sir. Would you care to expatiate upon it?"
Wooster: "As a matter of fact, no Jeeves. No The thought just occurs to me, you know, as thoughts do."
Last night I began watching, once again, the Jeeves & Wooster series starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry and recovering, as I always do when reading Wodehouse or watching this version, a thoroughly innocent pleasure quite abstracted from the controversies of this day. The Amazon price for all twenty-three episodes, all four seasons, is a genuine bargain — just over a dollar an episode.

Today I came across this 1999 article, "Wodehouse saved my life," by Hugh Laurie in his Bertie Wooster voice:
.... I was, in truth, a horrible child. Not much given to things of a bookery nature, I spent a large part of my youth smoking Number Six and cheating in French vocabulary tests. I wore platform boots with a brass skull and crossbones over the ankle, my hair was disgraceful, and I somehow contrived to pull off the gruesome trick of being both fat and thin at the same time. If you had passed me in the street during those pimply years, I am confident that you would, at the very least, have quickened your pace.

You think I exaggerate? I do not. Glancing over my school reports from the year 1972, I observe that the words "ghastly" and "desperate" feature strongly, while "no", "not", "never" and "again" also crop up more often than one would expect in a random sample. My history teacher's report actually took the form of a postcard from Vancouver.

But this, you will be nauseated to learn, is a tale of redemption. In about my 13th year, it so happened that a copy of Galahad at Blandings by P. G. Wodehouse entered my squalid universe, and things quickly began to change. From the very first sentence of my very first Wodehouse story, life appeared to grow somehow larger. There had always been height, depth, width and time, and in these prosaic dimensions I had hitherto snarled, cursed, and not washed my hair. But now, suddenly, there was Wodehouse, and the discovery seemed to make me gentler every day. By the middle of the fifth chapter I was able to use a knife and fork, and I like to think that I have made reasonable strides since.

I spent the following couple of years meandering happily back and forth through Blandings Castle and its environs - learning how often the trains ran, at what times the post was collected, how one could tell if the Empress was off-colour, why the Emsworth Arms was preferable to the Blue Boar - until the time came for me to roll up the map of adolescence and set forth into my first Jeeves novel. It was The Code of the Woosters, and things, as they used to say, would never be the same again.

The facts in this case, ladies and gentlemen, are simple. The first thing you should know, and probably the last, too, is that P. G. Wodehouse is still the funniest writer ever to have put words on paper. Fact number two: with the Jeeves stories, Wodehouse created the best of the best. I speak as one whose first love was Blandings, and who later took immense pleasure from Psmith, but Jeeves is the jewel, and anyone who tries to tell you different can be shown the door, the mini-cab, the train station, and Terminal 4 at Heathrow with a clear conscience. The world of Jeeves is complete and integral, every bit as structured, layered, ordered, complex and self-contained as King Lear, and considerably funnier. .... [more]
Wodehouse saved my life