Thursday, January 31, 2013

An alternative reality

Christopher Buckley explains why P.G. Wodehouse endures:
.... Walk into any bookstore these days and one finds yard upon yard of Wodehouse, much of it in fresh editions. Why is he so imperishable, fresh as a Wooster boutonnière, when so many other writers of his generation have vanished, long since past their sell-by date? A writer with an eye to literary immortality would do well to consider the Wodehousian oeuvre.

It’s not rocket science. The Master revealed the secret himself in a 1935 letter to Bill Townend, his old Dulwich school chum.... It was a question, he said, of “making the thing frankly a fairy story and ignoring real life altogether.” Wodehouse’s admirer and defender Evelyn Waugh framed it perfectly; or as Jeeves might say, quoting Plautus, Rem acu tetigisti. (“You have hit the nail on the head.”)

In an appreciation of Wodehouse in 1939...Waugh observed of Wodehouse’s characters:
We do not concern ourselves with the economic implications of their position; we are not skeptical about their quite astonishing celibacy. We do not expect them to grow any older, like the Three Musketeers or the Forsytes. We are not interested in how they would ‘react to changing social conditions’ as publishers’ blurbs invite us to be interested in other sagas. They are untroubled by wars [...] They all live, year after year, in their robust middle twenties; their only sickness is an occasional hangover. It is a world that cannot become dated because it has never existed.
That last sentence nails it: Jeeves and Wooster, Lord Emsworth, Psmith, and the rest inhabit an alternative universe, Platonically apart from any real one. In Bertie’s world, the most formidable menace is an inheritance-controlling, match-making aunt. (Not, mind you, that this species is not truly terrifying!) .... [more]
Yours Ever, Plum: The Letters and Life of P.G. Wodehouse - Newsweek and The Daily Beast
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