Saturday, May 23, 2020

"The book made me laugh out loud"

What is it about Wodehouse that makes so many lifelong enthusiasts of his readers? The world described in his novels and stories—at English country houses, in the clubs of London, on New York’s Broadway—seems to come to us from an early 1920s time capsule, even though the majority of his books were written later than that. His tales always bring the reader to a kind of happy ending, and along the way display no malice whatsoever, even for characters who might deserve to be despised (such as the fascist Roderick Spode). There are no murders, no situations truly fraught with tragedy or grave danger. ....

Perhaps it is Wodehouse’s attention to meticulous plotting. We know in advance, for instance, that the very appealing young man and woman will be together at the end, but the author can still surprise you with unexpected—and hilarious—situations before we get there. When it comes to his many love stories, Wodehouse is the twentieth century’s Jane Austen—girl meets boy, initial disregard turns to something else, wedding bells are finally heard—but armed with a squirting bouttoni√®re.

Or perhaps it is Wodehouse’s perfect mastery of English prose. None of his sentences ever goes awry, though they can be as long and intricate as those in the epistles of St. Paul. Wodehouse’s English is always formally correct, yet it is sprinkled liberally with slang, odd idiomatic expressions, effortless literary allusions, and sudden punch lines that hit you between the eyes.

And then there are his characters. The inimitable Psmith (“the P is silent”), the roguish Ukridge, the indefatigable storyteller Mr. Mulliner, the puttering old pig farmer the Earl of Emsworth. And of course the perfectly amiable twit Bertie Wooster, his priceless brace of aunts (Dahlia, good, and Agatha, bad, but both formidable), his would-be fianc√©e, the fearsome Honoria Glossop, and his omniscient gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves. Most Wodehouse fans find their way in via the first-person tales of Bertie. I recommend The Code of the Woosters (1938), which begins with the best description ever written of the experience of a hangover, or Joy in the Morning (1946), published in the U.S. as Jeeves in the Morning. ....

One learns after a while that when one begins a Wodehouse story, satisfaction is guaranteed. Like a fresh whisky and soda, his work promises an easing of the tensions of daily life, an invitation to merriment, and a quiet contentment that in the end all will be well. (more)

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