“[He] saw that a peculiar expression had come into his nephew's face; an expression a little like that of a young hindu fakir who having settled himself on his first bed of spikes is beginning to wish that he had chosen one of the easier religions.”
- P.G. Wodehouse
The first thing that comes to my mind when someone mentions Valentine's Day is that P.G.Wodehouse died on this day in 1975.He is widely considered to be the greatest comic writer of the twentieth century. I have no trouble agreeing with that. Consider this sentence from 'Carry On, Jeeves':
“I'm not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it's Shakespeare who says that it's always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.”
Or this in 'Joy in the Morning':
I don’t say I’ve got much of a soul, but, such as it is, I’m perfectly satisfied with the little chap. I don’t want people fooling about with it. ‘Leave it alone,’ I say. ‘Don’t touch it. I like it the way it is.’
If you are immune to such writing, you are fit, to use one of Wodehouse's favourite Shakespearean quotations, only for treasons, stratagems and spoils. You don't analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour. Like Jeeves, Wodehouse stands alone, and analysis is useless.
You don't read Wodehouse for the plot which, in many cases for example, would consist of goofy, upper class gents getting into an improbable mess from which they would be extricated by a Spinoza-reading 'gentleman's gentleman'. In the hands of other authors, this would soon become boring. But Wodehouse plays with the words in such a way that age neither withers nor custom stales the hilarity of his descriptions. And those names! How did he think up names like Gerald Anstruther Vail. George Cyril Wellbeloved. Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe (of Matchingham Hall in Much Matcingham no less), Major Wilfred "Plug" Basham, Pongo Twistleton, Dame Daphne Winkworth...
It is said that it is best to avoid reading Wodehouse in a public place because you are liable to sudden bursts of laughter which might make people think that you are off your rocker. I have this problem even at home. I will be lying quietly on the bed staring at the ceiling when I will start cackling like a demented kookaburra on thinking of some absurd situation in some Wodehouse novel and folks at home will think I have lost it. I am a fan of anything by Wodehouse like 'the male codfish, which, suddenly finding itself the parent of three million five hundred thousand little codfish, cheerfully resolves to love them all'. As Lynne Truss says:
“You should read Wodehouse when you’re well, and when you’re poorly; when you’re travelling, and when you’re not; when you’re feeling clever, and when you’re feeling utterly dim. Wodehouse always lifts your spirits, no matter how high they happen to be already.”
Wodehouse has put me in some ticklish situations. I couldn't resist quoting a passage from this article (I remember reading this conversation but I can't recall which book it was in):
At the start of his book, McCrum can't resist quoting a passage that once again shows how beautifully Wodehouse can puncture sententious and over-serious opinions. I can't resist it either. It goes like this. " 'I wonder if I might draw your attention to an observation of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius? He said: "Does anything befall you? It is good. It is part of the destiny of the Universe ordained for you from the beginning. All that befalls you is part of the great web."'I breathed a bit stertorously. 'He said that, did he?''Yes, sir.'Well, you can tell him from me he's an ass."