Tag Archives: P.G. Wodehouse

“Bill” by Wodehouse

Were you aware that, aside from being the funniest writer in history, P. G. Wodehouse helped invent the American musical comedy?

He and another Englishman, Guy Bolton, came to America early in the 20th Century to write for Broadway. At that stage, the theaters were running translated, Americanized versions of Viennese operettas. And that’s what Wodehouse and Bolton did at first. Then they branched out and began to write original plays of their own.

For one of those (now forgotten) shows, Wodehouse wrote the lyrics to a song named “Bill.” The production failed, but years later Jerome Kern (one of their collaborators) and Oscar Hammerstein dusted it off and inserted it into their production of “Showboat.” Thus it became the only Wodehouse song that remains in the songbook today.

Here it is.

Whose Book Is Funniest in UK?

The short list for this year’s Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction has been released. The winner of this UK literary award  will be announced next month, just prior to the Hay Festival in Wales.  The winner “will receive a jeroboam of Bollinger Special Cuvée, a case of Bollinger La Grande Année and the complete set of the Everyman Wodehouse collection. They will also be presented with a locally-bred Gloucestershire Old Spot pig, which will be named after the winning novel.”

Last year’s prize went to two authors, Hannah Rothschild for The Improbability of Love and Paul Murray for The Mark and the Void. In 2015, Alexander McCall Smith won the prize for Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party. (See this article for a photo of the prize pig.)

“It was impossible to separate these two books, because they made us laugh so much. And between them they produce a surfeit of wild satire and piercing humour about the subject that can always make us laugh and cry. Money,” judge and broadcaster James Naughtie told The Guardian.

Uncle Lars Flits Through

Tomorrow I’ll be delivering a sermon in campus chapel at our schools. If you think of it, you might pray that I do more good than harm.

Here’s something rather nice: An old TV production of my favorite short story, P.G. Wodehouse’s “Uncle Fred Flits By.” It’s a little slow for my taste, and they make some odd changes to the text for no apparent reason, but all in all it’s not bad. David Niven is excellent as the inimitable Uncle Fred. (Now that I think of it, that’s a self-contradictory statement. If he’s inimitable, it’s impossible for anyone to portray him excellently.)

Jeeves Was Scarcely Mentioned

In Wodehouse’s first story of the exploits of Bertie Wooster and his man Jeeves, many of the familiar details are present: the language, Bertie’s aunts, and the predicament that needs resolving.

But there was one notable exception: Jeeves scarcely got a mention. “I still blush to think of the off-hand way I treated him at our first encounter,” wrote Wodehouse. He would flesh him out later. “[A] tallish man, with one those dark, shrewd faces” who brings order to the scrape-ridden world of Bertie and his friends with noiseless omniscience. In that first story, however, there is no hint that we are in the presence of a “bird of the ripest intelligence”, who “From the collar upward…stands alone.”

I don’t believe I’ve ever gotten around to this story. My first foray into this part of Wodehouse’s world was with one or two stories from Very Good, Jeeves, which being written in the late 20s was beyond establishing many of the principles. When I saw that another book, Carry On, Jeeves, began with what you might call an origin story (originally published in 1916), I read through that one before returning to the other. I like to keep things in order.

Jeeves and Wooster came into play for Glenn Fisher the other day when he praised these habit of two writers he admires. “Both JG Ballard and PG Wodehouse challenged themselves to write 1,000 words a day.”

That may be just the idea I need to press ahead with my own goals.

Wilson Weighs Wodehouse

Pastor and author Douglas Wilson recommends P.G. Wodehouse for two reasons:

“Wodehouse was merciless to pretentiousness, and aspiring writers are the most pretentious fellows on the planet. So there’s that spiritual benefit.”

The second reason? “Simply put, Wodehouse is a black belt metaphor ninja. Evelyn Waugh, himself a great writer, once said that Wodehouse was capable of two or three striking metaphors per page.

  • He looked like a sheep with a secret sorrow.
  • One young man was a great dancer, one who never let his left hip know what his right hip was doing.
  • She had just enough brains to make a jaybird fly crooked.
  • Her face was shining like the seat of a bus driver’s trousers.
  • He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom.”

Something New, by P.G. Wodehouse

In a 1948 letter, Wodehouse said he liked his Blandings Castle stories over his others because his character Lord Emsworth is his favorite. The dottering old earl, more content weeding in his garden than doing anything else, is introduced in the novel Something New (later published in the U.K. as Something Fresh (the two books are not exactly the same)), Wodehouse’s first story about the quirky folk of Blandings Castle.

The story gives us the young man Ashe Marson, a writer of monthly juvenile detective adventure novels, being challenged by a beautiful new acquaintance to take his life in his own hands and try something new. This beauty, Joan Valentine, soon discovers that the Honorable Freddie Treepwood, reprobate son of the Earl of Emsworth, was once terribly in the love with her and would rather that part of his life never see the light of day. The reason is Freddie has proposed to Aline Peters, daughter of American millionaire J.P. Peters, who moved into a home near Blandings several months ago. (Mr. Peters is said to be “suffering from that form of paranoia which makes men multimillionaires.”) Aline intends to marry Freddie, perhaps more to please her father than herself, but she hasn’t given herself much time to think about it. Her father, Mr. Peters, is an Ancient Egyptian scarab enthusiast. When he decides to gush about them to the absent-minded Lord Emsworth, trouble broods. Continue reading Something New, by P.G. Wodehouse

…and every postmodern family is a dead loss in its own way

Jane Austen's PersuasionOur friend Dale Nelson sent me a link to this New York Times column by Ross Douthat, all about why many “literary” authors are turning to writing historical novels, rather than setting their stories in contemporary settings. His interesting conclusion is that modern culture just doesn’t present the kind of conflicts that made the family sagas of old work so well:

You can write an interesting contemporary novel based on the “Anna Karenina” template in which the heroine gets a divorce, marries her modern-day Vronsky, and they both discover that they’re unhappy with the choices they’ve made — but the last act just isn’t going to be quite as gripping as Tolstoy’s original. You can turn the Jane Austen template to entertaining modern purposes, as Hollywood did in “Clueless” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” but the social and economic stakes are never going to be as high for a modern-day Elizabeth Bennet as they were for the Regency-era version.

I think he’s got something there. If you want to write a novel about, say, an unwed mother, you can suggest that your plucky heroine’s Neanderthal, Bible-thumping parents don’t want her to have an abortion, but there’s really nothing they can do to stop her. The only other problem her romantic passions are likely to get her into is that of sexually transmitted diseases. In that case, she either takes medication to get better, or she’s stuck with the problem for life. There’s little scope for her to heroically defy convention and shame the small minds; there is no convention to defy.

P. G. Wodehouse wrote stories about couples being kept apart by unsympathetic fathers and guardians, well past the point in history when such parental figures had “sunk to the level of a third rate power” (to quote “Uncle Fred Flits By”). He was able to get away with it because his stories were light confections, not intended to reflect real life in any serious way. If he’d been forced to be realistic, the fun would drained out like water from a lion-footed bathtub.

Is it an indictment of modern society to say that it doesn’t offer scope to certain forms of fiction? Probably not.

But I often think of the popularity of Amish stories in the Romance genre, as I’ve mentioned here before. I don’t think it’s unrelated to highbrow authors writing historical novels. I think there’s a hunger out there to be able to live in a society where people care enough about you to tell you when they think you’re messing up your life.

The autonomous life, in the end, is a pretty lonely one.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture