Wodehouse Philosophy

All this year I’ve been writing consistently. Not daily – I started out slowly, and then started on daily goals – but my wordcount for the year has drawn very close to a quarter of a million words. That stopped cold this week when I came down with a cold. Only, it’s 2020, so it’s not as easy as rest and recover. No, it meant I had to come home from work the moment I felt a symptom, and be in quarantine until I tested negative. Between the stress, and being sick, I haven’t written much at all. Some days, nothing. After months of careful cultivation of the habit, I’m worried I’ll lose it again.

As I write this, I’m curled up in a warm blanket with the laptop, because ugh. And you are reading something that isn’t peak essay performance because I haven’t had coffee or tea yet. But I like to live up to my obligations, and I take that seriously. The daily fiction? It’s a commitment to myself. The blog? Well, my own blog has been sadly neglected. I could prioritize the fiction, or the nonfiction, but I cannot manage both.

I’ve been binge-reading (I do this when I’m sick, I fall upon one author and rip through all their work) PG Wodehouse. I’ve read his stuff before, of course. Jeeves and Wooster are a scream. But I hadn’t read all of his work, and in doing so (ok, maybe not all of it. But I am through well over a dozen of his novels and collected stories at this point) I have discovered a few things. There is something to be said for binging one book after another to find out the author’s patterns and tropes. Some people binge-watch, I binge-read.

I was unaware, prior to this session, that Wodehouse has written several of what I’m going to call schoolboy books. They are stuffed as full of cricket as fruitcake is fruit, and I can barely follow what’s going on in a game of cricket, but… they are still charming. If you haven’t had the pleasure, you might start with Mike and Psmith, which follows two young men (in their early to mid teens, I think) as they come to a new school together and form a bond over that. The story is a fun read, although I did skim through the crickety bits. The boy’s friendship is a joy to read, and their commitment to one another, and loyalty to friends, is a warm antidote to much of the creeping dreadlies in modern YA fiction. There’s no hint of sex here. Action, adventure, some intrigue and a fair bit of sportsmanship, yes. A hilarious description of a dog that made me laugh out loud and read it to my husband…

Wodehouse is better known, I think, (at least by me) for his romantic comedies. He wrote many of them, absurd, repetitive, and so full of coincidences that one stands atop another’s shoulders like a circus act. It becomes apparent that you can’t avoid them, so you laugh and accept it and just enjoy the tart and risible humor of the man’s pen. Attempts to win fair maiden go far astray, but this is Wodehouse. It will come right again in the end, so you never worry too much. And something I appreciated: his characters are not perfect people. His male figures, in particular, are frequently not the brightest (although rarely quite so dim as Wooster’s brain glows), and sometimes lazy. Which leads to the philosophy that Wodehouse slips into his work here and there.

I’d say that quote from A Damsel in Distress sums up his writings neatly. And perhaps that’s why I like reading his stuff, although I will say that binging on a writer is really only good if you’re a writer looking for the patterns. It can spoil your appetite for certain books as surely as too many sweets can.

Even in comedic pieces there is something to learn. I don’t just mean about writing. I doubt I will ever attempt anything close to a Wodehouse homage, I just don’t work that way. I do use comedy in places in my work, and it can be fun to write a rollicking story without any cares for the possible literary values, as I did with The Case of the Perambulating Hatrack. So who knows, I might have learned some useful little trick. Besides which, who doesn’t want to read a master of snark? Look at this!

Of course, it’s also nice on the pocketbook that Wodehouse is pretty much all free on Amazon if you seek out the Project Gutenberg versions. If you have to be stuck at home in quarantine with the mood to binge-read, Amazon is a life-saver. And free books? Well, there’s a reason money is a recurrent theme in Wodehouse’s work. Although it’s not always about getting rich. There’s a wonderful series of stories about a man who wants to get rid of all his money because it keeps trapping him with women he can’t say ‘no!’ to. His attempts to lose it all go wrong in multiple ways. Uneasy Money, that’s the title. Even when you know what is coming – or think you do – you will still want to keep reading.

But if I keep rambling on, I’ll be late with this. I’ve got my coffee now, so I could… but I won’t. I’m supposed to be resting, my dear First Reader insists on feeding me whether I want it or not, and I really ought to try to get a few words on the, er, screen while I have laptop in hand. Until next week, then!

18 comments

  1. I’m retired from everything except husband, father, grandfather, and I find that cranking out 300 words daily, with the subject material pre-determined, to be at least a part-time job. Therefore, ENORMOUS respect for your output.

    1. I can’t say it’s discipline, of which I have little. So I’ll say it’s determination, I have that in abundance. This year I was lunged into the role of sole provider again, and it was a shock to the system, just like some of Wodehouse’s characters have.

  2. I read The Night Life of the Gods by Thorne Smith once upon a time, about a scientist who turned statues to people. Hilarious, is how I recall it.

    Also, my dog resembles that description except he’s got a black coat.

  3. By sheer coincidence, I’m reading “Leave It To Psmilth” at the moment. I do like Wodehouse.

  4. My husband adores Wodehouse and so far, I have resisted. I’ve got too much else to read.
    Reading your essay reminds me that Bill has a point: I’m missing something wonderful.

  5. Aside from archaeological studies, some folklore collections, and two novellas, I have not read anything cover to cover this year that I can recall. I can’t find time, and in the evenings, I can either be with my folks or I can read. (I can’t read through TV sounds anymore.)

    1. More on topic: For some reason, I just can’t get into the Jeeves and Wooster stories. I like other of Wodehouse’s writings, but those two . . . I’m not sure what my problem is. *shrug*

  6. Ever try a Wodehouse based comic? I found them great fun.

    Adapted from the classic Wodehouse novel by comics legend Chuck Dixon and drawn by SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN illustrator Gary Kwapisz, a six issue RIGHT HO, JEEVES series.

  7. I have always liked Wodehouse … but for light entertainment with an astringent sting – nothing appeals to me like Gilbert and Sullivan. I know, not quite the same métier, but much of the same vocabulary and turn of wit.

  8. Cheeky formatting!
    I grabbed a collection of Wodehouse short stories called “The Man Upstairs.” The following selection is taken, exactly as presented, as the intro to a story called Deep Waters:
    BEGIN QUOTE
    HISTORIANS of the social life of the later Roman Empire speak of a certain young man of Ariminum, who would jump into rivers and swim in ’em. When his friends said, ‘You fish!’ he would answer, ‘Oh, pish! Fish can’t swim like me, they’ve no vim in ’em.’
    END QUOTE

    i paused after reading it, and thought “Why, some of that rhymes!” And then I re-read it. A couple of times. And discovered that yes, it DID rhyme. Here it is, reformatted:

    A certain young man of Ariminum,
    Who would jump into rivers and swim in ’em.
    When his friends said, ‘You fish!’
    He would answer, ‘Oh, pish!
    Fish can’t swim like me, they’ve no vim in ’em.’

    Rather clever, what?

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