Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (YGtCTO Words #61)

The Code of the Woosters

Book by P. G. Wodehouse

Few authors have offered so much comfort to so many. A little exploration and admirers of Wodehouse start popping up all over the place. They share a common refrain of keeping one of his books available during all travels as a balm to bad circumstances. For that matter, Wodehouse has seen many a sufferer through current pain. Why does he have to be so complicated as a human being when his prose is so amusing?

Wodehouse wrote for more than a half century, across both world wars as well as the shrinking of the British Empire and the U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam (during which time he lived in New York). The work continues to feel effervescent with language that suits ridiculous shenanigans perfectly. Somehow, he walks that fine line between benevolent avuncularity and knowing sarcasm without falling too far into the pits of cruelty. Notably, he skirted serious issues with occasional allusions to issues of the day that staid firmly rooted in his humorous, light style.

I started reading Wodehouse about the same time the BBC started their Jeeves & Wooster adaptations with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. At some point, the enamored reader discovers that Wodehouse wrote something like 75 novels and innumerable short stories. Since we are talking about frequent plots about upper class twits behaving, well, like twits, they can merge together in the mind. Then the shear popularity of the books has led to a mix of publishers and formats, including different titles for the same or similar thing. So, good luck to the completist.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse

The thing is
that it can be difficult to get out of the Wodehouse groove. Something about a new book, heretofore unknown, just makes you happy, a rare enough effect for any work of art. So, you cruise a long and buy a few books, hoping they are new to you.

Then someone looks over your shoulder in a bookstore and shakes their head in dismay after seeing what you hold in your hands. “You know he collaborated with the Nazis?” That would be the short version of the facts, designed to freak you out. I’ve read a few versions of Wodehouse’s time in Berlin, because, frankly, it takes a little digesting.

Of course, after such contemplation, I want to read a little Wodehouse… which may make me a bad person or a hypocrite or an ironist or some other sordid creature. It also means that I can hold two contradictory thoughts in my head at the same time. That probably gets humans into trouble all the time. I’m pretty sure that it is also the core of our ability to create, share and appreciate humor.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 118 more to go.

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