Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunlit Perfection and Wodehouse

Jeeves in the Offing             Image via Wikipedia
I have been thinking about doing a post on one of my favourite feel-good authors for a long time. He is British, witty and a master of his genre. A final clue: Jeeves.

I discovered Wodehouse in college. I had heard of him earlier, of course. But it was finally in college that I finally had the chance to explore the world of beautiful comic timing, with and satire that he so effortlessly created.

I became a member of British Council’s library to have easy access to loads of reference books that they had on English Literature. But those who know me would tell you that I would never leave a library without taking something for my own pleasure. Since BCL in those days, stocked British authors almost exclusively (the result of literary myopia in my opinion), the choice of books to read for fun was limited to classics (I adore them by the way) and Wodehouse.

My first encounter with Bertie Wooster and his cronies, the Drones, his ensemble of aunts – from scary to the one with potential for affection – and Jeeves opened to me a whole new world of witty dialogue and situational comedy that is almost unparalleled. Wodehouse is laughing at the catastrophes that invade the lives of rich British aristocracy, abounding in absent minded peers, good-for-nothing bachelors, shrewd spinsters and occasional damsels in distress. And you know what the biggest laugh is – the rescue of the gentry by the supremely intelligent butler, Jeeves. There can be no greater commentary on the redundancy of the gentry than the ease with which Jeeves extricates Wooster and the entourage of his world from all sorts of hilarious (to us, not to them) situations.

There is humour in every line and in every expression. The names of the characters are full of comic delight. Who else can come with names like Wooster (sounds like a wuss), Pongo Twistleton and Fink-Nottle for characters. And what about Blandings as the estate name for his series about a pig-loving peer, Lord Emsworth. Yes, the peers have weird loves – pigs for Emsworth and newts for Fink-Nottle. The troubles in their world are no greater than the schemes to win the annual fat pig competition, the attempts to steal a prized French cook, getting bachelors engaged and married to rich heiresses and avoiding dictatorial aunts. I can clearly visualise the scene in one of the Jeeves’ novels where Anatole after work unwinding is rudely interrupted by the ungainly sight of Wooster teetering outside his window. And who can forget the mastery and cunning with which Jeeves persuades Wooster to get rid of his pride, an unattractive moustache.

Sample this gem of telegraphic exchange between Wooster and his Aunt Dahlia Travers, who stays near Market Snodsbury (really, how does he come up with these names) in Right Ho, Jeeves. Bertie has just returned has just returned home after spending nearly two months with the said aunt and therefore is perplexed when he get the following wire:

Aunt Dahlia: Come at once. Travers.

Wooster: Perplexed. Explain. Bertie.

Aunt Dahlia: What on earth is there to be perplexed about, ass? Come at once. Travers.

Wooster: How do you mean come at once? Regards. Bertie.

Aunt Dahlia: I mean come at once, you maddening half‑wit. What did you think I meant? Come at once or expect an aunt's curse first post tomorrow. Love. Travers.

Wooster: When you say “Come” do you mean “Come to Brinkley Court”? And when you say “At once” do you mean “At once”? Fogged. At a loss. All the best. Bertie.

Aunt Dahlia: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. It doesn't matter whether you understand or not. You just come at once, as I tell you, and for heaven's sake stop this back‑chat. Do you think I am made of money that I can afford to send you telegrams every ten minutes. Stop being a fathead and come immediately. Love. Travers.

Honestly, when I read these books I can barely restrain myself from laughing-out aloud. The books are such a refreshing change from the slap-stick humour which abounds in today’s world – be it movies (remember the David Dhawan – Govinda presentations) or in writing. Sarcasm has replaced genuine humour. Most people seem to find only poking fun at others funny. Not that Wodehouse does not do that but it is done with such good-nature and warmth that you cannot help but bask in the ‘sunlit perfection’ as Stephen Fry calls Wodehouse’s world.

If you have never read a Wodehouse, you don’t know what you are missing. As for me, I have upon me the delightful urge to read them all over again. And this time, I would buy them for my collection.


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  1. Hey there!!! Another PGW lover.. they are my salvation. The days am not happy, I read them.. actually come to think of it, the days I am happy, as well. Nothing uplifts my spirits like a PGW. I have most of the books. Now I am tracking those that I dont have and are out of print right now :))

  2. @ Moonshine: They are great, aren't they? I am going to build my collection - last time round, i had borrowed them from library :-)