Plumtopia

Home » P.G. Wodehouse » Wodehouse and the melancholy beard

Wodehouse and the melancholy beard

P.G.Wodehouse, creator of dapper drones like Bertie Wooster (who once wrote an article for Milady’s Boudoir on ‘What the What the Well-Dressed Man is Wearing’) was not a beard lover. His leading men were clean shaven, taking to false beards only in times of crisis.

Writing of his own experiences in a German internment camp during WWII, Wodehouse said:

A lot of us grew beards. Not me. What I felt was that there is surely enough sadness in life without going out of one’s way to increase it by sprouting a spade-shaped beard. I found it a melancholy experience to watch the loved features of some familiar friend becoming day by day less recognizable behind the undergrowth. A few fungus-fanciers looked about as repulsive as it is possible to look, and one felt a gentle pity for the corporal whose duty is was to wake them in the morning. What a way to start one’s day!

O’Brien, one of the sailors, had a long Assyrian beard, falling like a cataract down his chest, and it gave me quite a start when at the beginning of the summer he suddenly shaved, revealing himself as a spruce young fellow in the early twenties. I had been looking on him all the time as about twenty years my senior, and only my natural breeding had kept me from addressing him as ‘Grandpop’.

  Wodehouse in a letter to Bill Townend, printed in Performing Flea

"PerformingFlea" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PerformingFlea.jpg#mediaviewer/File:PerformingFlea.jpgThe origin of Wodehouse’s anti-beard prejudice is unclear. None of his biographers have, to my knowledge, produced a hirsute Aunt or bewhiskered school-master who might be held responsible. And while Wodehouse might not have been an actual pagonophobe, his views on the subject are remarkably consistent.

Wodehouse returns to melancholia of the beard in his masterly short story, ‘The Clicking of Cuthbert.

His first glance at the novelist surprised Cuthbert. Doubtless with the best motives, Vladimir Brusiloff had permitted his face to become almost entirely concealed behind a dense zareba of hair, but his eyes were visible through the undergrowth, and it seemed to Cuthbert that there was an expression in them not unlike that of a cat in a strange backyard surrounded by small boys. The man looked forlorn and hopeless, and Cuthbert wondered whether he had had bad news from home.

Looking at a photo of that other Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy, one begins to understand Wodehouse’s point.

The memorably bearded Leo Tolstoy.                                     Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I love Tolstoy — Anna Karenina is one of my favourite novels — so it’s some consolation to know that this depressed looking soul may have read Wodehouse! I was thrilled to find Wodehouse expert Norman Murphy’s account of Ian Spoat’s discovery that Tolstoy had a copy of The Captain (magazine in which Wodehouse’s early stories were published) on his bedside table.

For Wodehouse on the moustache, revisit one of my first posts at Plumtopia: Movember, and the psychology of the upper lip.
HP

Advertisements

10 Comments

  1. zanyzigzag says:

    Wonderful post! I love PGW’s views on beards – and have used “face fungus” to refer to beards in general conversation, but sadly it appears that the humour of this remark is lost on non-Wodehouse fans! I can’t imagine what he would have thought of the new craze of men wearing flowers entwined in their beards!!!

    • honoria plum says:

      My thoughts precisely! When I googled ‘beards’ to look for images, I got a staggering 30 million search result. Lots of advice for hipster beard wearers, celebrity beard watching, and musings on how sexy/manly beards are. All of it serious, much of it ridiculous. I
      toyed with the idea of making this a piece about grooming advice for the Wodehouse-loving hipster, but I just couldn’t make it funnier than the rot being written already.

  2. Randy Cox says:

    I found parts of this very difficult to read due to the extremely light type face for the long quotes from Wodehouse.

  3. What Ho, Honoria! Imagine my delight to wake up this morning to discover I have a new follower whose blog is devoted to none other than my favorite author ever!! I cannot wait to spend a few happy hours here and there delving into your past posts and enjoying the ones to come. Chuffed!!!

  4. ashokbhatia says:

    The shareholders of such companies as Gillette can rest easy. Given these anti-fungus sentiments pervading our social landscape, their long term well being is assured. A post which is spot on, as always!

  5. ashokbhatia says:

    Reblogged this on ashokbhatia and commented:
    Undergrowth and Fungus are just two of the several terms used by Plum to describe beards. There being a positive correlation between beards and melancholy, it follows that a humorist of his stature would be a stout supporter of clean shaven men.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Valentine’s Day

February 14th, 2016
P.G. Wodehouse died on this day 1975

P.G. Wodehouse’s Birthday

October 15th, 2016
P.G. Wodehouse was born on this day (1881)

Wodehouse Society Convention

Washington DCOctober 19th, 2017
86 days to go.
PG Wodehouse the Satirist

The comic genius in the guise of a satirist

Ook's Book Club

An online library book club.

Robert Pimm

Novels, short stories, reviews, ideas

THE JUNIOR GANYMEDE LIBRARY

Wallowing in Wodehouse

The Denver of the Secret Nine

Celebrate P.G. Wodehouse at altitude

Jessica Fellowes

Author & Speaker

Adventures Of a Traveller

The Journey is the Destination

John Lagrue's Blog

Musings on life

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!

Your Opinionated Consumer Reports for Sitcoms (and Other Feel-Good Fun)

%d bloggers like this: