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The Wodehouse Effect: Why India Loves Jeeves (21 May at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, London)

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honoria plum

My personal quest is the search for a life inspired by the literature of P.G Wodehouse. Plumtopia celebrates this quest with other Wodehouse fans.

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What Ho!

Another treat for Wodehouse lovers is taking place at the British Library, this time as part of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival. A panel, involving MP and Author Shashi Tharoor, MP and journalist Swapan Dasgupta, business writer Mihir S. Sharma, and Wodehouse expert Tony Ring will be discussing:

The Wodehouse Effect : Why India Loves Jeeves: – JLF at The British Library

It’s an intriguing subject, and one that provokes a good deal of discussion amongst the chaps and chapettes in our little Wodehouse community. (Yes, chapettes! Don’t let the all-male panel or misguided notions about Wodehouse appealing mainly to men mislead you — he has a large and enthusiastic following among Indian women).

Many people have tried to explain the reasons for Wodehouse’s popularity in India, including Shashi Tharoor in a 2012 article How the Woosters Captured Delhi. In particular, he highlights Wodehouse’s wonderful use of English language.

English was undoubtedly Britain’s most valuable and abiding legacy to India, and educated Indians, a famously polyglot people, rapidly learned and delighted in it – both for itself, and as a means to various ends. These ends were both political (for Indians turned the language of the imperialists into the language of nationalism) and pleasureable (for the language granted access to a wider world of ideas and entertainments). It was only natural that Indians would enjoy a writer who used language as Wodehouse did – playing with its rich storehouse of classical precedents, mockingly subverting the very canons colonialism had taught Indians they were supposed to venerate.

There’s something in this theory, which might also help to explain why Wodehouse is popular in countries like the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium and Norway, whose inhabitants are often gifted bi-linguists (if that’s the word I want, Jeeves).

As an outsider looking in, I feel ill-qualified to comment, but I’m looking forward to hearing the panel’s theories on the subject. Yours too! Please do share your thoughts in the comments below.

Follow the link below for more details about the event, and to register.

The Wodehouse Effect : Why India Loves Jeeves: – JLF at The British Library

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18 Comments

  1. One for Ashok, I think, in our little group of chaps and, as you say, chapettes. I have always preferred “chapesses” (my own invention, said he modestly) in reference to the distaff side but there is certainly a strong case for “ette” in current philological usage. See e.g. “bachelorette”.

    • Felicia Sheridan says:

      You make a good point, and your suggestion has canonical support. Wodehouse used “lady bishopess” for the lorgnette-wielding consort of the Bishop of Stortford in “Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo.”

  2. Joss Weatherby (Morten Arnesen) says:

    Wodehouse was indeed very popular in Norway in his time, and the translations sold in droves. This might indicate that the way he used the English language wasn’t the only reason for his popularity.
    At the same time I would claim that after having read him in his own words –
    that is, his own language – few of us ever read the translations again.

  3. ashokbhatia says:

    Thank you for posting it here!

    Here is my humble take on the subject, though not listed in any order:
    One, the day to day drudgery of mundane life for most Indians perhaps makes Plum’s offerings highly attractive.
    Two, when former rulers get mocked at, possibly the earlier ruled ones derive some satisfaction from the proceedings.
    Three, there is the sheer bliss of his unique usage of the English language. I, for one, can not imagine translating him in, say, Hindi!
    Four, the pursuits of the idle rich provide some succour to those who are not so well endowed.

    One looks forward to the deliberations of the panel which would surely educate us better on the subject.

    Allow me to share a post which inter alia endeavours to explore this subject: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/lord-emsworth-gets-invited-to-the-republic-day-celebrations-in-india

    • honoria plum says:

      I am so pleased you saw this and were able to share it, as I think it’s a fascinating subject. Similarly fascinating is the question of why my own native country – Australia – has comparatively little regard for our Plum (I’m sorry to say).

      • ashokbhatia says:

        The Royal Academy of Goofy Technologies needs to undertake this as a research project: The diversity amongst the comity of nations as to the spread of Wodehousitis. Pleasure to share is mine!

      • honoria plum says:

        Yes, I quite agree. My theory is that Wodehouse unites people from a diverse ranges of backgrounds and cultures. I love him for that! It is much needed in our trying times.

      • ashokbhatia says:

        Absolutely, indubitably………!

      • Ah Honoria, now you are being deliberately provocative. I do my best at my club and there are a number of senior writers around the place who dine regularly off Plum pie. The only problem Wodehouseans Down Under have is that we have no resident Mrs Plum to keep us all informed and on track. Come home, Honoria, all is forgiven.

      • honoria plum says:

        What Ho, Noel.
        Not provoking at all — dashed sorry if it came across that way. I spent the first forty years of my life in Australia and, desperately though I tried to find kindred souls, I only met one other Wodehouse reader. I fell upon him like a long lost brother, which prompted him to make a hasty retreat through a side exit, and there the matter rested.

        I don’t hold it against my fellow Australians. Most of the good eggs I encountered there would love Wodehouse I’m sure — if introduced to his stuff by a caring enthusiast. I dabbled in this missionary work a bit in my time, but if I do return to the jolly old homeland (which I miss terribly) I will embark on a more serious programme of this nature.

        I’m hoping to make a visit sometime in the next year so perhaps we could meet and discuss strategy?

      • Not even a teeny bit teasing? Oh well. I saw you expanded your view on Ashok’s terrific Norwegians piece and so I’ve been perhaps a bit irritated in reply. Serious point in it though: PGW’s inglorious war record is, I think, a barrier to appreciation in Oz. I do hope you visit back Home (what an inversion that is!) and we can put on the nosebag together. Not off to Washington in October?

      • honoria plum says:

        Honestly, not teasing. We can discuss it in Washington as I will be there!

  4. ashokbhatia says:

    Reblogged this on ashokbhatia and commented:
    Why is Wodehouse so very famous in India?

    Here is an interesting event coming up on the subject.

  5. ashokbhatia says:

    And, yes, as to Jeeves being popular……
    1. Indians perhaps generally carry a rather poor opinion of their subordinates and aspire for a Jeeves to rally around every time they get into a mess.
    2. His supreme intelligence, combined with a spiritual outlook on life, makes him a much sought after person.
    3. With an ample supply of fish, most Indians are assured of a steady support of his kind of out-of-box thinking.
    4. His problem solving abilities stand out, especially in respect of securing such public services as getting a ration card, managing to link up an Aadhar card with one’s PAN card, trying to be one up on the blues of demonetization and taxation jolts, and generally to fulfil all obligations placed from time to time on the citizens of this great country.
    5. Business owners and managements need services of people like him to de-mystify the vast plethora of statutory obligations to be met, the myriad taxes to be paid after ensuring that all possibilities of availing exemptions have been exhausted, and to keep up with the GST July 1 deadline challenge, to name but a few.

  6. capital! capital! capital..I am a chapwhatever,and am an ardent Jeeves fan. I read PG Wodehouse as his language is pink like Florence Cray’s boudoir, and sense of humour is just right amount to cure me off toxic hangover from the infernal saas-bahu serials that are blaring from every middle class house in India.

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