How to pronounce Wodehouse

A kindly soul once corrected my pronunciation of P.G. Wodehouse, and I’m profoundly grateful to him for saving me from making a complete ass of myself when I began mixing in Wodehouse Society circles (if only he’d taught me how to use cutlery as well).

I had been pronouncing Wodehouse as if it rhymed with road-house and toad-house. Whereas the ‘wode’ in P.G. Wodehouse should rhyme with good. Here’s a little mnemonic to help you remember.

Every good house has some Wodehouse.

Not only natty, but true. Every good house really should have some P.G. Wodehouse to help the inmates from sinking too deeply into despair.  So it was only natural that, having recently returned to Australia, I set out to compile an ‘emergency’ Wodehouse kit to keep me going until I’m reunited with my books.

This simple task has proved more difficult than you might expect. Adelaide was once a city with so many bookshops that my friends and I designed pub-and-bookshop-crawls around them. But when I recently attempted a nostalgic pub-and-bookshop tour, I discovered Something Fishy. Adelaide has fewer bookshops than it used to, and most of them have little or no Wodehouse.

somethingfishy
I really did discover Something Fishy in a bookshop.

One of the reasons for the lack of P.G. Wodehouse in Adelaide’s bookstores is, I suspect, a tendency on the part of local readers to take our Literature seriously. Too seriously perhaps, but we’re a serious-minded lot. We take great pride in our Writer’s Week, which The Adelaide Review describes as ‘deep and worldly‘ (although it’s much better than that).

It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.

From: The Girl in Blue (1970)

For budding Wodehouse readers in Adelaide, and other places suffering a Wodehouse shortage, there are several ways to get hold of his books.

  1. Ask your nearest bookstore to order a specific Wodehouse title for you.
  2. Haunt second-hand bookshops and swoop on any Wodehouse you find.
  3. Explore your local library (if you are lucky enough to have one).
  4. Order your Wodehouse books online.
adelaidelibrary
Adelaide Library’s small (but pleasantly surprising) P.G. Wodehouse selection includes some hidden gems

Browsing the shelves in a bookshop or library, not knowing what you’re going to find, is one of life’s great pleasures. Ordering a book, online or in person, reduces this experience to a commercial transaction, but if you are looking for a specific title it’s sometimes the only way.

I’ll be placing my future orders in person because it’s an opportunity to discuss Wodehouse with booksellers, and hopefully persuade them to stock more of his stuff. If I’m successful, perhaps one day some lucky person will find a Wodehouse book while browsing, take it home, and discover the unmitigated pleasures of the world he created — a world Evelyn Waugh once compared to Eden, and that I call Plumtopia.

Happy book hunting!

HP

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25 thoughts on “How to pronounce Wodehouse

  1. A philosophy professor of whom I was terrified corrected my pronunciation of Wodehouse when I was in college. I probably turned three shades of red…

  2. What a great post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    I have been haunting second-hand bookstores for nigh onto 30 years now and I can count on one hand the number of Wodehouse books I have found. I take that as a testament to his popularity. Once people lay their hands on a Wodehouse book, they are loathe to ever let it go. I still have every Wodehouse book I have ever bought, whether it was a pocket paperback, a softbound book, or a hardbound book. Each and every one of them is a treasure and they are exactly as you say in your post. They are little escapes to Eden (or Plumtopia) and away from a harsh and grating world.

    No wonder no one wants to part with them!

    1. Absolutely right, Biff, Old Bean!
      That’s one of the reasons why I am still picking Wodehouse editions when I really don’t need to.
      I also love discovering the margin scrawls, old bookmarks, and bit of paper people leave behind in their books. I love the idea that my book had a history with someone else before it came to me.

      1. Yes, I’ve become a bit of a Wodehouse hoarder, too. I have every Wodehouse book I’ve ever bought, including the old pocket paperbacks I bought way back in the 80s when B. Dalton was still around. Can you imagine a time when it was possible to stroll into a mainstream bookstore and pick up a brand new copy of a Wodehouse book? I sure miss those days.

        I also miss the halcyon days of the Wodehouse universe. I know that, in reality, the 1930s were not such a great time, but he sure described them in a way that made me want to time-travel back there!

  3. Sometimes it’s hard to see the Wode for the trese but I’ve acquired nearly all of my collection from second hand shops in Melbourne and Brisbane. Can’t tell you about Adelaide, except I’ve always found it a most peculiar place, such that nothing surprises me about it any more. A client from Adelaide once told me that he was an A-lister socially in Adelaide but only a B or C in Melbourne. That comment placed him at Z on my list..

    At the risk of being patronising, may I say the clue in finding Wodehouse books (and this true of “new” shops as well) is knowing where to look — usually in the category “humour” rather than “literature” of even “fiction” and then down on the low shelves because the books are arranged by author alphabetically. Occasionally I’ve had to dig around in the cardboard cartons secondhand shops seem to have in abundance cluttering up their passageways. And every now and then you run into a proprietor who knows what he/she has and keeps the better quality hardbacks locked up in the “special” cabinets. Lately, though, I confess I have gotten lazy and employed the power of Abe Books and the like.

    1. Not patronising at all –it’s dashed good advice. If I don’t find any Wodehouse in the fiction A-Z section, I always ask. One of my favourite second hand bookshops (sadly, no longer with us) had no obvious or consistent categorisation. Things were just shoved wherever the proprietor could fit them. This was often on stairs, in the aisles, and boxes on the floor. Probably a terrible fire trap, but I loved that place.

  4. adrianmiller1

    I have a friend (writer turned artist) with the surname Woodhouse.

    I wonder if PG’s family lost or discarded the extra ‘o’ at some evolutionary point in time???

    PS Must catch up soon!

    Cheers, Adrian

    >

  5. Frits

    Good points, Jen. I have the same experience with bookshops in Brussels. Even Waterstone’s stocks very few Wodehouse titles. In quite a few bookshops in New York I was faced with the question: Sorry, who was that? Or: How do you spell that name, sir? Still, some good news also came my way recently: Read the opening article in the summer edition of Plum Lines and you’ll find that many young readers are fascinated by Wodehouse.

    By the way: Thanks for putting down that quote from The Girl in Blue. It’s on Goodreads alright, but otherwise you hardly ever see it. It’s one of my favourites.

  6. Morten Arnesen

    Love your writings, and are still hoping one day to read a book with your name on it.
    As for the name Wodehouse I find it intriguing that there according to Wikipedia was a Bertram de Wodehouse back in the 11th century, a fact somehow in tune with Bertie’s rendering of his illustrious family history.

  7. George P. Smith

    I’m not so in love with ordering on line. but it’s true that many publishing houses offer “out of print” copies you will never find in a bookshop. anyway, ordering on line gave me the opportunity to celebrate PGW and to enroll new readers in Italy. in brief, my suggestion of using The Mating Season as an antidote to melancholy was chosen by Sellerio publishing house as one of the best ten for their new edition of “Cure yourself with the books” (together with ten free books for me).
    Wodehouse rules! ( or cures, if you like it)

    1. That’s such a great story, George. Congratulations! The Mating Season would be one of my top suggestions too. You are right about ordering online — as you could get pretty much anything by Wodehouse that way. Booksellers should hopefully have access to this as well. My local bookshop in the UK were terrific and could usually find anything I wanted.

  8. LCantoni

    When I discovered Wodehouse as a teenager back in the 70s, I was desperate to find his stuff, but, being a teenager, I had little money. One day I noticed, on a neighborhood shopping street, what appeared to be a used bookstore. On the off-chance they’d have some affordable Plum, I went in and asked if they had anything by P.G. WOEDhouse. The guy behind the counter replied, “That’s WOODhouse, and no, because this is a comic-book store.” Mortifying…

    Even had it been a proper bookstore, I might still not have found what I was looking for, because, as I later learned from an acquaintance in the used-book trade, Wodehouse still flies off the shelves. A decade or so later, when I visited London for the first time and haunted the bookshops in Cecil Court, I was able to snag a few first editions (sans dust jackets, the only way I could afford them), and I was as happy as the Empress in her sty.

    1. Great story! I was mortified when I was corrected too. I think you’re right about Wodehouse flying off the second hand shelves. I wonder why new book stores are not bothering to stock his stuff.

  9. If ever Jeeves and Bertie had decided to have a start-up advising the younger lot on courtship blues, The Mating Season would have surely been a source of inspiration.

    Hope one Is allowed to pre-book a copy of your book, as and when it gets unleashed on our unsuspecting civilisation!

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