P.G. Wodehouse recommends: A Reading List for World Book Day

‘The two twin souls gazed into each other’s eyes. There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.’

P.G. Wodehouse – ‘Strychnine In The Soup’

To celebrate World Book Day, I’ve put together a little reading list of some of the books  featured in Wodehouse’s writing.

dickensGEGreat Expectations by Charles Dickens

‘… I’m in the middle of a rather special book. Ever read Great Expectations? Dickens, you know.’

‘I know. Haven’t read it, though. Always rather funk starting on a classic, somehow. Good?’

‘My dear chap! Good’s not the word.’

The Pothunters (1902)

 

adventures_of_sherlock_holmesThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

‘Mr. Downing had read all the Holmes stories with great attention, and had thought many times what an incompetent ass Doctor Watson was; but, now that he had started to handle his own first case, he was compelled to admit that there was a good deal to be said in extenuation of Watson’s inability to unravel tangles.’

Mike and Psmith (1909)

and…

‘His book was The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and the particular story, which he selected for perusal was the one entitled, “The Speckled Band.” He was not a great reader, but, when he read, he liked something with a bit of zip to it.’

Indiscretions Of Archie (1921)

Tennyson’s Idylls of the King 

She looked down. “Have you been reading? What is the book?”

“It’s a volume of Tennyson.”

“Are you fond of Tennyson?”

“I worship him,” said Sam reverently. “Those–” he glanced at his cuff–“those Idylls of the King! I do not like to think what an ocean voyage would be if I had not my Tennyson with me.”

“We must read him together. He is my favourite poet!”

“We will! There is something about Tennyson….”

“Yes, isn’t there! I’ve felt that myself so often!”

The Girl on The Boat (1922)

a_tramp_abroad_1880_coverA Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain

‘Out of a library which was probably congested with the most awful tosh, he had stumbled first pop upon Mark Twain’s Tramp Abroad, a book which he had not read since he was a kid but had always been meaning to read again; just the sort of book, in fact, which would enable a fellow to forget the anguish of starvation until that milk-train went.’

Mr Mulliner Speaking (1929)

 

the_murder_of_roger_ackroyd_first_edition_cover_1926The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

‘You cannot copyright an idea, and times have become so hard for thriller-writers that they are after any possible new murderer like a pack of wolves.

You see, the supply of murderers is giving out. They have all been used so often. You cannot even be sure of the detective’s friend flow. Ever since Agatha Christie’s Roger Ackroyd we keep a very sharp eye on that friend. It is very lucky for Doctor Watson that he belonged to the pre-Christie era.’

Louder and Funnier (1932)

frankFrankenstein by Mary Shelley

What does a fellow’s face matter anyway?’ said Joey Cooley.

‘Exactly.’

‘Looks don’t mean a thing. Didn’t Frankenstein get married?’

‘Did he?’ said Eggy. ‘I don’t know. I never met him. Harrow man, I expect.’

Laughing Gas (1936)

zentralbibliothek_zc3bcrich_das_kapital_marx_1867

Das Kapital by Karl Marx

What a curse these social distinctions are. They ought to be abolished. I remember saying that to Karl Marx once, and he thought there might be an idea for a book in it.

Quick Service (1940)

 

Spinoza’s Ethics

‘Bertie! This is amazing! Do you really read Spinoza?’

It’s extraordinary how one yields to that fatal temptation to swank. It undoes the best of us. Nothing, I mean, would have been simpler than to reply that she had got the data twisted and that the authoritatively annotated edition was a present for Jeeves. But, instead of doing the simple, manly, straightforward thing, I had to go and put on dog.

‘Oh, rather,’ I said, with an intellectual flick of the umbrella. ‘When I have a leisure moment, you will generally find me curled up with Spinoza’s latest.’

Joy in the Morning (1947)

And not forgetting:

title_page_william_shakespeare27s_first_folio_1623The complete works of William Shakespeare

‘Beginning by quoting from Polonius’s speech to Laertes, which a surprising number of people whom you would not have suspected of familiarity with the writings of Shakespeare seem to know, Mr Pott had gone on to say that lending money always made him feel as if he were rubbing velvet the wrong way, and that in any case he would not lend it to Pongo, because he valued his friendship too highly.’

Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939)

‘From start to finish of every meal she soliloquized. Shakespeare would have liked her.’

The Mating Season (1949)

‘His blood pressure was high, his eye rolled in what they call a fine frenzy, and he was death-where-is-thy-sting-ing like nobody’s business.’

Jeeves in the Offing (1960)

 

This little compilation merely scratches the surface of literary reference in Wodehouse’s work, providing further proof, if further proof is needed, that the great comic master offers much more than a light read — he’s educational!

Happy Reading!

HP

44 thoughts on “P.G. Wodehouse recommends: A Reading List for World Book Day

  1. Some of my favourites on there-Holmes especially. I also like Roger Ackroyd. GE though is my least favourite of Dickens’ books.

    Spinoza is the name that first pops to mind when I think Wodehouse, did Bertie once go shopping for the latest Spinoza?

    Edgar Wallace is also mentioned a few times-I think Freddie was reading King Kong at one point.

    1. You’re right — there are so many more references. Pickwick Papers is mentioned more than once, and Wodehouse definitely mentions Wallace, as well as Rex Stout, Dorothy L Sayers, Thackery, Kipling — and more. The Spinoza quote is taken from Bertie’s trip to the bookshop where he meets Florence Craye.
      I had such fun putting the list together, but it would take many months to research a complete list — if such a thing is even possible (as his references are often subtle ‘in jokes’ and can easily be missed if you haven’t read the thing he’s referencing).

      1. The F of the S… how could I forget. Agreed about missing the jokes-possibly one reason why everyone doesn’t find him as funny. In a book group on Goodreads, we were having a bit of a discussion on this and there were quite a few people who said they couldn’t ‘get’ his humour, and I’ve been wondering why that might be.

      2. Most of the people I know who struggle to appreciate Wodehouse actually haven’t read much, if any, of his stuff. Or started out on the ‘wrong’ book. The starting point can make a difference.

  2. Suggestion: interrogate “a famous search engine” about Spindrift. It appears that notonly Florence Craye thought it a good name for a “thoughful” novel. Following that, try Types of Ethical Theory, which baffled Bertie. One could do much worse than follow Plum’s reading list for education and fun.You’re back in form, Mrs Plum.

  3. A juicy compilation! Leo Tolstoy pops up in Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, if I am not wrong. Many others, like Tennyson (covered by you in another post of yours), keep his narratives on an intellectual track. To Plum, literary giants were like fodder for his humour-spewing windmills.

    1. Frits Smulders

      There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.

      It is clear from from the full quote that Wodehouse is sarcastic here. Giving the isolated quote suggests he was serious. This is obviously not the case. I believe Wodehouse should not be quoted out of context if the context is essential for understanding the quote.

      The is the context:

      “You are evidently fond of mystery plays.”

      “I love them.”

      “So do I. And mystery novels?”

      “Oh, yes!”

      “Have you read Blood on the Banisters?”

      “Oh, yes! I thought it was much better than Severed Throats.”

      “So did I,” said Cyril. “Much better. Brighter murders, subtler detectives, crisper clues … better in every way.”

      The two twin souls gazed into each other’s eyes. There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.

      1. Much gnashing of teeth and ringing of hands goes into choosing the passages and deciding where to cut them. It’s a tricky business.

        While I agree with the principle (not quoting out of context) put forward by my excellent friend Frits Smulders, in this particular case I don’t see how the full context contradicts the excerpt. I’m not saying I’m correct, just that I don’t quite see it on this occasion.

      2. What Ho Frits, old chap.
        I agree with you about quoting and context (the full passage is quoted elsewhere at my blog). I get particularly peeved when people quote a line from PGW’s fiction with the simple attribution ‘P.G. Wodehouse’ without any further source. implying the quote is PGW spouting his personal opinion on a subject.’
        But to get back to your point, old bean, do you really feel Wodehouse is being sarcastic here? The two characters’ have only just met. They quickly discover their mutual regard for the same reading matter, and form a bond that soon turns to love.
        The only thing (that I see) which might be considered sarcasm is the use of the word ‘literature’ to refer to popular crime novels. A certain type of reader might object to that description. Possibly Wodehouse was having fun here (although we know he was no literary snob). But I do think the sentiments expressed (about a friendship forged on a mutual taste in literature) still work independently of the context.
        But then again, I’m a bit of a thickie. Well known for it in some circles. So I may well have missed something.

      3. The Wodehouse library at Dulwich College has the literature quote emblazoned above its door and I know it’s one of your favorites, Honoria, but I have to agree with Frits here. Out of context the quote is not as philosophically meaningful as it is made out to be. PGW was not precious about his reading material, nor about literature in general, and his simple joke here is that these two wildly different people had a meeting of minds on the most trivial of grounds. He loved thrillers and he knew their literary worth.

      4. Ahha. Well that makes the objection a little clearer, Noel.

        Perhaps I’ve overused this one, but it really is central to my experience as a Wodehouse fan — in person and online. Most Wodehouse fans I’ve encountered are so keen to meet another enthusiast that we are often prepared to overlook all manner of differences in each other. Through Wodehouse, I’ve made genuine, long-term friendships with some delightful people, with whom I have very little else in common. And my life is much the better for it!

        So it’s ‘a fair cop’ to say the quote takes on an extra dash of meaning when used out of context. But dash it all, I do feel it’s still in keeping with the spirit of the thing, within the meaning of the act and all that.

      5. It’s a sentiment I wouldn’t disagree with it for a moment. I, too, have met some lovely people through our shared esteem for PGW. Perhaps look at it this way: Plum never set out to be profound but like so many true storytellers he has spoken truth to many. And by the way, speaking of truth, if you want to see Plum’s extended revenge on A.A. Milne dig out Rodney has a Relapse from the Nothing Serious collection of short stories. Keep it up Honoria. Loving it.

      6. Cheers Noel.
        Yes – for someone who never set out to insult his audience with a moral tale, he did manage to slip in quite a few natty observations, on one thing or another.

        Oooh — on that subject, have you ever read his piece about Tom Brown’s Schooldays? Very good. Hughes, the author, is visited mid story by the ‘committee of the Secret Society For Putting Wholesome Literature Within The Reach Of Every Boy, And Seeing That He Gets It.’

      7. I chased it down on Madame Eulalie after your mention. Written in 1901 — Plum was 20. Interesting early development of the approach he would take in his school stories. No preaching.

    2. Yes — the great Russians get few outings (The Clicking of Cuthbert is another one). And of course I bow to your expertise on the Shakespeare. I know how much time your work on that must have taken.

      1. Thanks, but far from being comprehensive! Going through his works now, The Bard keeps popping up every now and then, much to my chagrin and regret for having done an imperfect job!

    1. Thank you Rose.
      I can’t take the credit — the genius being all Wodehouse’s — but it’s such a pleasure to know these little snippets help spread the sweetness and light around, and bring joy.
      Cheerio!
      HP

  4. Mustard Pott

    I don’t think Wodehouse liked Nabokov or Milne (for good reason). Also, it helps to have a familiarity with the King James Version.

  5. Good is indeed not the word for Great Expectation. I once, in my student days, distinguished myself by snorting with laughter on a crowded bus while reading said tome. Happy days.

    I believe PGW and Agatha Christie corresponded, each being fond of the other’s books, and she dedicated one of hers to him. Not one of her more Wodehousey ones, though. For that you’d need to try something like The Secret of Chimneys (1925) which features a stately home riddled with impostors. Positively Blandingsesque.

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