New Wodehouse book: ‘This is jolly old Fame’ by Paul Kent hits the spot

It’s here we arrive at the main thrust of this Introduction: literary criticism – which is a significant branch of the Culture Industry – has thus far failed Wodehouse miserably; that is, when it has deigned to notice him. And this has long hindered a true appreciation of his achievements not just as a great comic writer, but as a great writer and Artist…

Paul Kent ~ This is jolly old Fame

Whenever I try to describe this blog to people who don’t read it and, let’s face it, probably didn’t ask and don’t want to know, they seem to come away with the impression that I write book reviews. But between ourselves, I find book reviews incredibly difficult and rarely attempt them.

I mean, it’s easy enough to write a ripping admonishment of a uniformly dreadful book, but who has the time to read dreadful books in these busy modern times, let alone make their authors feel any worse? So too, the kind of self-indulgent opinion sharing that routinely passes for review online, which I’m quite good at. Look me up on Twitter, Facebook or Goodreads and you’ll find no shortage of unsubstantiated literary opinions (at least unsubstantiated by me) along the lines of Jane Eyre was a tedious whiner and we’d all be a lot better off if everybody just stuck to reading Wodehouse.

But Paul Kent has written something worthy of more thoughtful review, and I’m dashed if I know how to go about it.

It’s not that I’m lacking in things to say about this book. On the contrary, if you’ll observe my reading copy below, each tag indicates a point on which I’ve been prompted to reflect and want to return to later — so many in fact, that about half way first reading I had to go back and start again with a colour coded system.

jolly

This is why, as far as I’m concerned, This is jolly old Fame hits the spot. In some places, Paul Kent makes points that I’ve always wanted to make, but never quite found the right time or had the wit to put into words. To pick just one instance: he says:

…reading even a few Wodehouse novels with reasonably careful attention, there appear scores of themes and recurring motifs which, considered together, add up to something that is both significant and, ultimately, revealing…

And he’s right!

More often, Kent makes points which had never occurred to me, setting my thoughts in a multitude of new directions. He draws on an impressive array of literary sources and opinions, but doesn’t hold back from giving his own – firmly, but respectfully questioning some of the ideas many of us seem to have accepted as lore when it comes to discussing Wodehouse and his work. This is the sort of thinking and writing the world of Wodehouse appreciation needs – and gives the rest of us plenty to talk about.

And this is just Volume 1, with two more volumes to yet come. The focus here is on Wodehouse’s early writing career, influences, and the development of his inimitable style and reputation. Kent begins with this quotation, from one of Wodehouse’s letters to his step-daughter Leonora:

I really am becoming rather a blood these days. . . [In] a review of a book in the Times, they say “The author at times reverts to the P.G. Wodehouse manner”. This, I need scarcely point out to you, is jolly old Fame. Once they begin to refer to you in that casual way as if everybody must know who you are all is well. P.G. Wodehouse

Kent, Jolly Old Fame

I could say more, but each of the many threads I’d like to unpick would lead us to another 1500 or so words of superfluous chattering, when all you really need to know is:

‘This is jolly old Fame’ hits the spot.

You can buy it — here.

HP

26 thoughts on “New Wodehouse book: ‘This is jolly old Fame’ by Paul Kent hits the spot

    1. Ah, that’s sweet of you, Paul. I had hundreds of lovely things to say, but couldn’t get my thoughts together — and I was worried that you’d have all three volumes out before I’d managed to do the thing justice. You’ve really inspired me to rethink what I’m doing, and do it better. I’m incredibly grateful.
      Can’t wait for the next volume.

  1. George P. Smith

    When a book makes you think, search and go deeper, certainly is a good read at all.
    I remember reading “The name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco with (no Google at the time) no less than 2 encyclopedias, 3 history books and a philosophical compendium by my side.
    and it was all worth while!
    p.s.
    a new installment of your delicious novel for Xmas, may be?

  2. Spot on, Honoria. Very seldom do I read anything in which the author agrees with me on everything — in particular, among other things, the place of Leave it to Psmith in the canon. Hrrmph! Mr Kent’s deep, fact-based analysis is thought-provoking and admiring without being flattering. Wodehouse said he never had a message, taken by many to mean he wasn’t serious, but of course he was, and Kent proves it. There is a moral viewpoint — Plum just doesn’t preach. And yes, Honoria, bring on the girls, by George!

    1. Frits Smulders

      Honoria is completely right. This is a splendid book that is long overdue! At last someone has done full justice to the mastery of Plum, making mincemeat of snappy but meaningless statements made in the past that you don’t take a spade to a soufflé (why not?) or you do not analyse such sunlit perfection (again: why not?). I have never understood why you should not analyse Wodehouse’s work. Paul has taken Plum’s humour seriously (which is exactly what you should do with humour!), and he has done an outstanding job in doing so. His book, and, no doubt, the two sequels he plans to publish, deserves to be read by each and every reader of Wodehouse who has always wondered why W. is the finest and funniest writer ever to put pen to paper.

      This book is must!

  3. Murray Hedgcock

    It’s amazing after the many thousands of words written about PGW that there can still be anything new to say – but Paul offers many fresh thoughts and assessments, expressing them most effectively and entertainingly. I look forward eagerly to what he can conjure up for us in Vols Two and Three.

  4. sophiewestonauthor

    Thank you so much Honoria. Instant buy! And there are few reviews and no other reviewers of whom that would be true. Mind you, the colour coded post notes may have swung it. (Have you done a matching spreadsheet, she asked wistfully?)

  5. Looks good! Which falls into the category of “Things I Have Never Before Said About A Three Volume Work Of Literary Criticism.”

    By the way, Honoria, if you think Jane Eyre is a tedious whiner you should read Wuthering Heights. Cathy made my blog list of People I’d Like to Smack Upside the Head – although admittedly, so did St. John Rivers. My palms itch just thinking about them.

  6. Frits Smulders

    On seriousness and humour. — What critics of Wodehouse alleging that W. is not a serious writer have always failed to grasp is the famous paradox by Alphonse Allais: Les gens qui ne rient jamais ne sont pas des gens sérieux (People who never laugh are not serious).

    1. What ho, Frits, old bean!
      I have a very complicated theory, that may be utter rubbish, but… I think the sort of people who champion dark and miserable literature –and look down their noses and lighter works — are those without much in the way of darkness or misery in their lives, and an earnest feeling that they ought to compensate by jacking up the soul through vicarious experience.
      The problem sets in when they think this is the only kind of writing that should be taken seriously.
      They overlook that the rest of us may not be so fortunately situated, in one way or another, and need to give our poor old tested souls a break from time to time.

      As for Wodehouse himself, I don’t think we can entirely discount the McCrum line that writing was a form of escapism for him, but I think this is true of most writers. Paul Kent’s book shines a light on Plum as a level headed professional author who worked at his craft and knew his business intimately. He seemed to enjoy writing the stuff as well as giving pleasure to others.
      I’m losing track of my point now, but I think what I was trying to do — in a long and winding manner — was agree with you.
      HP

  7. I agree with the proposition that Plum’s work deserve to be put under a microscope and analysed threadbare. My reason is simple: scratching below the surface, one is apt to find messages which convey timeless wisdom about our materialistic as well as spiritual lives. His wit and wisdom both march hand in hand, with their chins up, brightly lit up eyes and stiff upper lips.

    I do not wish to unleash extreme boredom upon the readers of this excellent piece by rambling on and on and am forcing myself to quickly stop before delving into this subject any further!

    Paul Kent surely deserves to be applauded for his erudite scholarship!

    1. Thanks Ashok.
      That is the same problem I had with writing this — I wanted to write at great length about it and had to reign myself in.
      This book is sure to be a talking point for years to come.
      HP

  8. Pingback: What's on Your Wodehouse Wish list? – Plumtopia

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