Bertie Wooster once said: I'm not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it's Shakespeare who says that it's always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping. Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest So it was in …
Wodehouse discusses his treatment of Shakespeare’s ‘exit pursued by bear’ wheeze.
I suppose the fundamental distinction between Shakespeare and myself is one of treatment. We get our effects differently. Take the familiar farcical situation of someone who suddenly discovers that something unpleasant is standing behind them. Here is how Shakespeare handles it in “The Winter’s Tale,” Act 3, Scene 3:
ANTIGONUS: Farewell! A lullaby too rough. I never saw the heavens so dim by day. A savage clamour! Well may I get aboard! This is the chase: I am gone for ever.
And then comes literature’s most famous stage direction:
“Exit pursued by a bear.”
All well and good, but here’s the way I would handle it:
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Yesterday, I pondered the rather baffling discovery that some of Wodehouse’s male characters have been named literary sex symbols. This subject can hardly be taken seriously. As the critic Emsworth notes, sex was never allowed to creep into Wodehouse’s world.
We don’t mean this in a negative way, but the fact can’t be avoided: the Master wasn’t comfortable with sex. Not once in dozens of comic novels and hundreds of short stories with romantic plots, does any P. G. Wodehouse character indulge in the carnal passions, on-stage or off. Considering that people probably joke about sex more than anything else, it’s almost astonishing how well Wodehouse got by as a comic writer without it.
Wodehouse wasn’t prudish in other respects. Bertie Wooster and his fellow Drones drink themselves silly, commit petty burglaries, fritter money away at casinos, resort to blackmail at the drop of a hat, and concoct hilarious frauds. And as the twentieth century wore on and the rules against explicit language in literature relaxed, so, in a modest way, did Wodehouse’s vocabulary. An occasional “hell” and “damn” sometimes crept in, and in The Mating Season (1950) characters use…
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A wonderful piece from the excellent critic, Emsworth, reblogged with his kind permission.
It would be a joy to read Wodehouse even if his stories didn’t have more ingenious poetic allusions than there are stars in the sky. On the latest of our many happy passes through The Code of the Woosters — perhaps the very best of the Jeeves and Wooster novels — we started taking inventory.
Wodehouse starts with a taste of Keats on the very first page, as Jeeves tells Bertie Wooster, “There is a fog, sir. If you will recollect, we are now in Autumn — season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” A few pages later, Sir Watkyn Bassett, a country magistrate who has it in for Bertie, assures Roderick Spode that time in prison won’t prevent a man from “rising on stepping-stones of his dead self to higher things.” That’s from Tennyson’s “In Memoriam.”
Bertie Wooster doesn’t know as much poetry as his friends, so his allusions are…
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What Ho! I have started this blog as part of a lifelong quest for Utopia. Unfortunately, the quest hasn't been going so well, ever since I took that wrong turn at Bass Strait. Tasmania is pretty in places, but I don't fit in here. I feel much as Alice anticipated she might upon reaching the …