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Wodehouse for Christmas: gifts that keep giving

jeeves-and-the-yule-tide-spirit-and-other-stories-700x700-imae2rsyj7gzt7rmA dash of Wodehouse is always a great gift idea. This timely piece offers a few ideas to help you choose something special for the Wodehouse lover in your life — or for those poor souls of your acquaintance who have yet to discover his healing prose.

Wodehouse for first timers
I often give Wodehouse books to new readers, with mixed results. The trick is to tailor your choice to what Jeeves calls ‘the psychology of the individual’. If you want to start your intended reader on the Jeeves stories, my recommendation (discussed in a previous post ) is The Inimitable Jeeves.

But with the Everyman (Overlook) Library editions making Wodehouse’s lesser known works widely available, you needn’t start with Jeeves. If your intended recipient is a fan of detective stories, Wodehouse’s world is full of shady activities, from impersonation through to pig-napping. Why not start them off with Sam the Sudden, or Piccadilly Jim? Or the first Blandings novel, Something Fresh — it’s a particular favourite of mine, now available in a special 100th Anniversary edition. For romance with a female central character, try The Adventures of Sally or French Leave. For sports enthusiasts, try Wodehouse on golf in The Clicking of Cuthbert, or cricket in Wodehouse at the Wicket (compiled by Murray Hedgcock).

Wodehouse for enthusiasts
The task of collecting and reading your way through the published works of Wodehouse has never been easier, thanks to the aforementioned Everyman’s Library. If money is no object you can complete the set very quickly, but it’s a bit like eating a box of chocolates in one sitting. Acquiring Wodehouse in smaller bites over a longer period allows readers to savour the pleasures of anticipating and enjoying each book on its own merits. It also allows friends and family to contribute with gifts they know will be appreciated. To avoid duplication, keep a list of the titles you already have. Try this list of the Everyman editions as a starting point.

For serious enthusiasts, including those who have collected all the Wodehouse they can get their hands on, there are other ways to bring sweetness and light into their lives. Here are a few suggestions.

Recent releases on the subject of Wodehouse
globeJohn Dawson and the Globe Reclamation Project team have spent two years researching, transcribing and evaluating material written during Wodehouse’s time at the Globe newspaper. John spoke passionately at the Seattle convention about his quest to uncover more of Wodehouse’s work, and the result is this wealth of ‘new’ Wodehouse material, made available to us all in: P.G. Wodehouse in the Globe Newspaper Volumes 1 & 2 . This is a non-profit undertaking with a discount available to Wodehouse Society members.

ntpmurphymiscellany2015 also saw the release of N.T.P. Murphy’s The P.G. Wodehouse Miscellany . It’s available in Kindle and Hardcover from Amazon or Kobo ebook (more details below). I’ve found this nifty little volume to be a valuable reference in the few short months since its release, and expect it will quickly establish itself as a ‘must have’ for Wodehouse enthusiasts.

Volume 1 of Murphy’s highly regarded A Wodehouse Handbook has been revised and rereleased as an ebook, available from Kobo Books . You or your gift recipient will need the Kobo’s e-reader software, which is free to download from their website.

Wodehouse Society Membership.
Why not give the gift of membership? For a modest annual fee, members can attend society gatherings and receive a quarterly journal to keep them up to date on all things Wodehouse. Find out more from:

  • The Wodehouse Society (US) Membership costs $25. Have a look at their Regional Chapters page to find your nearest group.
  • The P G Wodehouse Society (UK) Membership costs £22 for a full year (£11 for 6 months if you join between December-February). The society holds meetings and social evenings in London, as well as occasional outings in the other locations.
  • A list of other Wodehouse Societies is available from the UK Society website.

nac_mac_feegle Younger readers
For younger readers who may not be ready for their first Wodehouse, I recommend The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (recommended age 10+) or Guards! Guards! for adult readers. Terry Pratchett was a fitting winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction and I’d recommend his books generally to Wodehouse fans.

My daughter enjoys the Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens 51uvuq3vl2l-_sy344_bo1204203200_ql70_(Puffin Books recommend for ages 7-12). Set in a 1930s English girls’ boarding school, each book involves the girls in solving a murder. They’re written in an engaging style that doesn’t underestimate young readers’ intelligence, and they provide a good introduction to the period. This should help when your youngster is ready for Wodehouse. The fourth book in the series, Jolly Foul Play, is due out in March 2016.

Film, Television and Audiobook adaptations
Not all Wodehouse lovers enjoy seeing his work adapted. For those of us who do, some adaptations are difficult to find (the BBC telemovie Heavy Weather is not available on DVD) and others are best avoided. I don’t think you can go wrong with the Wodehouse Playhouse series. P.G. Wodehouse introduces several episodes himself. Another popular adaptation is the Jeeves and Wooster television series starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. This series introduced many people to the joys of Wodehouse, making it a good choice for Wodehouse fans and new readers alike.

Jeeves and the Mating Season Wodehouse (audiobook)I’d also highly recommend adding Wodehouse audiobooks to your collection, or giving them as a gift. There have been various narrators – all of them good in my view. A Wodehouse audiobook would make a wonderful gift for someone who may be incapacitated, ‘getting on’ in years or for people with reading difficulties.

Miscellaneous gift ideas
I had many more ideas to share, but Christmas will have come and gone before a full list could be completed (if you’ve already done your shopping, you’ll at least be in time for the January sales). Here are a few more suggestions for the Wodehouse lover in your life:

  • A silver cow creamer
  • Spats and a Homburg hat, or a well-fitted Topper
  • A tightly rolled umbrella
  • Dahlias or Chrysanthemums
  • A Berkshire sow
  • Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire
  • A statue of the Infant Samuel at Prayer

In the spirit of Plumtopia, I end with another Wodehouse wishlist, from Mr Ashok Bhatia -– A Plum Wish List for Santa this Christmas! — as a reminder of the joy Wodehouse brings to readers all year round.

In the case of Wodehouse, that cliché about gifts that keep on giving, really does apply.

Happy Christmas everyone!

HP

50 shades of Wodehouse homage

Faulks ReviewFor some time I’ve been threatening to write a fictional homage to P.G. Wodehouse – a statement that will induce some of you to sadly shake your heads, for there is a school of thought among Wodehouse lovers that such homages ought not be attempted. Stern words have been written on the subject. Alexandra Petri leaps to mind. She makes a sound case for the prosecution in her review of  Sebastian Faulks’ homage, ‘Jeeves and the Wedding Bells is worse than bad fanfiction’ (Washington Post), in which she helpfully outlines the world of fanfiction (yes, it’s one word apparently).

I would submit that three kinds of fanfiction [exist]: the sanctioned published kind (spin-off Bonds, Star Wars sequels, many of these aimed at men), the kind you forget is fanfiction (Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Milton’s Paradise Lost) and the kind the word evokes, written on the Internet largely for and by women between 14 and the designated demographic of “50 Shades of Grey.”

However much I might fancy that my own homage might be classed with Paradise Lost, there’s no escaping the fact that I fit smack-bang in the middle of the latter derided demographic. And if that’s not enough to make the self-respecting female writer of homages think twice (or at least get herself a decent set of false whiskers), here’s what La Petri has to say about the motivation and content of fanfiction:

Fanfiction is motivated by the sense that there is something missing. Generally, what is missing is that not enough of the characters are having explicit sex, or that two of the characters that you wish were having sex with one another are not doing so, although in Wodehouse fanfiction this is not always the case. It’s a tribute, but it’s also about filling in the gaps.

The mind boggles! This was certainly not the sort of homage I had mind.

So, not only is fanfiction frowned on by some Wodehouse fans, it seems the last thing the internet needs is another sad old frump churning out homages. What was I thinking? Presumably I ought to be doing something more age and gender appropriate  — whatever that might be. Shoe shopping? Planning a diet and skin care regime to address the signs of aging? Reading the aforementioned 50 Shades of Grey? Well, sneer if you will, but writing Wodehouse homages sounds like a much better way to spend my time.

IMG_2318And I am in good company, with at least two dedicated Wodehouse communities at fanfiction.net: a World of Wodehouse’. group and one dedicated to Jeeves stories. Enjoyable tributes to Wodehouse spring up here at WordPress too: try Wooster and Jeeves, ‘Purloined Snuff Box Retrievers’ by Shashi Kadapa, or Tom Travers’ Travails at Totleigh Towers (an homage to P.G.Wodehouse) from the Chronicles of an Orange-Haired Woman! In published form, I highly recommend The Reminiscences of the Hon. Galahad Threepwood  by Wodehouse expert N.T.P Murphy, which combines Murphy’s enjoyable prose style with his research into the period of Gally’s days as a young man about town. And I can’t write this piece without mentioning the latest novel by Wodehouse lover, writer and cricket historian Arunabha Sengupta: Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of the Ashes. It’s not a Wodehouse pastiche, but a great example of the possibilities of quality homage.

Respectful imitation (the sincerest form of flattery), and homage have long been part of literary tradition, just as they are in other art-forms. Many gifted painters have learned their craft by copying old masters; musicians and composers practice their art by replicating music conceived by others. Many pop stars make a substantial living by imitation alone. Unlike these art-forms, it is not possible for writers to earn a living in this way, but there is much that a developing writer can learn from imitating a beloved author. It is also possible for gifted writers with a strong, original idea to successfully and legitimately appropriate another writer’s characters. My favourite example of this is George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series.

If we want Wodehouse’s legacy to extend beyond his own work, as an influence on future writers, we must not close our minds to imitation, adaptation and appropriation — as a starting point. This is particularly important given the lack of an emerging ‘Wodehouse tradition’ in current fiction. As the shortlist for the last Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize demonstrates, between Wodehouse and modern comic writing there is a wide and substantial difference. This isn’t censure — I usually enjoy the books shortlisted. But there is little on offer for Wodehouse fans looking for something new and original in the Wodehouse vein. It’s worth remembering that many modern readers have discovered  Wodehouse through later authors like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett,  both sadly no longer with us. A continuing ‘Wodehouse tradition’ in comic fiction would provide ‘an entry’ to Wodehouse for future readers.

This brings us back to the matter of Sebastian Faulks and his homage. It hasn’t been a universal hit with Wodehouse fans (although we’re not all as scathing as Alexandra Petri). I don’t know that it has brought many new readers to Wodehouse either — certainly no one has cropped up in our Facebook group or any other forum that I follow, claiming to have found Wodehouse through Faulks. But as homages go, it’s a sound effort and I have no objection to Faulks attempting it (you’ll find my review of Jeeves and the Wedding Bells here.), particularly if it makes homages more acceptable — or at least gets the conversation going.

My own homage-in-progress has been an exercise in developing my skills as comic writer by imitating the style of a master. I’ve adopted a similar approach to N.T.P Murphy and G.M Fraser, writing an original piece that avoids Wodehouse’s central characters and settings (there are no Jeeves or Woosters, Psmiths or Emsworths). I think this is where Faulks made his bloomer. We are simply too close to these characters. As imitation Wodehouse, my story has many faults, but as a stepping stone from imitation to original fiction, I have high hopes for it.

cover holmesI look forward to sharing it with you here in due course, once I’ve finished reading Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of the Ashes.

HP

 

The 2015 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize: a Wodehouse reader’s view

At last week’s Hay Festival, Alexander McCall Smith was announced winner of the 2015 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction, for his book Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party. The prize is awarded ‘in the spirit of P.G. Wodehouse’. I’ve enjoyed many of the previous winners and shortlisted entries, but Wodehouse fans should not to expect great similarities between Wodehouse’s writing and these examples of modern genre.

With that caveat in mind, let’s take a look at the 2015 shortlist.

How to Build a Girl by Cailtin Moran

“My life is basically The Bell Jar written by Adrian Mole.”

Described as semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age story, How to Build a Girl follows 1990s teenager Johanna Morrigan’s efforts to recreate herself as ‘Dolly Wilde’. Author Caitlin Moran is a well-known UK columnist and celebrity, and reviewers have found much to like in her witty narrative style. Wodehouse fans be warned that it’s also heaving with sex and ‘bad language’, so it won’t appeal to everyone.

How to Build a Girl isn’t the sort of book I normally read — as someone who reads for escapist pleasure, the parallels between this story and my life may be a little too close for comfort. The legs on the cover are even wearing my shoes! Like Morrigan/Moran I’ve come from humble beginnings and reinvented myself as Honoria Plum. Unlike Moran, success didn’t follow. I’m ‘keeping the dream alive’ as best I can, but I’d find it easier to laugh at the mistakes of my youth if I was reading from a more comfortable chair.

In contrast, one of the many things I love about Wodehouse is that he doesn’t challenge me with my own mistakes or confront me with gritty realism. When I want those things, I’ll put my book down and look in the mirror.

Losing It by Helen Lederer
It’s great to see women are writing comedy and being shortlisted for this prize. Like Moran, Lederer is well-known in the UK for her work in film and television comedy, and there are clear parallels between Lederer and Millie, the central character in Losing It . Millie is a middle aged, divorced TV star who accepts an offer to advertise diet pills to help resolve her financial difficulties.

There’s a promising Wodehousian element to Lederer’s plot. Millie owes money to loan sharks, but spends her advance from the diet pill company on a holiday. Having spent the cash, she’s committed to losing weight in three months — by whatever means she can. I could see Wodehouse using this sort of plot very well.

Wodehouse created several plus-sized, middle-aged female characters. He usually describes them as ‘handsome’ and portrays them with personality and self-assurance. The tightness of arm-chairs upon hips is mentioned as a matter-of-fact, not censure. In Wodehouse’s world, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and women are accepted just as they are. This is something former Wodehouse Prize winner, the late Sir Terry Pratchett also excelled at. Pratchett created interesting heroines for all ages, shapes and sizes.

Among modern female writers there is a tendency to create neurotic heroines consumed with aesthetic self-judgement. As a reader, this doesn’t interest me any more than modern moralising about weight and beauty interests me in ‘real-life’. I prefer the Wodehouse-Pratchett view of women as worthy of our interest (and approval) just as they are. But Helen Lederer’s novel sounds like an authentic and funny variation on an otherwise tiresome theme.

Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party by Alexander McCall Smith

This novella tells the story of wealthy American tourist, ‘Fatty’ O’Leary’s, visit to Ireland — home of his ancestors. It’s a holiday in which just about everything that could go wrong, does.

I’ve done the dutiful thing and purchased this prize-winning book, but with reservations. I didn’t enjoy the previous McCall Smith I tried — The Sunday Philosophy Club. It’s a great title, but I found the central character, Isabel Dalhousie, a terrible snob (she dislikes one character on the grounds of the university he attended and the colour of his trousers). Wodehouse also created snobbish characters for us to laugh at, but I wasn’t entirely sure whether McCall Smith’s heroine was intentionally flawed, or if her judgmental views reflected those of the author.

Putting this experience aside, I will approach Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party with an open mind, in knowledge that this book impressed the Wodehouse Prize judges. McCall Smith is certainly the most established and prolific author in the shortlist, with a large international audience (that includes my own mother). So I’m hopeful of finding much to like in Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party.

Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe

Another semi-autobiographical novel from a female writer (should I be rethinking my own comic writing along similar lines?). Man at the Helm  is a tale of two sisters trying to find a man for their mother. In a glowing review for The Guardian, Kate Kellaway describes Stibbe’s ‘eye and ear for the absurd’ — something very much in the Wodehouse tradition. Like everything else on the list , this isn’t something I would gravitate towards in a bookstore. I don’t tell you this to pooh-pooh the books, but rather to make you aware this isn’t a genre I’m familiar with — so you can assess my response accordingly. I am happy to read beyond my usual preferences and perhaps discover new favorites. Nina Stibbe could well prove to be one of them.

The Dog by Joseph O’Neill

“I was like the dog with the empty bladder that nonetheless goes from tree to tree, stopping at each one to cock his leg in vain”.

For Joseph O’Neill’s sake, I hope The Dog is not semi- autobiographical, although similarities with his previous novel Netherland might cause people to wonder. The Dog‘s unnamed narrator is a Swiss-American lawyer working in Dubai for an obscenely rich family. He’s a keen observer of social media, but his Linked In profile probably doesn’t tell you that his hobbies include frequenting prostitutes and bemoaning the failure of his last relationship. It’s a long way from Wodehouse, and definitely involves humour of another kind.

Max Liu, in a review for The Independent , says:

“He articulates a kind of business class existentialism, which is difficult to get excited about, and The Dog is composed of deliberately convoluted sentences which thwart the reader’s absorption.”

But one man’s idea of ‘convoluted’ inevitably signals ‘literary merit’ to another. The Dog was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, making it the most literary entrant in this year’s shortlist. It’s also the hardest to summarise without reading the dashed thing (which, on balance, I’m not inclined to do). Some reviewers find it eye-gougingly dull. The Times review quoted on the cover calls it ‘brutal’ and ‘witty’. Comparisons are made with Kafka, Bret Easton Ellis and Nick Hornby. Others consider O’Neill among a modern literary elite, too high for appreciation by the common reader. It may be all those things, but I’m as common as muck so I’ll be giving this one a miss.

A Decent Ride by Irvine Welsh

Wodehouse famously never wrote about sex, but A Decent Ride is the third shortlisted book to come with a warning to Wodehouse fans about sexually explicit content — and I don’t mean a bit of bedroom farce. But while modern comedy writing has ‘progressed’ sexually, it seems to have also to taken a great leap backwards in quality. According to Stuart Kelly’s review in The Guardian, ‘A Decent Ride by Irvine Welsh review –poor writing and penis jokes’:

Given that it features incest, rape, grave desecration, necrophilia and one character filling a terminally ill man’s saline drip with urine and semen, it is curious that the most shocking thing about Irvine Welsh’s new novel, A Decent Ride, is that it was published at all.

I’m reasonably broadminded, and I don’t mind the judges challenging our ideas of comedy writing, but Decent Ride definitely isn’t for me.

What do you think?

It’s a thought provoking, thoroughly modern short-list. There is no escapist or comic fantasy, with the death of Terry Pratchett leaving a gaping hole in that area. As good as some of these shortlisted novels undoubtedly are, there’s nothing much to remind the modern Wodehouse reader of Wodehouse. Is the Wodehouse tradition at an end? I hope not.

If you’ve read any of the shortlisted books or, like me, have the temerity (if that’s the word I want, Jeeves) to discuss them without having bothered — I’d love to know what you think.

My reviews of Wodehouse Prize winning and shortlisted authors occasionally appear at Plumtopia. I’d be happy to share yours here too.

HP

I shall wear midnight for Terry Pratchett

It is too early to begin contemplating the enormous loss to literature, and our lives, that will follow Terry Pratchett‘s sad passing today. The news has upset me too deeply to write at length, but I wanted to add my small voice to the millions who will surely be mourning Terry Pratchett’s death and celebrating his life over the coming days.

My 2013 review of his novel I Shall Wear Midnight, expresses some of my feelings.

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (2010)I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to Terry Pratchett, not just for the pleasure his writing has given me, but for demonstrating what can happen when intelligence, humour and IDEAS work together.

How people think they can achieve anything seriously worthwhile without humour is beyond me. But it’s worse than that. Our world is run – and our ‘important thinking’ done, predominantly, by people who feel humour is out of place in the world of ideas. It is relegated to the status of ‘light’ entertainment. But humour can offer another kind of light.

I Shall Wear Midnight‘ is an excellent example of what I’m talking about. It can be enjoyed from start to end with great pleasure. There is comic relief in spades from the Nac Mac Feegle (err… perhaps spades is not the best word…). But ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’ is also a serious book, with a serious foe in The Cunning Man. He is the pungent, lingering hate of a long-dead witch-smeller, who generates hate wherever he goes because ‘poison goes where poison’s welcome’. Fortunately on the Discworld, a witch-hunt will lead to a witch – in this case Tiffany Aching – who will put a stop to things.

There are plenty of extraordinary people in our world who would stand up to a Cunning Man, if only it were that simple. The causes of hate and fear are more complex, but we have our cunning men and women too. They don’t dress in black or give off pungent aromas of evil, but often masquerade as ‘respectable’, sometimes unassailable, pillars of the community. The job of unmasking our villains in high places so often falls to our courageous comedians. With humour perhaps our only weapon, it’s unsurprising to find our institutions and establishments so devoid of it.

Long live Terry Pratchett!

From my 2013 Blog Piece ‘I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett’

We have lost more than a wonderful author with his passing.

HP

What do Wodehouse lovers read when not reading Wodehouse?

“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.

P G Wodehouse (‘Strychnine in the Soup’ in Mulliner Nights)

I recently asked the ‘Fans of P G Wodehouse’ Facebook community about their favourite authors – who they like to read when not curled up with Plum’s latest. The response was a staggering 370 comments (and counting) listing over 250 different authors. I’ve collated the replies and can now reveal the top 50 authors these Wodehouse lovers named as their favourites. I start today with the top 5.

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1. Agatha Christie

Christie and Wodehouse had much in common: they were contemporaries, prolific writers, and masters of their respective genres with huge audiences for their work. They both had problems with income tax, and were embroiled in personal scandals that continue to attract media speculation long after their deaths. In their lifetimes they were mutual fans, and Agatha Christie dedicated her 1969 Poirot novel  Hallowe’en Party:

“To P. G. Wodehouse — whose books and stories have brightened my life for many years. Also, to show my pleasure in his having been kind enough to tell me he enjoyed my books.”

Wodehouse was an enthusiastic reader of crime stories, as Maggie Schnader discusses in her excellent piece: ‘On P.G. Wodehouse and Crime Fiction: Or, Wodehouse Writes a Thriller?’ , and Wodehouse’s plots are brimming with criminal activity – from burglary, fraud and impersonation through to assault and battery. Mickey Finns abound, and even Jeeves knows how to handle a cosh! Some of Wodehouse’s best ‘crime’ stories have been collected in a volume called Wodehouse on Crime.

With Christie and Wodehouse among the world’s most loved (and translated) writers, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see her feature so highly among Wodehouse readers.  She is certainly one of my favourites.

2. Douglas Adams

People sometimes say to me, “Do you ever aspire to write a serious book?” And my practiced glib answer to that is, “No, my aspirations are much greater than that. I aspire to write like P.G. Wodehouse.”        (Writing like P.G. Wodehouse)

Douglas Adams was open in his admiration for Wodehouse, calling him ‘the greatest comic writer ever’, and Wodehouse’s influence is clear in his wonderfully funny style. He contributed a Foreword to a modern edition of Wodehouse’s last novel, Sunset at Blandings, which was included in ‘The Salmon of Doubt.’

Master? Great genius? Oh yes. One of the most blissful joys of the English language is the fact that one of its greatest practitioners ever, one of the guys on the very top table of all, was a jokesmith. Though maybe it shouldn’t be that big a surprise. Who else would be up there? Austen, of course, Dickens and Chaucer. The only one who couldn’t make a joke to save his life would be Shakespeare….

What Wodehouse writes is pure word music. It matters not one whit that he writes endless variations on a theme of pig kidnappings, lofty butlers, and ludicrous impostures. He is the greatest musician of the English language, and exploring variations of familiar material is what musicians do all day.

Adams’ Introduction to Sunset at Blandings

Many modern readers of Wodehouse (myself included) read Douglas Adams before we discovered Wodehouse. Some have even come to Wodehouse on the strength of Adams’ recommendations – so it’s little wonder that Adams is so highly regarded among the modern Wodehouse-loving public.

3. Terry Pratchett

‘Susan hated Literature. She’d much prefer to read a good book.’

Terry Pratchett (Soul Music)

Susan’s feelings on ‘Literature’ are in sympathy with views expressed by many a Wodehouse hero. As a huge Terry Pratchett fan, I was delighted to discover Pratchett is a popular author among fellow Wodehouse fans – and with good reason. There is much to enjoy in Pratchett’s wit and style, and like Wodehouse, Terry Pratchett is a superb creator of strong female characters. The following exchange ( for example) would not be out of place in Wodehouse:

“The female mind is certainly a devious one, my lord.”
Vetinari looked at his secretary in surprise. “Well, of course it is. It has to deal with the male one.”

Terry Pratchett (Unseen Academicals)

Terry Pratchett has also been a fitting winner of the Bollinger Wodehouse prize, awarded to authors who best capture the ‘comic spirit’ of Wodehouse. Many Wodehouse fans would agree!

4. Jane Austen

“It is not everyone,’ said Elinor, ‘who has your passion for dead leaves.”

 Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility)

Elinor Dashwood might as easily have been speaking to Madeline Bassett, or indeed to thousands of modern females who delight in the romance of Jane Austen, but don’t ‘get’ the jokes. In a world where the commercialisation of Jane Austen has depreciated her work through ill-conceived adaptations for the soupy ‘bosoms and bonnet’ brigade, it is heart-warming to know there are still many – men and women – who read and admire Austen for her sharp, satirical humour.

Douglas Adams, in his introduction to Sunset at Blandings (cited above) also included Austen in his list of greatest writers. Oddly enough, Wodehouse wasn’t a great fan of Jane Austen. One can only presume he started with the ‘wrong’ book.

5. Jerome K. Jerome

“It would not be a good place for the heroine of a modern novel to stay at.  The heroine of a modern novel is always “divinely tall,” and she is ever “drawing herself up to her full height.”  At the “Barley Mow” she would bump her head against the ceiling each time she did this.”    Jerome K. Jerome (Three Men in a Boat)

Wodehouse, who preferred his heroines pint-sized, might well have approved. He would certainly have been familiar with Jerome K. Jerome’s much-loved classic ‘Three Men and a Boat’, which was published in 1889 when young Plum was still in sailor suits. Was Wodehouse a fan? Either the record is silent on the matter, or it’s a record I couldn’t find. Experts please advise.

Three Men in a Boat is a work often cited by Wodehouse readers. I read it following a recommendation from a fellow Plum fan several years ago, and I recall attracting unwanted attention while reading it on The Tube – as my feeble attempts to suppress laughter resulted in a fit of bodily heaving and shaking. Here is a classic excerpt:

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I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch – hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into – some fearful, devastating scourge, I know – and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms – discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it – wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance – found, as I expected, that I had that too, – began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically – read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee….I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.

I went to my medical man. He is an old chum of mine, and feels my pulse, and looks at my tongue, and talks about the weather, all for nothing, when I fancy I’m ill; so I thought I would do him a good turn by going to him now. “What a doctor wants,” I said, “is practice. He shall have me. He will get more practice out of me than out of seventeen hundred of your ordinary, commonplace patients, with only one or two diseases each.” So I went straight up and saw him, and he said:

“Well, what’s the matter with you?”

I said:

“I will not take up your time, dear boy, with telling you what is the matter with me. Life is brief, and you might pass away before I had finished. But I will tell you what is NOT the matter with me. I have not got housemaid’s knee. Why I have not got housemaid’s knee, I cannot tell you; but the fact remains that I have not got it. Everything else, however, I HAVE got.”

These five authors were the indisputable (and deserving) favourites of our group, but if you think these choices reflect rather predictable reading tastes, think again!  The reading lists of Wodehouse fans are incredibly diverse, and I look forward to sharing more with you over the coming days and weeks.

You might also like to join the ‘Fans of P G Wodehouse‘ Facebook community (which is just one of many excellent Wodehouse groups) as well our new Facebook bookclub ‘The Wood Hills Literary Society’. We look forward to meeting you.

HP

Wodehouse’s women: in the eye of the beholder

girl on the boatWodehouse offers so much more to female readers than he is usually given credit for. A few months ago, I responded to criticism of Indian Summer of an Uncle by Janet Cameron (see my case for the defence). I feel sad that Cameron’s cursory appraisal of perceived gender issues has blinded her to the exquisite joys of his work. So today, I want to talk about why Wodehouse is a great writer of, and for, women.

First, Wodehouse presents readers with heroines who are full of pep and ginger;  independent, sometimes feisty, characters who frequently outsmart the men. What a refreshing change this makes from the kind of insipid, helpless females we so often see in romantic fiction (often created by women writers).

And I am thrilled to find other female readers who feel the same. In her excellent piece P.G. Wodehouse, Feminist’, Marilee Scot discusses Wodehouse heroine Joan Valentine, who appears in Something Fresh (1915). Marilee says,

“…the woman has already had an adventurous life: she’s worked a variety of jobs (including magazine-writing), lives alone in a London flat, introduces herself to the young man she’ll eventually marry, and has excellent ideas for scarab-stealing.”

My favourite Wodehouse heroine, Jane Hubbard (The Girl on the Boat, 1921) is a crack shot with an elephant gun. Nor are feminine youth and beauty prerequisites for romance in Wodehouse’s world. His women find love regardless of age, class, shape or size. ‘Plus-sized’ Maudie Stubbs is a widow of mature age, a butler’s niece, former barmaid, and Detective Agency proprietress. She is touchingly reunited with former flame ‘Tubby Parsloe’ (now Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe) who returns her affection, preferring her to the young woman he’d been about to marry. In Galahad at Blandings (1964), Lord Emsworth’s nephew Wilfred Allsop falls in love with his Uncle’s ‘pig-girl’ Monica Simmons, whose solid build and agricultural occupation could hardly be less feminine. Wilfred Allsop objects strongly when his friend Tipton ‘Tippy’ Plimsoll points this out.

“I’m sorry you think she looks like an all-in wrestler,’ he said stiffly. ‘To me she seems to resemble one of those Norse goddesses. However , be that as it may, I love her, Tippy. I fell in love with her at first sight.’ Recalling the picture of Miss Simmons in smock and trousers with a good deal of mud on her face, Tipton found this difficult to believe, but he was sympathetic.”

In Wodehouse’s art, as in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This puts him above most writers I know, male or female. who rarely take the trouble to create ‘unattractive’ female characters, let alone make them central figures in romance. Of course Wodehouse offers plenty of attractive women too. All this makes Wodehouse a terrific writer of, and for, women (Terry Pratchett is another) and it’s hardly surprising to learn that he has a large and enthusiastic female following. His fans include Dr Sophie Ratcliffe from the University of Oxford, who edited P. G. Wodehouse: A life in Letters. Fittingly, she dedicated the book:

For all Wodehouse’s heroines,

imaginary and real, especially Leonora.

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (2010)Whenever I begin something new from (Bollinger Wodehouse prize-winner) Terry Pratchett  these days, I prepare myself for the possibility that it might not sparkle quite so much as old favourites, like Carpe Jugulum. I remind myself that Pratchett has given us so much already, and that he’s entitled to ‘slip’ a little since being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2007. But Pratchett isn’t slipping. Each new book is as fresh, engaging, and bloody marvellous as the last, and I consider recent works such as Dodger (2012) and I Shall Wear Midnight[ (2010) among his best.

I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to Terry Pratchett, not just for the pleasure his writing has given me, but for demonstrating what can happen when intelligence, humour and IDEAS work together.

How people think they can achieve anything seriously worthwhile without humour is beyond me. But it’s worse than that. Our world is run – and our ‘important thinking’ done, predominantly, by people who feel humour is out of place in the world of ideas. It is relegated to the status of ‘light’ entertainment. But humour can offer another kind of light.

I Shall Wear Midnight‘ is an excellent example of what I’m talking about. It can be enjoyed from start to end with great pleasure. There is comic relief in spades from the Nac Mac Feegle (err… perhaps spades is not the best word…). But ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’ is also a serious book, with a serious foe in The Cunning Man. He is the pungent, lingering hate of a long-dead witch-smeller, who generates hate whereever he goes because ‘poison goes where poison’s welcome’. Fortunately on the Discworld, a witch-hunt will lead to a witch – in this case Tiffany Aching – who will put a stop to things.

There are plenty of extraordinary people in our world who would stand up to a Cunning Man, if only it were that simple. The causes of hate and fear are more complex, but we have our cunning men and women too. They don’t dress in black or give off pungent aromas of evil, but often masquerade as ‘respectable’, sometimes unassailable, pilars of the community. The job of unmasking our villians in high places so often falls to our courageous comedians. With humour perhaps our only weapon, it’s unsurprising to find our institutions and establishments so devoid of it.

Long live Terry Pratchett!

HP

 

Ridiculous Beginnings

Pigs Have Wings (1952)

All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.

Albert Camus

The world of literature is blessed with many brilliantly conceived and well-remembered beginnings, celebrated in fitting tributes across the blogoshpere. Inspired by Albert Camus’s appreciation of the ridiculous, I have been contemplating great beginnings in humorous fiction.

Terry Pratchett, the modern master of intelligent ridiculousness, begins Hogfather on a similar theme.

Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.

Further thoughts on the subject are offered by Douglas Adams in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe .

The story so far:

In the beginning the universe was created.

This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.

One of my favourite beginnings comes from P.G Wodehouse’s Leave it to Psmith.

At the open window of the great library of Blandings Castle, drooping like a wet sock, as was his habit when he had nothing to prop his spine against, the Earl of Emsworth, that amiable and boneheaded peer, stood gazing out over his domain.

Wodehouse was a true master of the ridiculous and, despite what you may may have heard, dished out the treatment to all classes and political persuasions in equal measure. In Pigs Have Wings, he begins below stairs.

Beach the butler, wheezing a little after navigating the stairs, for he was not the streamlined young under-footman he had been thirty years ago, entered the library of Blandings Castle, a salver piled with letters in his hand.

One of the most famous first line of all time, and another favourite, comes from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

A provocatively ridiculous beginning from another author who delighted in the absurdity of human society. Jane Austen is shamefully regarded by too many as a mere romance novelist when she deserves pride of place among satirists. Perhaps this is because audiences are more familiar with (some) film and television adaptations that replace much of the humour with cleavage and bonnets.

So ends my beginning. In quoting the beginnings of others, I’m conscious that I have offered very little in the way of original thought, but I think it’s important to always begin with respect for what has gone before.

HP

Wodehouse Game – cntd 3

Wodehouse lovers may be keen on this idea by fellow blogger Swymmwys to create a P G Wodehouse computer game.

swymmwys

Reading Fun Inc by Tom Chatfield is giving me lots of ideas regarding a potential game based on the work of P G Wodehouse.

One interesting tie up or connection with Terry Pratchett is that he is apparently a keen participant in the virtual world of Second Life, and when he was asked in 2008 if Second Life would ever appear in his books he replied “As far as I am concerned, my books are Second Life” (Fun Inc 2010 Ed, page 118).

Seems to me that maybe one way to create a Wodehouse game (without commercial backing) might be for a number of Wodehouse enthusiasts to go online and enter the Second Life “world” and start creating suitable settings – country houses, rural English villages, swanky city apartments, and of course not forgetting the Drones Club. Second Life being “self build” by the participants it seems at least theoretically…

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