Friday, January 14, 2011

What Ho! What Ho! --- A Wodehouse Enthusiast Speaks

P.G. Wodehouse

"It is a strange force that compels a writer to be a humorist," writers Dorothy Parker in her foreword to a collection of humorous writings by S.J. Perelman. Indeed, in a world where all we normally encounter is a cavalcade of grimaces and frowns, a host of un-humoristic happenings which opens up before us a horizon of intimidations imperviously beaded with rain drops of blind ignavia and hopelessness, we need some egress, some rest-room to run into and save ourselves from impending doom. And it is in this context of impenetrable gloom and despair that humor strikes up the flare of joy and gaiety by distracting us from the blemish-worn face of stark reality and focusing our attention on the lighter side of life. Humor is God's gift to a grief stricken heart, and humorists like P.G. Wodehouse are theandric beings, messengers of the divine father, that bring us the gift of comedy.  

Of late I have been making a study of Wodehouse's humorous tomes, and I must tell you that ever since I had finished the first chapter of Inimitable Jeeves there was no stopping me. After that time I have read and listened to a mixed bag of Wodehouse classics like Right ho, Jeeves, Code of Woosters, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, Uncle Dynamite, Carry on, Jeeves, Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, etc. I now proudly own a treasure trove of Woodhouse goodies that had cost me a fortune but are an investment for life. I am braced by the fact that if the unhappy maiden known to us by the sobriquet of grief, ever thinks of marking me as her own, I shall gallantly don the armor of Wodehouse-humor and sally forth.  Oh, what a mere stretch in the gallows of grief would do to me? I reckon I would voice, topping my words with a mocking laughter. With Wodehouse under my belt I am up for the ride, baby, I would say sticking out my tongue in the direction of the grief-maiden.

Having finished the omnibus collection of Wodehouse, I have come to the point that there are two kinds of people on earth: people who have read Wodehouse, and people who have not. My message to the folks who fall into the latter group is that they should go and boil their heads. I could not believe that there had even been a time when Bertie Wooster and his personal gentleman, the shrewd, Jeeves were not part of known literary circle. I am appalled, rather consternated, to even think that I too had once belonged to the unholy confederacy of Wodehouse agnostics. But now, having remedied that defect, I am well-groomed and even scholarly in Wodehouse literature. I have proudly digested all the facts that are there to know about Bertie and Jeeves and the band of other Wodehouse characters, and in the process have derived so much joy and fun that the painful facts of reality now seem faraway concerns to me. Thanks to Wodehouse, my natural disposition to being gloomy and cheerless has been replaced by the chummy atmosphere of prosperous gaiety. Also, reading Wodehouse has sharpened my tongue and added such words and phrases like "rally round," "insouciant," "chum," "bucks you up," etc., to my glossary of the English language.

Wodehouse Characters by Kevin Cornell

I was once asked by another avid Wodehouse reader, a personal friend, which Wodehouse book is my favorite. At the time I had been pretty baffled by her query, and had failed to choose one singular classic in a company of thousand sparkling pieces of Wodehouse's humor writings. The situation of failing to choose one in a million has not changed for me; however, after careful consideration, I give my tip of the hat to Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves--a novel where Wodehouse, I think, has surpassed himself. Of his myriad characters I am in love with Roderick Spode, the self-proclaimed leader of the Black Shorts, the proprietor of UlilyJ, the ventripotent, anger-rich dictator who worships Madeline Basset. I give my second vote of approval to the newt-fancier, orange juice addict, fish-faced lover of Madeline Basset, Gussy Fink-Nottle; and trailing behind him in the third position is the lady Basset herself, filled with such outrageous fancies as stars being "God's daisy chain" and rabbits being "gnomes in attendance to the Fairy Queen". This "droopy, saucer-eyed blonde" is an example of Wodehouse's brilliant sense of humor. In her we see the "squashy soupiness" of the delicately nurtured female species, a group of women, I think, we modern Amazons unanimously despise.

Now, those of you who are so bucked up by my generous praises of Wodehouse literature and cannot wait before you head for the library, or the bookstore, I urge them to wait and listen up. If you are not a bibliophile, I advise you to stay away from the heavy-weight hardbacks and buy the dramatized versions of Wodehouse classics presented by BBC starring Richard Briers as Bertie Wooster and  Michael Hordern as Bertie's man-servant, the inimitable Jeeves. You can also try the sitcom Jeeves and Wooster to get the feeling; however, I found the series a tad frivolous, and annoying, too, at times. They had changed the subject matter of several of the stories a good deal and in the process had jettisoned much of the meaty-bits, if you will, that had made the original stories comic masterpieces. Yet, it is a good respite from the rotten Jersey Shore culture; you might also learn some classic British words in the process and use them in your quotidian speech.

I hope you have a great weekend.