P. G. Wodehouse

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A writer of popular fiction, Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (pronounced "wood-house") was born in England in 1881, and lived most of his later life in the USA, where he eventually took citizenship some years before his death in 1975. Not surprisingly, his first given name was often shortened to the nickname "Plum" by people who liked him -- of whom there were very many, if sales of his books are any indication.

Wodehouse enjoyed a long and successful career, able to claim full- or part-authorship of an astounding number of plays, musicals, songs, screenplays, short stories, essays and novels. A man of simple tastes and pleasures, he seemed happiest when working, seated before his trusty typewriter with a pipe full of fresh tobacco in his mouth and a small furry animal on his lap (in correspondence with friends, he had two favourite topics: writing, and dogs).

Though he began his career writing adventure stories for English school-boys, and continued for years to write whatever he thought would sell, Wodehouse eventually settled on and perfected a wonderfully frothy and particularly English kind of light romantic farce -- as he put it, "musical comedy without the music." In sharp contrast to the 20th century trend in popular culture to make everything harder, grittier and ever more violent and "realistic," Wodehouse's stories avoid strict realism. Instead, he created for his readers a world where no-one really suffers, the sun rarely fails to shine, and the conflicts necessary to drive the plot never grow more serious than a courtship temporarily gone awry, or a dispute between two gentlemen over the suitability of a particularly loud dinner jacket. Though Wodehouse constantly poked fun at a wide range of targets -- from the English class system, to the ivory tower of academe, to institutionalised religion -- his satire was of the sweetest and gentlest variety possible. In fact, it is this studied innocence that arguably provides his detractors with their only real ammunition.

It is worth pointing out that, despite Wodehouse's repeated intention only to write entertainment for entertainment's sake, his work has long been revered for its richness of language. Any one of Wodehouse's stories contains an astonishing variety of vocabulary, a capacity for literary allusion to satisfy the most intellectual of tastes, a wealth of witty dialogue, and an unsurpassed talent for simile. His fans have numbered many in the loftiest reaches of literary study, some of whom awarded Wodehouse an honourary doctorate from Oxford University in 1939. It might also be mentioned that Wodehouse's work has given inspiration to countless other writers, including, as I've been told, a promising young author named Douglas Adams (and if you haven't yet heard of him, my sources assure me that he will soon break through to genuine popularity).

Wodehouse is probably best known as the creator of Jeeves, the unfailing, unflappable valet and "gentleman's gentleman" to Bertie Wooster, a young man of independent means and somewhat questionable intellect. Also very popular are the stories from Blandings Castle, involving Lord Emsworth and his prized pig, the Empress of Blandings. Other prominent characters who appear in the Wodehouse canon include Psmith, Ukridge, Pongo Twistleton-Twistleton's Uncle Fred, and an endless host of fascinating young women and hopelessly smitten young men, along with the occasional threatening elder aunt whose bark is invariably worse than her bite.

My favourite Wodehouse book: "Right Ho, Jeeves" (though any of the Jeeves or Blandings stories will do). I shall always remember taking an early morning bus to work in a dreary suburb of Toronto, tears welling up in my eyes as I read Gussie Fink-Nottle's address to the graduating class of the local girls' school. As I finally staggered in to the office, still laughing, an editor friend of mine said, "you mean you're reading Wodehouse for the first time? Well, I envy you."

My favourite Wodehouse excerpt (well, one of many, actually), from the novel "The Inimitable Jeeves" of 1923:

After breakfast I lit a cigarette and went to the open window to inspect the day. It certainly was one of the best and brightest.

"Jeeves," I said.

"Sir?" said Jeeves. He had been clearing away the breakfast things, but at the sound of the young master's voice cheesed it courteously.

"You were absolutely right about the weather. It is a juicy morning."

"Decidedly, sir."

"Spring and all that."

"Yes, sir."

"In the spring, Jeeves, a livelier iris gleams upon the burnished dove."

"So I have been informed, sir."

"Right ho! Then bring me my whangee, my yellowest shoes, and the old green Homburg. I'm going into the Park to do pastoral dances."

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