Tuesday, February 1, 2005

The Alternate Universe of P.G. Wodehouse

Some of my fond memories are of reading P. G. Wodehouse on my commute in Mumbai's crowded local trains during my college years. The minute I opened a Wodehouse book I would be entranced. Fellow commuters would look at me wonderingly as I laughed out loud or watch in amusement my struggles to contain my guffaws. Often I used to look up from the book after reading a particularly hilarious passage, grinning like an idiot to see questioning looks on the faces of the people around me.

That was some years ago and, to tell the truth, that idiotic grin still persists each time I savor a Wodehouse. How can you resist laughing out loud when you read the passage in which Gussie Fink-Nottle, awards prizes to the pupils at Market Snodsbury Grammar School steeped to the gills with orange juice laced with alcohol.

And how can you resist grinning that idiotic grin again when you come across passages like this (one of my favorites from The Inimitable Jeeves that I happened to read again in an H2G2 entry):

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."

Why did I remember Wodehouse again? I was exploring Jabberwock when I came across this link to an excellent piece in the Washington Post on the alternate universe created by P G Wodehouse. Reading it was a revelation -- it pointed out how the ideal utopian universe created by Wodehouse contrasted with his own life. Wodehouse ignored the real life altogether in his works. "The man did his best to pretend that the 20th century never happened, " says his biographer Robert McCrum "He refuses -- he absolutely refuses -- to face reality. Reality is bad."

And Wodehouse succeeded in doing that despite many difficulties. On his childhood, the Washington post piece has this to say: "Plum's mother and father were 'at best remote, at worst utterly foreign.' "

And of his experiences during the Second World War: He "neglected to get out of the way of the German army, winding up in a series of internment camps." A camp commander asked him to do some radio broadcasts and he agreed. "The broadcasts were light, humorous and politically tone-deaf. They put him so deep in the gumbo that he never fully emerged."
And for once he faced reality squarely. "I haven't a twinge of self-pity," he wrote a friend. "I made an ass of myself, and must pay the penalty."

It is amazing that after the war Wodehouse (now settled in the USA) continued working away at what he did best producing classic Wodehousian comedy without giving a damn to the outside world.

"There are two ways of writing," said Wodehouse. One of these is writing "a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether . . ."

He remained true to this precept till he passed away on the Valentine's Day of 1975.




Some of Wodehouse's works are in the public domain. You can download some of his works by clicking here and here. Click here to read another of his works.

6 comments:

Kaci said...

Wow. I'm glad i read this. I've never really searched Wodehouse out as an interesting author... aside from a brief allusion to him in Louisa Alcott's Little Women. I plan to download a few of those books now. Thanks for sharing.

mandar talvekar said...

Hey, many thanks! Do you know how wonderful it is to introduce someone to an author and his/her works? And especially if the author happens to be Wodehouse.

ashok rajagopalan said...

Love Wodehouse, love me. Meet you at the Drones.
Pipperty tonk and all that, old egg.

ashok rajagopalan said...

Love Wodehouse, love me. Meet you at the Drones.
Pipperty tonk and all that, old egg.

Masalaboard said...

Hey, many thanks! Do you know how wonderful it is to introduce someone to an author and his/her works? And especially if the author happens to be Wodehouse.

Mumbai Diva said...

i love coming across posts on PGW. I think my favourite all time piece is Gussie Fink-Nottle's speech.