Whenever I want the literary equivalent of comfort food, I turn to the works of P.G. Wodehouse. He created a comic world unique in literature, as much as a fantasy world as Middle-earth and Narnia.
In the 1990’s, when the BBC produced a series about two of Mr. Wodehouse’s most famous characters, Bertie Wooster and his gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves, the stories were set in a kind of alternative universe which looked a lot like the 1920’s but operated with it own rules. In Plum Sauce, a great book for readers just discovering the wacky land of Wodehouse or ones who are dedicated fans, author Richard Usborne outlines some of the rules of this world:
- “It is always hay-harvest weather in England: for 54 holes of golf a day, or for a swim before breakfast in the lake, morning in the hammock under the cedars, tea on the lawn, coffee on the terrace after dinner.”
- “Money is something you should inherit, get monthly as an allowance from an uncle, win at the races, or borrow” from a friend.
- “Country pubs are open all day long and their home-brew ale is very potent.”
- “All decent-sized country houses have cellars, coal-sheds and potting sheds for locking people up in.”
- “Most handsome men have feet of clay.”
- “Men and girls in love think only of marriage.”
- “No decent man may cancel, or even refuse, an engagement to a girl.”
- “A country J.P. can call the local policeman and have anybody arrested and held in a cell on suspicion of anything.”
- The night you go to a nightclub is the night it gets raided by the police.”
I prefer Mr. Wodehouse’s short stories to his novels, and my favorite ones are about Bertie Wooster, the idle rich young man who always gets himself into trouble because he’s not too bright and his friends take advantage of him, and his servant Jeeves, who always comes to the rescue. Bertie is the narrator of his stories and he’s such a likable character that it’s easy to be carried along on his escapades.
My other set of favorite characters is the vast Threepwood clan. Most of those stories concern Clarence, Lord Emsworth, Earl of Blandings, and his many relatives. Lord Emsworth is a widower in his sixties who would like nothing better than to hang out in his castle, smell his roses, and raise his prize-winning pig, the Empress of Blandings. But his troop of strong-minded sisters wants him to behave like a respectable member of the aristocracy. Not being the sharpest knife in the drawer and lacking a spine, Lord Emsworth is often at his sisters’ mercy, but his younger brother Galahad can be counted on to come to the rescue.
Because Mr. Wodehouse made his living at writing, he wrote A LOT. So you don’t have to wade through mediocre stories to find the gems, here are my recommendations:
From Wodehouse on Crime:
- “Strychnine int the Soup”
- “The Crime Wave at Blandings”. This may be my absolute favorite Wodehouse short story.
- “The Smile That Wins”
- “Without the Option”. A Wooster and Jeeves story.
- “Aunt Agatha Takes the Count”. Another Wooster and Jeeves story.
From Blandings Castle: The first six stories all concern the escapades at Blandings Castle. Two of my favorites are ” PIG-HOO-O-O-O-EY!” and “The Go-Getter”, but read them all because it makes the last one “Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend” that much sweeter. For once, Lord Emsworth finds his courage.
From The Best of Wodehouse:
- “Honeysuckle Cottage”. This story is a hoot for writers.
- “Jeeves and the Impending Doom”
Over Seventy is Mr. Wodehouse’s autobiography and may be the funniest thing he ever wrote.
On Thursday, I will write about what I learned from reading P.G. Wodehouse.