In an otherwise-unmemorable piece on woke-scolds ending Comedy As We Know It, NRO mouthpiece Jay Nordlinger says this:
I received a note from my old friend Larry Shackley, a longtime NR reader and a great admirer of P. G. Wodehouse. In fact, Larry is reading through the complete Wodehouse — complete — right now.
…as though this were somehow unusual. Maybe it is, for Murkins who — for shame — don’t know who Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was.
To call P.G. Wodehouse one of the most-read humorist writers of the 20th century is to understate the thing — he is quite possibly the greatest humorist writer, ever. Here’s a personal indicator.
When I left South Africa in 1986, I brought with me three suitcases of clothes, my cameras and a few other things I couldn’t bear to part with. I brought only two books with me (from a library of well over a thousand), and those were The World of Psmith (a compendium of three books) and The Jeeves Omnibus (another compendium). Both were written by P.G. Wodehouse. I reasoned — correctly as it turned out, in those pre-Amazon times — that I wouldn’t be able to find them here.
And there was just no way I was going to live in a house without Wodehouse.
Now, a lot of people don’t “get” Wodehouse because most of his situations are concerned with utterly trivial concerns — trivial maybe to us, nowadays, and certainly only non-trivial to the English upper classes circa 1928. (One story involves the “theft” of a wonderful cook by one titled twerp from another titled household.) But that doesn’t stop the brilliant writing from making one burst out with uncontrollable laughter occasionally.
And it should be said that Wodehouse himself was very much a fervent socialist — his take on the peccadilloes of the English upper classes is almost invariably satirical — yet his satire is not the bitter waspishness of Private Eye magazine, but gentle and almost indulgent. Look at these idiots, he seems to say, see how foolish and inconsequential they are. One of my favorite lines from the Bertie Wooster stories comes when Bertie is beset with looming trouble and catastrophe, and says to his long-suffering “gentleman’s gentleman” Jeeves as he is being dressed for dinner:
“At a time like this, Jeeves, I wonder whether the length of one’s trousers actually matters,” and receives the gentle rebuke:
“There is never a time, sir, when the length of one’s trousers doesn’t matter.”
Wodehouse left England for a career as a Hollywood scriptwriter, only to become embroiled in the Cold War-McCarthyism of the Fifties. How ironic, then, that he, the one-time socialist, should write of that time:
“Humorists have been scared out of the business by the touchiness now prevailing in every section of the community. Wherever you look, on every shoulder there is a chip, in every eye a cold glitter warning you, if you know what is good for you, not to start anything.”
What was practiced on the socialists of that era is being repeated with even more venom and coldness by the P.C. (and mostly socialist) tribe of today.
Anyway, enough of that. I think I’ll marmalade a slice of toast, and go and read A Pelican At Blandings, featuring the wonderfully-named Galahad Threepwood of whom it was said (and I paraphrase) that he was so ardent a party animal that he hadn’t slept till age fifty. And if anyone should think that I resemble Galahad’s elder brother Clarence, the Earl of Emsworth, who looks with utter bewilderment on the modern world and prefers to retreat to his library and read — well, you’d be absolutely correct.