En Passant

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.


  1. I had no idea you were a fellow Wodehouse fan.

    I’ve got them all and still re-read them periodically, especially at times of stress, because living in his world for a story or two is calming and soothing.

    Reading Wodehouse led me to Waugh, who said about Wodehouse: “Mr. Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.”

    Favourite Wodehouse quote: “He wore the unmistakable look of a man about to be present at a row between women, and only a wet cat in a strange back yard bears itself with less jauntiness than a man faced with such a prospect.”


    1. Probably the Jeeves dictum in the post. But asking me for a favorite is like asking me to choose my favorite Colt SAA.

  2. The biggest problem with reading P.G. Wodehouse is the distinct possibility of intestinal and cardiac damage from continuous and unrelenting laughter.

  3. Absolutely LOVE Wodehouse. My life was immeasurably poorer before I started reading his books.

    “While not disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled” or
    “If this is Upper Silesia one wonders what Lower Silesia is like”

  4. Once I discovered Wodehouse in high school, I read through every book of his that the library had. Even the golf stories, and I hate golf.

  5. “…NRA mouthpiece Jay Nordlinger…”

    Uh, did you mean NRO (National Review Online, not National Reconnaissance Office which used to never have existed)?

  6. “Wodehouse left England for a career as a Hollywood scriptwriter, only to become embroiled in the Cold War-McCarthyism of the Fifties.”


    I have never heard that Wodehouse had any socialist views or Communist associations. And during WW II, he was (ignorantly and falsely) labelled a Nazi sympathizer.

    Wodehouse’s Hollywood sojourn was in 1929-1931. He was paid $2,000 a week, but was hardly used. After his contract ended, he gave an interview with humorous but scathing commentary on the follies and waste of the studio system.

    He then returned to Britain, but lived in France for tax reasons. During WW II, he was trapped in France in 1940, and interned by the Germans as an enemy alien.

    Then in 1941, a German acquaintance persuaded him to make some humorous talks about his experience for German radio. The German suggested this would reassure his fans around the world that he was OK. The talks were in no way political nor even favorable to the Germans, but they caused a hysterical overreaction in Britain. Wodehouse was savagely attacked – labelled a Nazi sympathizer and traitor, comparable to Lord Haw-haw. Minister of Information Duff Cooper pushed these attacks on the BBC.

    He was released from internment when he turned 60, and moved to Paris. After liberation, he was threatened with prosecution and variously harassed (arrested by French authorities; thrown out of his hotel when Cooper came to stay there). He was never formally charged. But the mud stuck, especially among people who never heard the talks and identified Wodehouse with the upper class he made fun of.

    (The story is very much like the present-day epidemic of SJW media-lynchings, and an acute example of how easily official power can be abused.)

    Wodehouse never returned to Britain; he moved to the US, and lived on Long Island until his death. He wrote a great deal, but had no further involvement with Broadway or Hollywood.

  7. My dad, the Appalachian Baptist minister, introduced me to Wodehouse when I was a kid. My sisters and I then proceeded to check out our small town library’s complete collection over the next several years. It’s amazing that children living in East Tennessee in the 1980s could appreciate humor based on the early 20th century British upper class, but Wodehouse was a great writer. I recently downloaded the Jeeves Omnibus for my Kindle. I need to set aside some time to go live in that world.

  8. re:
    going swinging

    During my nearly seven decades, I continually notice the swing of the pendulum.

    In the 1950s, the socialists were targeted.
    In the 2010s, the socialists are targeting.

    Until the 1960s, TheGovernmentAgents were small and unorganized.
    Today, TheGovernmentAgents are immense and organized.

    Up to 2010, christians persecuted mohammedans.
    Now, mohammedans are persecuting.

    Until the boomers, folks tended to die before 60.
    Boomers are vivacious until our 80s and older.
    Now, with soy and pesticides in food and water, youngsters are predicted to die younger with each new generation, their terminal years tubed in-n-out in hospice beds.
    Millennials may be decrepit by their 50s.

    And after decades of preferring flagrant rock-n-roll, I switched to appreciating classical music, especially opera.

    Hence, I rarely get worked-up about little local dramas.
    That is another lesson the dogs patiently taught me.

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