Wodehouse: A Life

Wodehouse: A LifeWodehouse: A Life by Robert McCrum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As one might expect, an author who published 90+ books in his lifetime (along with plays, articles, lyrics etc.) didn’t have much time for pursuits outside of writing. He was an unusually single-minded, almost compulsive, writer. Wodehouse is a tough subject for a biography – elusive and opaque – a “laureate of repression” in his fiction, as McCrum puts it. The most dramatic event in his life was his greatest public failing (the WWII broadcasts – a point where his single-mindedness led him seriously astray), and the rest of his life was consumed by his work, for the most part. McCrum does a nice job of avoiding unwarranted speculation about “the psychology of the individual” while also providing some helpful context. I enjoyed it.

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LOL, with comps. of A. Mulliner

To seize this child by the hand and drag him to the nearest confectioner and baker was with Archibald Mulliner the work of a moment. He pulled out his note-case and was soon in possession of a fine quartern loaf. He thrust it into the child’s hands.

“Bread,” he said, cordially.

The child recoiled. The look of pain on his face had deepened.

“It’s all right,” Archibald assured him. “Nothing to pay. This is on me. A free gift. One loaf, with comps. of A. Mulliner.”

Gently patting the stripling’s head he turned away, modestly anxious to be spared any tearful gratitude, and he had hardly gone a couple of steps when something solid struck a violent blow on the nape of the neck. For an instant, he thought of thunderbolts, falling roofs, and explosions which kill ten. Then, looking down, he perceived the quartern loaf rolling away along the gutter.

The fact was, the child had been a little vexed. At first, when Archibald had started steering him towards the shop, he had supposed my nephew unbalanced. Then, observing that among the objects for sale at the emporium were chocolate bars, jujubes, and all-day suckers, he had brightened a little. Still dubious as to his companion’s sanity, he had told himself that an all-day sucker tastes just as good, even if it proceeds from a dotty donor. And then, just as hope had begun to rise high, this man had fobbed him off with a loaf of bread.

Little wonder that he had chafed. His mood was bitter. And when moods are bitter in Bottleton East direct action follows automatically.

Well, Archibald did what he could. Stooping and picking up the loaf, he darted after the child with bared teeth and flaming eyes. It was his intention to overtake him and fill him up with bread, regardless of his struggles and protests. The thing seemed to him a straight issue. The child needed bread, and he was jolly well going to get it – even if it meant holding him down with one hand and shoving the stuff down his throat with the other. In all the history of social work in London’s East End there can seldom have been an instance of one of the philanthropic rich being more firmly bent on doing good and giving of his abundance.

His efforts, however, were fruitless.

“Archibald and the Masses” in Young Men in Spats

A snag

I looked at Uncle Percy, confidently expecting the salvo of applause, and was amazed to find him shaking the bean once more.

“It wouldn’t work,” he said.

“Why on earth not? It’s a pip.”

He kept on oscillating the lozenge.

“No Bertie, the scheme is not practical. Your aunt, my dear boy, is a suspicious woman. She probes beneath the surface and asks questions. And the first one she would ask on this occasion would be, Why, merely in order to discuss wedding arrangements with my ward’s future husband did I dress up as Sindbad the Sailor? You can see for your self how awkward that question would be, and how difficult to answer.”

The point was well taken.

P.G. Wodehouse, Joy in the Morning

Wooster and Jeeves

I had had a sort of vague idea, don’t you know, that if I stuck close to Motty and went about the place with him, I might act as a bit of a damper on the gaiety. What I mean is, I thought that if, when he was being the life and soul of the party, he were to catch my reproving eye he might ease up a trifle on the revelry. So the next night I took him along to supper with me. It was the last time. I’m a quiet, peaceful sort of chappie who has lived all his life in London, and I can’t stand the pace these swift sportsmen from the rural districts set. What I mean to say is, I’m all for rational enjoyment and so forth, but I think a chappie makes himself conspicuous when he throws soft-boiled eggs at the electric fan. And decent mirth and all that sort of thing are all right, but I do bar dancing on tables and having to dash all over the place dodging waiters, managers, and chuckers-out, just when you want to sit still and digest.

P.G. Wodehouse, “Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest” – I am finding the Wooster and Jeeves stories hilarious (can’t recommend the TV series though – only made it through a couple of episodes – it doesn’t have the necessary linguistic “fizz” as Bertie might say).