Wodehouse and comic novels

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Reviews, recommendations, books to avoid. What have you been reading?

Wodehouse and comic novels

Postby Sprocket » September 12th, 2013, 7:30 am

Excellent article in last Saturday's 'Guardian Review' about comic novels. I've added a comment to it about Wodehouse, who I've just decided to discover. I've bought all the Jeeves books in the new 'Everyman' edition, and am reading the first, 'The inimitable Jeeves'. I love his similes, such as someone who looked like "a sheep with a secret sorrow". Any other Wodehouse fans?
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Re: Wodehouse and comic novels

Postby GregB » September 12th, 2013, 12:11 pm

I was a Wodehouse fan in my late teens and I worked through most of his books, the Blandings Castle series as well as the Jeeves stories. Delightful stuff - not laugh-out-loud material, perhaps, but a wonderful sense of the absurd and affectionate depictions of those upper crust silly arses with names like Gussie Fink-Nottle and 'Catsmeat' Potter Pirbright. I recall the 60's TV series with Ian Carmichael just right as Bertie Wooster and Dennis Price as the long-suffering but impeccably-mannered and beautifully-spoken Jeeves, much superior in my view to the later Hugh Laurie/Stephen Fry version. (The Blandings Castle series with Ralph Richardson as the bumbling old pig-loving Lord Blandings was pretty good, too.)

By coincidence 'Plum' (as Wodehouse was known) popped up the other day in one of the books I'm currently reading, 'Paris After The Liberation' by Artemis Cooper and her husband, historian Antony Beevor, with an account of his detention for a series of light-hearted broadcasts he made from Germany during the war. He was let off, of course. There's also an anecdote about his being introduced to George Orwell in Paris on a visit by the latter. After their meeting, Wodehouse apparently commented, "Gloomy sort of a chap!"

The article is interesting. It made me realise (amongst other things) that David Lodge - who cropped up here recently - took some things too seriously whereas my idea of a comic writer is someone who treats everything as equally absurd and everyone as fair game for their witty barbs. Dry, deadpan humour is also more to my taste. Anthony Powell excelled at it while Evelyn Waugh too often went over the top, in my view. Oh, and it reminded me that Ian Carmichael (Bertie Wooster - see above) had played Jim Dixon in the film version of Kingsley Amis's 'Lucky Jim'.
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Re: Wodehouse and comic novels

Postby Sweet Peace » September 12th, 2013, 11:00 pm

Wodehouse is immensely popular in India. (Google 'Wodehouse popular in India' for a stack of articles.)

Wodehouse had no colonial connection himself and the Raj is largely absent from his books. (There is only one notable exception I can recall from his oeuvre, in a 1935 short story: "Why is there unrest in India? Because its inhabitants eat only an occasional handful of rice. The day when Mahatma Gandhi sits down to a good juicy steak and follows it up with roly-poly pudding and a spot of Stilton, you will see the end of all this nonsense of Civil Disobedience." But Indians saw that comment was meant to elicit laughter, not agreement.)
http://www.pgwodehousesociety.org.uk/Wo ... ct2008.doc
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Re: Wodehouse and comic novels

Postby Pondero » September 12th, 2013, 11:31 pm

I have never read anything of Wodehouse in my life, although my father read him at one time as he mentioned the antics of his butler Jeeves to me. He thought him a humorous writer.
Maybe I should buy one of his books.
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Re: Wodehouse and comic novels

Postby different glory » September 13th, 2013, 3:54 am

One thing Jeeves would never be associated with is 'antics'! :) At least not of his own - plenty happen in the general vicinity.

Off to read the article now. :)

***

post reading, random thoughts:

Mmmm... you feel for the author, in trying to cram into a short newspaper article nearly three hundred years of comic writing; of course he leaves out lots! Humphrey Clinker, Pickwick Papers, Crome Yellow, (wasn't Greg reading that recently?),Three Men in a Boat, (or on the Bummel), Diary of a Provincial lady, Cold Comfort Farm, Adventures in the Skin Trade, Hitchhiker's Guide... (just things I happen to think of; of course there's hundreds more) and then concentrates on the dreary, not-funny, isn't-getting-on-with-women-weird? school of Lucky Jim et al. Why?

I have lots of times started (and sometimes finished ) a book which said on the cover "laugh-out-loud-funny", and not found a single laugh in it. The author may well be self-deluding about how funny his own book is. It would be a hard-hearted audience who didn't at least try to laugh at the jokes when the author is reading directly to them.

I don't think Deaf Sentence was intended to be funny; as the writer says,it's actually about death. I certainly didn't find the complex and nasty business with the undergraduate funny at any point. (short summary -- she tries to entangle the author-figure into a sexual and compromising relationship, and very nearly succeeds; she is psychopathically manipulative and obviously horribly psychologically damaged and fixated on suicide; she actually does 'succeed' with another academic, but the success is clearly (in the novel) set to lead to great damage to everyone involved. Where's the joke?)

Wodehouse is very good, at his best, but patchy, for sure. I'd recommend not too many end-to-end.
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Re: Wodehouse and comic novels

Postby GregB » September 13th, 2013, 12:53 pm

I have lots of times started (and sometimes finished ) a book which said on the cover "laugh-out-loud-funny", and not found a single laugh in it.

I can certainly identify with that, DG - just as I can when reviewers have said, "I couldn't put the book down". That's only happens to me after I've been glueing together a plastic kit of classic aircraft from the Crimean War (though I've got a feeling I've been had by the manufacturers historically; what next - Spitfires over Waterloo...? :blink: )
Crome Yellow, (wasn't Greg reading that recently?)

No, not recently, DG, though I did read it years ago when I had an Aldous Huxley fad. I loved his great novel of the 20's and 30's, 'Point, Counterpoint', as well as his book about the incredible effects of taking mescalin (which I took myself in those wilder times), 'The Doors of Perception'.
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Re: Wodehouse and comic novels

Postby Sprocket » September 27th, 2013, 10:38 pm

Hurrah and huzzah! There's a complete episode of the Carmichael/Price version on Youtube, here:

http://youtu.be/WEj2nzKWbf0

When I click on the link, it starts a couple of minutes in, for some reason, but you can rewind it to the beginning with the slider at the bottom.
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Re: Wodehouse and comic novels

Postby GregB » September 29th, 2013, 12:08 pm

Thanks a lot for that! If only more of these classic TV series were available, either on youtube or DVD.
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Re: Wodehouse and comic novels

Postby Sprocket » October 17th, 2013, 10:42 am

I've now read two Jeeves and Wooster books, two Blandings novels, and one Psmith novel - yet I've only read four books. The reason is that the last Psmith novel, 'Leave it to Psmith', is also the first Blandings novel. Both Blandings novels also contain references to the Drones Club, of which Psmith is a member, as is Bertie Wooster, of course, and one of the Wooster books contained a brief reference to the Earl of Emsworth as someone known to Bertie. I don't know whether Bertie or Jeeves ever appear directly in a Blandings novel, or anyone from Blandings in a Wooster one, but it's interesting how he has all three sets of books occupy the same wider fictional world. Trollope similarly connects his Barchester novels with his Palliser ones, via the Duke of Omnium, though, having dragged my way to the end of the Barchester ones, I have no intention of starting on the Pallisers.
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Re: Wodehouse and comic novels

Postby Sprocket » April 9th, 2014, 10:51 am

On Monday, wanting something a bit lighter to read than Gibbon (though that is interesting, and surprisingly readable), I ordered from Amazon another Wodehouse in the Everyman edition, 'Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin', one of his last novels, from 1972. It arrived this morning, and I'm 21 pages in. I looked it up in Wikipedia, and it turns out that there are three Monty Bodkin books,loosely connected to his other series in the way I mentioned earlier: according to Wikipedia, M.B. is the nephew of Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe, Bart, the villainous neighbour of Lord Emsworth, and he is also a member of the Drones Club, Bertie Wooster's home-from-home. As usual, it's mildly amusing rather than belly-laugh-inducing, involves romantic entanglements of the younger members of the leisured upper classes, and pokes gentle fun at them, although Monty so far seems to be considerably brighter than Bertie or Freddy Threepwood, more like Psmith, who was decidedly clever. It's not clear yet when the book is set, but, despite a passing reference in chapter one to television audiences, presumably the 1930s, when the previous two were set and written. (The television audiences reference is a comparison of someone's laugh, so although anachronistic similes are something tyro writers are warned against, it could still be set in the pre-tv era.)
I've also just finished reading online, via the Gutenberg Project, another Wodehouse, 'Damsel in Distress', a one-off novel rather than one of his series, but very much in the same vein: upper-class twits, romantic entanglements, and sharp, go-getting Americans (that's another Wodehouse characteristic: contrasting clever, sharp, thrusting, ambitious Americans, with bumbling, complacent Britons. PGW lived in Long Island after the war, and seems to have been a great admirer of the USA.).
I've just been to Amazon, and ordered the other two Monty Bodkin novels, 'Heavy Weather', which is really a Blandings novel, in which MB makes his first appearance, and 'The Luck of the Bodkins'.
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