“Wodehouse, who adored the Pekingese breed of dog, liked to judge people on whether they were sound on Pekes. Evelyn Waugh, who like the Hitch and myself, revered the Master, judged people on how sound they are on Wodehouse,” said Stephen Fry in his eulogy of Christopher Hitchens late last year.
I’m ashamed to say that I wouldn’t be judged too highly by any of those men on that count – the name Wodehouse was only vaguely familiar as someone I knew I should know more about.
So I obediently made my way to the local library to see what they had in stock, which turned out to be one hard-cover copy of The Code of the Woosters, in the ‘large print’ section (just a little embarrassing to read on the bus).
Since then I have also come across several other Wodehouse books in the local bookstore, one of which had an endorsement printed on the cover, again from Stephen Fry (who played Bertie Wooster’s butler Jeeves in the British TV series Jeeves and Wooster based on the books): “You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour.” (Source)
Which I was happy to read after finishing my first Wodehouse book, but not before embarking on this blog post. Of course Jeeves’ irony and Bertie’s penchant for malapropisms had me genuinely laughing out loud. And the image of eyeballs bulging in shock, paintings brought down on the bumbling villain’s head and the overzealous yet inept policeman were all highly familiar to me – themes and characterisations which were probably, it occurred to me, pioneered by Wodehouse himself.
To finish, a confession: I sometimes embark on books from the classics shelf with a some trepidation: Will something in the old-world language, context or sense of humour be lost on me, so that I am unable to give it the appreciation it purportedly warrants? Well, I can safely say that I experienced no such problem with my first encounter with Wodehouse. It was lighthearted fun; clever, situational comedy that I will return to.
And, thanks to Fry, I’ve been let off the hook for making any further analysis.