Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Article on getting into P.G. Wodehouse

Article on getting into Wodehouse
Published in ‘Wooster Sauce’ quarterly journal of the P.G. Wodehouse Society

Quite a few years ago, shortly after I first subscribed to this journal, the editor, Tony Ring, asked me to contribute an article on getting into Wodehouse. As my writing is somewhat less prolific, not to mention less funny, than our hero, I think I’ve done pretty well in banging out these few hundred words in the subsequent half-decade or so.

I first got into PGW as a child of about 12 or 13. My grandfather, a witty and articulate man, was a Wodehouse fan, and between him and his son (my uncle) they had quite a few of the books. The first one I read was ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’, and I really think I had the exact same reaction to it as I have had to every PGW I’ve read subsequently. I still laugh aloud almost every page and find him as rewarding as I ever did. Like most great comedy, it stands up to repeated reading, in Wodehouse’s case by virture of the cleverness of the sentences. Quite simply nobody has ever written so many funny lines.

My grandfather was a solicitor in a country town in Ireland. I was raised in Dublin, and I’ve always been intrigued by the popularity of Wodehouse in former colonies such as Ireland and India. I think it is probably due to the fact that we recognize the world he is writing about, and despite, or even because of, our disapproval of that world, we find disappearing into it for a few hours to be a great escape. And, of course, as well as having a strong affection for the Edwardian world of his youth, Wodehouse also sends it up fairly unmercifully.

Edwardian England was in many ways not dissimilar to Edwardian Ireland, as we did not get our independence until the 1920s, and even subsequently, have retained a lot of the culture we share with the English. From a literary point of view, the Irish have always enjoyed well constructed English writing, indeed contributing to it ourselves with our Anglo-style writers, such as Shaw, Wilde and Beckett and our more Hiberno-style purveyors, such as Joyce, Yeats, Friel, Kavanagh and McGahern.
I’ve also enjoyed anything Wodehousian I’ve ever experienced outside of the books, with the notable exception of that recent mediocre adaptation of Piccadilly Jim, which if not overwhelming me, certainly left me far from whelmed. I am a big fan of ITV’s Jeeves & Wooster series, and I also enjoyed the West End version of Anything Goes from a few years back. All in all, looking forward to many more years of PGW-related good humour.

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