A while ago I asked my very good friend Ana to write me an introduction to Wodehouse. Be it blends of tea, good food (generally of the pig variety), excellent films, or simply some cultured know-how on the merits of Shakespeare vs. Marlowe, Ana is my go-to. You can also check out her blog here, if you’re a racing type (or even if you’re not). For years, Ana has been telling me the wonders of Wodehouse (she also introduced me to Georgette Heyer and some pretty damn good crime fiction), and I told her, that as a complete Wodehouse beginner, I had better know what I was getting myself in to. This girl has flawless literary taste, so I’d take her at her word. Therefore, without further ado, here is Ana’s introduction to P.G. Wodehouse…
I’m a writer of what we can, at best, call unhabitual and, at the very least, sedentary (I mainly write sports posts – and not very many of those either) habits. But, what I also am is a voracious reader of Wodehouse, and a towering fan.
I am here at the behest of a literary friend [ed: that’s me!] to produce an encompassing, and dare I say engrossing piece of commentary that will make you rush out and pick up a Wodehouse book, any book, or indeed every book. In fact, I could suggest that you leave hearth and home right at this very moment and head out to the nearest bookstore, purchase the Wodehouse back catalogue on this person’s recommendation and settle in for the duration. Expect a gentle meandering journey (or if you’re Uncle Fred, a rollicking rollercoaster ride) through an England we all wish we lived in, and an America we all wish we’d been to – a world populated by the “mentally negligible” Bertie Wooster and gentleman’s personal gentleman Jeeves, pig fancier Lord Emsworth and the Empress of Blandings to name but a small few.
Obviously, the first question is where to start – Wodehouse published a large number of short stories during his lifetime. An undoubted master of the medium, you can dip your toes pretty much anywhere in the canon there. Arrow have been republishing Wodehouse over the last several years and consequently the stories are easy to get hold of, they look good on the shelf (you’re not ALL this shallow I am sure) and are grouped into accessible categories.
You’re going to find: Jeeves stories in volumes, Blandings tales in others, Drones Club books, and then Psmith, Ukridge and Uncle Fred all getting into the action with their own collections of short stories. Numerous short stories (a medium at which Wodehouse was a genius – leaving the reader slavering for more, in my opinion) and novels and magazine publications mean that it’s the world’s easiest thing to pick up a book and start.
No doubt, you’ve heard of Jeeves and Wooster – a pretty good place to start. Carry On, Jeeves establishes the very first Jeeves and Wooster meeting, and several other short stories from the early years of one of the most iconic male relationships in literary history. If you want to know how it all began this is the one to go for – first published ninety years ago it still makes delightful reading today. Wonderful escapism and genuinely funny. The stories are evenly split between England and the US in terms of setting; American readers can enjoy a scenery that Wodehouse himself loved (he spent many years in the US and Europe). With the exception of the last, all Jeeves stories are narrated in the first person by Bertie himself and a more descriptive and amusing narrator would be hard to find. You’ll find yourself peppering speech in real life with what I like to call “Bertie Slang”… eggs and b. for breakfast anyone?
Blandings wise, Something Fresh is your starting point. Introducing the undoubtedly crackers Lord Elmsworth and the Blandings Castle setting this was written in 1915 and is your first stop for the hilarious hijinks that ensue around Blandings. Personally I can point you towards these with absolutely no hesitation. If you’re looking for an embarrassingly laugh out loud book to read in public you only have to look here. Perhaps it’s telling that it was a Blandings story that Wodehouse worked on right up until his death and continued to write Sunset At Blandings even in his hospital bed.
Psmith, Ukridge, Mr Mulliner, Uncle Fred, the Drones Club and the Oldest Member all deserve their own sector, they really do. But, I’m sure you only have so much time to read before you’re rushing out the door and into the nearest bookstore for your Wodehouse fix, so suffice it to say – you need to read Blandings, and you need to read Jeeves and Wooster (both equally good starting spots), solely so that you can delve deeper into Wodehouse’s phenomenal funny worlds.
I could write so much more on our most revered author, and I hope inspiration hits – pick up a book, you certainly won’t regret it.
Just remember, nobody frames a simile like P.G. Wodehouse!
Honoria, you see, is one of those robust, dynamic girls with the muscles of a welterweight and a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging over a tin bridge. A beastly thing to face over the breakfast table. Brainy, moreover.
— Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse