On P. G. Wodehouse

O Aisha, what is there to say about P. G. Wodehouse that has not been said before, and better? I found his books at a public library in Malaysia as a teenager, and I remember being astounded that there were books like those. That you were allowed to write like that, and have so much fun doing it!* It was a revelation.

Here are some examples of his peerless art, courtesy of the Random Wodehouse Quote Generator:

A young man with dark circles under his eyes was propping himself up against a penny-in-the-slot machine. An undertaker, passing at that moment, would have looked at this young man sharply, scenting business. So would a buzzard.

The stationmaster’s whiskers are of a Victorian bushiness and give the impression of having been grown under glass.

He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

He had once been a poet, and a very virulent one too; the sort of man who would produce a slim volume of verse bound in squashy mauve leather at the drop of a hat, mostly on the subject of sunsets and pixies.

Even at normal times Aunt Dahlia’s map tended a little towards the crushed strawberry. But never had I seen it take on so pronounced a richness as now. She looked like a tomato struggling for self-expression.

He was either a man of about a hundred and fifty who was rather young for his years or a man of about a hundred and ten who had been aged by trouble.

Things I have learnt from Wodehouse:

  • The joy of similes.
  • A working writer uses every tool that comes to hand, including his own previous work. Wodehouse cribbed from himself shamelessly, but it still kind of worked because he was so good. (Most of us will probably not reach the renown he attained anyway, and we will never have our selected stories compiled into omnibuses so that eagle-eyed readers can say to themselves, “Hey, wait a minute, didn’t he use that precise simile in that other Blandings story?” All the more reason to do it!)
  • Plot is hard and it’s worth working it out in advance so you can get to the fun bits. Wodehouse spent ages working up his absurd and yet effective plots. Even though it mostly seems that nothing really happens in his books and you are just borne along on a joyous stream of limpid silliness, it required real sweat to achieve the sublime heights of that one scene in Leave it to Psmith where that guy starts throwing flower-pots through Lord Emsworth’s window. I remind myself of this whenever I feel down about how hard working out a plausible, exciting plot is.
  • Everything you read is a potential punchline, so read everything.
  • There is no such thing as too silly a sentence.
  • It is a fool that underestimates an aunt.

 

*Not to mention make stinking amounts of money, but I didn’t clock this until some time later.

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