Monday, April 2, 2012

P. G. Wodehouse - book club selection for April

For those new to my blog, I am participating in an online book club, hosted by my friend Carrie, who has a popular book blog, Reading to Know. I am the token male member, so I will have to work even harder to prove that I was selected on my merits alone. This month is my turn to select the book. I have chosen P. G. Wodehouse. If you want to join in or see what we are reading, the link to that post is here:

Reading to Know - Book Club

The first half of the 20th Century was not kind to the British aristocracy. The Empire was on the decline, and was eventually lost. Land, once the source of wealth and power, was becoming secondary to capital and manufacturing. What was once the source of an independent income for the young, feckless nobleman had now become a drain on the finances.

Various authors documented and commented on this earthshaking change in society. E. M. Forster and John Galsworthy wrote serious novels. H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw explored the new atheism and pessimism. Yeats and Joyce replaced Tennyson and Dickens.

And then there was Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (pronounced WOOD-house), who saw in the decline of the aristocracy a golden opportunity for humor. Remarkable for both his long life and his prodigious output, Wodehouse was one of the greatest and most memorable humorists of all time.

This month, as my contribution to the Reading to Know Book Club, I have selected Wodehouse as the author for the month of April. Because access to particular books varies, and Wodehouse wrote 96 books during his lifetime, I have chosen to leave the choice of books open to the reader.

Wodehouse loved to write about memorable characters, and decided to have various characters populate multiple books, either in a sequential story, or as persons who fit in the stories of others. These personalities are an important part of the charm of P. G.’s writing, and really drive the plots. The major characters are as follows:

Bertie Wooster, the young aristocrat; and his loyal and resourceful butler, Jeeves. These stories are an excellent introduction to Wodehouse. Fans of Hugh Laurie from House should seek out the BBC series Jeeves and Wooster, which are deliciously true to the spirit, if not always the letter, of the books.

Psmith. (The “P” is silent.) Carrie and I are particular fans of this character, who is lazy and outrageous, but manages to come through in the clutch anyway. He is an advocate of “practical socialism”, wherein he appropriates the goods of the wealthy for his own purposes. I have failed to do justice to Psmith, so I’ll just recommend reading one of these books.

Lord Emsworth, whose stories are often associated with “The Empress of Blandings”, a magnificent pig.

Golf. As in the game of golf. Wodehouse said near the end of his life that if he hadn’t wasted his time with frivolous nonsense like writing stories, he might have gotten his handicap below eighteen. Even for a non-golfer like myself, I find the golf stories to be hilarious and outrageously witty.  As Wodehouse himself put it, “After all, a woman is only a woman, but a hefty drive is a slosh!”

What am I reading this month? I have selected Uncle Fred in the Springtime, one of the Lord Emsworth books.

I also reviewed The Adventures of Sally last year. 


  1. I didn't know the historical significance of Wodehouse so that was interesting to read.

    Thank you, token male member, for your association and extra information! :)

  2. This was helpful as I didn't know much about Wodehouse. I've read Carry on Jeeves in the past and put Psmith in the City and one about Galahad, I think it was, on hold at the library. Hope they come in soon!

  3. I am thrilled that you chose Wodehouse and am working my way through several, I am currently on "The Girl on the Boat".

  4. Though I may not read Wodehouse by the end of the month, I will by the end of the year. I hope!

  5. I'm so glad you like Wodehouse! As a board member and past-President of The Wodehouse Society, I commend you for your taste, erudition, and humor. I would, however, ask respectfully that you correct a couple of errors above? Bertie Wooster was not an aristocrat. Although blessed with plenty of oof and schooling from the top schools in England, he was not an aristocrat. Upper class, yes, aristocrat, no. Also, Jeeves was a gentleman's personal gentleman (valet), not a butler. Like Uncle Fred, I seek only spread sweetness and light, so I hope you will take this request in the spirit it was meant. I invite you to join the merry throng at The Wodehouse Society. We share lots of info about Wodehouse and host a convention every 2 years. Tinkerty Tonk!

    1. I'll admit the distinction between upper class and aristocracy can be confusing to this American. :) I still have difficulty with how to classify a Squire with extensive lands...

      However, I believe I corrected the butler/valet distinction in subsequent posts. Thanks for pointing this one out.