21 January 2010

Nice score

From the best secondhand bookshop in Wellington, Quilters, I have managed to snaffle an almost complete collection of the Blandings books by PG Wodehouse. I am missing three novels – Leave it to Psmith, Pigs have wings, and Sunset at Blandings (left unfinished when Wodehouse died) – and two collections of short stories containing Blandings stories.

As Evelyn Waugh said:
Mr Wodehouse's idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.

Waugh especially praised him for being able to 'produce on average three uniquely brilliant and original similes to every page'.

A bit more recently, Stephen Fry had this to say:
Wherever lovers of Wodehouse cluster together, they fall into debate about whether it is the Jeeves stories or the Blandings stories that take the trophy as Wodehouse's greatest achievements. The group will, of course, dispel, muttering embarrassedly, for they know that such questions are as pointless as wondering whether God did a better job with the Alps or the Rockies. The question is bound to be asked, however, because each time you read another Blandings story, the sublime nature of that world is such as to make you gasp.

The cast of resident characters here is greater than that of the Wooster canon. There is Lord Emsworth himself, the amiable and dreamy peer, whose first love – pumpkins – is soon supplanted by the truest and greatest love of his life, the Empress of Blandings, that peerless Black Berkshire sow, thrice winner of the silver medal for the fattest pig in Shropshire; Emsworth's sister, Connie, who, when sorely tried, which was often, would retire upstairs to bathe her temples in eau-de-Cologne; the Efficient Baxter, Emsworth's secretary and a hound from hell; Emsworth's brother, Galahad, the last of the Pelicans (that breed of silk-hatted men about town who lived high and were forever getting thrown out of the Criterion bar in the Eighties and Nineties) [and whose rude good health is said to come from his lifelong habit of drinking a lot, smoking a lot, and never going to bed before three in the morning]; the younger son, Freddie, the bane of his father's life [because 'Unlike the male codfish, which, suddenly finding itself the parent of three million five hundred thousand little codfish, cheerfully resolves to love them all, the British aristocracy is apt to look with a somewhat jaundiced eye on its younger sons']... The cast list goes on and is frequently supplemented by young men we will have met elsewhere, Ronnie Fish, Pongo Twistleton and even Psmith himself.

Blandings comes, in the Wodehouse canon, to stand for the absolute ideal in country houses. Its serenity and beauty are enough to calm the most turbulent breast. It is an entire world unto itself and, one senses, Wodehouse pours into it his deepest feelings for England. Once you have drunk from its healing spring, you will return again and again. Blandings is like that: it enters a man's soul.

Wodehouse is often called the best writer in English of the 20th century. He is also the funniest. Here is an extract from the Preface to Summer Lightning:
A certain critic – for such men, I regret to say, do exist – made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained 'all the old Wodehouse characters under different names'. He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha; but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have outgeneralled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.

3 comments:

Sheridan Fairfield-Wills Dickson said...

ha ha very good. mum likes Wodehouse too - i read her your extract

Mr Stephen Rowe said...

"He looked as if he had been poured into his suit and somebody had forgotten to say 'stop'"

One of my all time favourites...

David Cauchi said...

My favourite scene is from Right ho, Jeeves, where Gussie Fink-Nottle gives the prizes at the Market Snodsbury Grammar School.

The funniest thing I have ever read. And those names!

visitors since 29 March 2004.