|August 3rd||2:30-4:00||Amherst Room||Books 1-2|
|August 17th||2:30-4:00||Woodbury Room||Books 3-4|
|September 7th||2:30-4:00||Amherst Room||Books 5-7|
|September 14th||2:30-4:00||Amherst Room||Book 8|
So Wodehouse’s usage first appears in 1838; and note how quickly the illustrative quotations start coming from American sources. I also like the earlier (16th-18th century) entries that lay the figurative groundwork for the later colloquialism.
And for those who enjoy browsing the OED, here’s a link to a slightly larger excerpt about “mitten.”
I’ve found a review of Benny Green’s centenary biography of P.G. Wodehouse, A Literary Life, by the distinguished critic, V.S. Pritchett, writing in The New York Review of Books in 1981. Pritchett presents what I think is a full and very sensible evaluation of Plum’s comedy, putting it into the historical context of “English Light Humour” … which includes Restoration Comedy, Gilbert and Sullivan, etc. Nothing especially new for us, except for the elegant and insightful way Pritchett writes. A couple of brief examples:
The age of lightheaded imperial innocence began to vanish after 1914 and we have grown up in the black laughter of outrage, enhanced by the obsession with sex. One can only say that laughter for its own sake [my emphasis] is never passé for very long: we still laugh at Goldsmith and Restoration comedy after a spell of sneering at their subjects, their oaths and delivery. …
The strength of Wodehouse lies not in his almost incomprehensibly intricate plots – Restoration Comedy again – but in his prose style and there, above all, his command of mind-splitting metaphor. To describe a girl as “the sand in civilization’s spinach” enlarges and decorates the imagination [my emphasis].
It’s a short review (four pages) and, I think, a quick read.
Note: Pritchett refers to a comedic novel, Zuleika Dobson, by Max Beerbohm (1872-1956), an Edwardian satirist who was a little older than Plum. Below is some information about him and his book:
Here’s another voice chiming in on Wodehouse’s “silliness”: in the New York Review of Books in 2013, Geoffrey Wheatcroft reviewed the same book as Leithauser and came to different conclusions. He repeats much of what we already know, but adds a few new twists.
Half-thoughts: Perhaps part of what we’re discussing here (pace Gary et al) is the difference between British and American attitudes about what constitutes “a sense of humor” (…or is it a sense of seriousness?) Lewis Carroll vs Mark Twain? Monty Python vs Woody Allen? … (I started to look through some James Thurber to see how he compared with Plum – and that’s when I thought of Woody Allen.) – Tom
Last Saturday we went back and forth on just how good, or not, Wodehouse was. In Plenty of Room for Stupidity: On P.G. Wodehouse, a review of a collection of his letters, Brad Leithauser covers some of the same ground.
In our discussions about My Man Jeeves, those of us who have read more of Wodehouse have often talked about the changes in his Jeeves’ stories as “Plum” refined his style and sharpened his characterizations. As Seth has mentioned, it’s probably in the Jeeves’ novels from the 1930’s that Wodehouse best demonstrates his his mastery of the comedic world inhabited by Bertie, Jeeves, and supporting cast.
I’ve been trying to find a way to illustrate some of these developments short of reading an entire novel. I think that the opening two chapters of Right Ho, Jeeves (1934), which lay the groundwork for the rest of the book, give a good sample of Wodehouse’s mature style – his increasingly supple humor, his more rounded sense of character, and the inimitable gracefulness with which he introduces and develops the building blocks of his plots. You’ll note also that Plum slips in a fleeting picture of “Bertie as (self-conscious) writer” (for the post-modern critics among us).
The two chapters run 12 pages.
Here’s a PDF of “Jeeves Takes Charge,” the story from Carry On, Jeeves that we decided to read for our next meeting (on June 22).
Thomas Ashton’s edition of early Jeeves and Wooster stories includes a “bonus” story, first published in The Saturday Evening Post in New York in 1915. Ashton says “Extricating Young Gussie” marks the first appearance of Bertie and Jeeves in print. It certainly can be considered a “prequel” to My Man Jeeves as the story explains what Bertie is doing in New York and why he’s delaying his return to Aunt Agatha. As such it’s a fun (and short) read in conjunction with our other stories.
I’ve found a curious anthology containing My Man Jeeves and Right Ho, Jeeves, edited by someone identified as “Thomas Ashton, MA (Cambridge)” I think he’s a secondary school teacher but, in any case, he’s got four short introductory notes to Wodehouse and Wooster. I think some of his historical background is useful and if his analysis of Wodehouse and his language seems a little soft overall, Ashton does make a few interesting points along the way.
The book is called Jeeves and Wooster: Evolution of a Genius. Below is a link to a PDF containing his four mini-essays: “Historical Context,” “The Peerless Writing Technique of Wodehouse,” “Development of Technique in the Early Jeeves Stories” (in which he comments on a couple of the stories we’re reading), and “Biographical Notes” on Wodehouse. Worth a skim, perhaps. — Tom
Is this what was on the Veneering dining table?