Tuesday, June 12, 2012

P.G. Wodehouse in memoriam

I have just finished reading the prolific master’s comparatively little-known but quite wonderful comic novel, Money for Nothing (1928).
Someday  I may have something intelligent to say about this wordsmith magician who pulls rabbit after rabbit out of his fathomless hat,
but for now, the following observation must suffice:
He is both unfailingly wholesome, and (to a degree you do not fully appreciate  till you have lived a while, and beheld the alternative, and seen how, decade after decade, he soldiered on  through it all)  deep-seatedly humane.

Usually he is jolly and joshing, by choice;  but when he wishes, he can conjure up effects out of Wind in the Willows.   As here, describing a pair of young lovers drifting the river:

The Skirme rippled about the boat, chuckling softly to itself.  It was a kindly, thoughtful river, given to chuckling to itself like an old gentleman who likes seeing young people happy.

Many of his characters are -- designedly -- stock figures, recycled from story to story with slight variations.   But Wodehouse can capture the mind’s movements exactly, when so inclined.   A disappointed lover:

‘I hear you’re engaged to Hugo,’ he said, speaking carefully  and spacing the syllables so that they did not run into each other as they showed an inclination to do.

 (A simple-seeming sentence, yet with much art.  A while after reading it, I tried to recall it from memory, but could not fetch up such perfect wording.  All I could think of was “as they seemed inclined to do”, which is not nearly as good.)

Yet later, as she accepts his proposal and offer her hand, the pan-psychism of a benevolent world  springs up anew, now with a touch, not of Willows, but of Mary Poppins:

The garden had learned that dance now.  It was simple once you got the hang of it.  All you had to do, if you were a tree, was to jump up and down, while, if you were a lawn, you just went round and round.   So the trees jumped up and down  and the lawn went round and round, and John stood still in the middle of it all, admiring it.

If a Heaven there be, which I am bound to believe, then I likewise confide, that old P.G. is up there, chuckling with contentment, and playing golf.

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