Saturday Art: Influential Authors: P. G. Wodehouse
From his wiki:
Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE, (/?w?dha?s/; 15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975) was an English humorist whose body of work includes novels, short stories, plays, poems, song lyrics and numerous pieces of journalism. He enjoyed enormous popular success during a career that lasted more than seventy years, and his many writings continue to be widely read. Despite the political and social upheavals that occurred during his life, much of which was spent in France and the United States, Wodehouse’s main canvas remained that of a pre- and post-World War I English upper class society, reflecting his birth, education and youthful writing career.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about Wodehouse for a few weeks now. My problem is, I know I read quite a lot of his works but I read the books when I was in junior high and that is nearly fifty years ago so the specifics of the books have not stayed with me. What I do remember is most everything had humor. I also remember that the Wodehouse stories always seemed to be the humorous based settings as a flip side to the Agatha Christie stories set in English summer homes and castles. Where Miss Marple tended to fall into crimes while visiting the manor houses, Bertie Wooster is always getting into troubles of some sort. Again from wiki:
As the first-person narrator of ten novels and over 30 short stories, Bertie ranks as one of the most vivid comic creations in popular literature. Bertie’s middle name, “Wilberforce”, is the doing of his father, who won money on a horse named Wilberforce in the Grand National the day before Bertie was born and insisted on Bertie carrying that name (mentioned in Much Obliged, Jeeves).
Reginald Jeeves is a fictional character in the short stories and novels of P. G. Wodehouse (1881–1975), being the valet of Bertie Wooster (Bertram Wilberforce Wooster). Created in 1915, Jeeves continued to appear in Wodehouse’s work until his last completed novel Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen in 1974, a span of 59 years. The name “Jeeves” comes from Percy Jeeves (1888–1916), a Warwickshire cricketer killed in the First World War.
Both the name “Jeeves” and the character of Jeeves have come to be thought of as the quintessential name and nature of a valet or butler inspiring many similar characters (as well as the name of the Internet search engine Ask Jeeves). A “Jeeves” is now a generic term in references such as the Oxford English Dictionary.
In a conversation with a policeman in “Jeeves and the Kid Clementina”, Jeeves refers to himself as both a “gentleman’s personal gentleman” and a “personal gentleman’s gentleman.” This means that Jeeves is a valet, not a butler—that is, he serves a man and not a household. However, Bertie Wooster has lent out Jeeves as a butler on several occasions, and notes: “If the call comes, he can buttle with the best of them.”
And that folks, is almost the definition of influential. A character from a book becoming the iconic personification of a type of worker, in this case, the valet or butler – or a search engine.
As I do most weeks, I have learned a few things about Wodehouse I had never known before. From his Goodreads.com bio which seems to be condensed to an extent from wiki:
Best known today for the Jeeves and Blandings Castle novels and short stories, Wodehouse was also a talented playwright and lyricist who was part author and writer of fifteen plays and of 250 lyrics for some thirty musical comedies. He worked with Cole Porter on the musical Anything Goes (1934) and frequently collaborated with Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton. He wrote the lyrics for the hit song “Bill” in Kern’s Show Boat (1927), wrote the lyrics for the Gershwin – Romberg musical Rosalie (1928), and collaborated with Rudolf Friml on a musical version of The Three Musketeers (1928).
Wodehouse has a quite extensive listing at IMDB with sixty-five listed writing credits including at least three different adaptations of the play Anything Goes, with a 1936 movie version starring Bing Crosby, a 1956 movie once again starring Crosby and a 1962 Norwegian TV version. IMDB also shows Wodehouse with 18 Soundtrack credits that appear to be for a couple of songs he wrote appearing in various bio pics, compilation albums, and TV backgrounds.
I guess I may have to go back and re-read some Wodehouse as well and take a trip back to the time between the wars to see the stereotypes of characters that irritated the establishment:
Wodehouse’s characters, however, were not always popular with the establishment, notably the foppish foolishness of Bertie Wooster. Papers released by the Public Record Office have disclosed that when Wodehouse was recommended in 1967 for the Order of the Companions of Honour, Sir Patrick Dean, the British ambassador in Washington, argued that it “would also give currency to a Bertie Wooster image of the British character which we are doing our best to eradicate.”
If the Powers That Be become irritated, this is always a good thing.
Picture from crowbot licensed under Creative Commons