I mentioned when I was sick that I turned for comfort to P.G. Wodehouse. I’m hardly the only person I know who loves him, but I’m always finding out people have never heard of him and I’m sure some of my readers have not had the pleasure, so I thought I’d take some time for Wodehouse evangelism.
Even if you don’t think you know anything about Wodehouse (pronounced “Woodhouse”), you are probably familiar with at least one character he created—Jeeves, the valet (although you might think he’s a butler). Jeeves works for Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, a young London gentleman pursued by aunts trying to marry him off and girls trying to marry him. Bertie is well-meaning but a bit dim, and Jeeves becomes an indispensable resource for getting him—and all his friends—out of “the soup.”
Wodehouse wrote about more than just Jeeves and Bertie, but those are probably his most popular and best known stories. Just as deliciously funny are the tales of Mr. Mulliner, Psmith, Blandings…we are talking about an extremely prolific comic genius here. And the Overlook Press has been printing a complete set of his works in lovely editions.
ITV ran a television series, “Jeeves and Wooster,” in the early 1990s which is, I think, one of the most accurate adaptations of literature I’ve ever seen. The plotlines of the episodes are actually mishmashes of several stories and novels all at once, but the atmosphere, the personalities, the language, all are spot on. Hugh Laurie is an adorable idiot as Bertie, and Jeeves is perfectly mellifluous as played by Stephen Fry. (I haven’t checked lately, but you can usually find most of the episodes on YouTube.)
Bertie is my first love, but you shouldn’t miss out on any of the other Drones either—the collection I read when I was ill was full of great stories about Bingo Little, Oofy Prosser, Freddie Widgeon…you should get acquainted with all of them. If you’re into audiobooks, there are some decent recordings available at Librivox. I really enjoyed Mark Nelson’s reading of Right Ho, Jeeves (probably my favorite) even with his American accent, but your mileage may vary.
So please, if you read only one short story this year, let it be one by P.G. Wodehouse. It’s impossible to get across his humor otherwise. But it’s also almost impossible not to love.