In 1963 I had to spend ten days on a little Swedish hospital after a car accident. The only thing I could do to pass the time before they kicked me out was reading. The hospital had a little library, everything in Swedish (which most Norwegians can read without difficulty), but most of the books looked rather boring. However, one title caught my eye: "Svinhugg går igen", written by a P.G. Wodehouse. Some laughter-filled hours later the book and Mr. Wodehouse had caught me.
Back in Norway I started to comb every bookstore for more Wodehouse books, this time in Norwegian, of course. Four years later I dicovered a double gold mine in Trondheim while studying mathematics there. First discovery: "J. Bruuns Bokhandel" had a wide wall covered with book-shelves filled with Penguin paperbacks, among them a lot of Wodehouse writings. Second discovery: After reading my first buy I realized that you have to read him in English. No translator can do his language and style full justice. He isn't untranslatable, but a lot of Wodehouse disappears when transferred to another language.
What can P.G. Wodehouse teach todays writers? Very much, I guess, and first of all the value of solid craftmanship. At his best he tells the story very economically, but sometimes he doesn't manage to hide his "plot frame" completely, or he tries to cover it with just talk. The next lesson he can show us is his inventiveness in using the language. He was one of the greatest Masters of the English language.
You can find a lot of information about Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (1881-1975) on the Net. It's unnecessary to give any links, just Google him. This page doesn't add any new information about him, it's more my impressions after reading a lot of his books. He wrote 96 or close to that. I have at hand more than eighty, and I've read them all, some of them many times, and they're still fun to read.
I have grouped the books in the same way that I have sorted them in my library, and for every group I have added a few comments. The tables should be easy to understand. The coloumn "Year" shows when the book was first published (according to Richard Usborne in "Wodehouse at Work to the End"), and under "Lang" you'll find a code telling the language of my copies - E (English), N (Norwegian) or S (Swedish).
|Tales of St. Austins||1903||E||These short stories are well written, but as a Norwegian I lose too much of the fun because I'm ignorant about the life at the English schools a hundred years ago.|
|Mike and Psmith||1909||E||Psmith is one of P.G.'s many fast-talking characters. The first book is a school novel, the happenings in the other two take place in other settings. These novels show Wodehouse making the transition from writing for kids and youths to writing for a much wider public. I have put two other Psmith books, "Something Fresh" and "Leave it to Psmith", at the start of the Blandings Castle saga.|
|Psmith in the City||1910||E|
|Love Among the the chickens||1906||E||The Ukridge short stories may be the most underrated part of the Wodehouse writings. He has created a little universe of very funny characters and comic plots, and the main theme is Ukridges shortness of money. (There are more Ukridge stories in other Wodehouse books.)|
|A Gentleman of Leisure||1910||E||
The heading "Non-saga novels" means that these books have no main characters in common. However, some minor characters and also places appear in more than one book. Wodehouse used Valley Fields as an action place in several novels, and among the recurrent characters are: An American swindler-couple, in some books called Gordon (Oily) and Gertrude (Sweetie) Carlisle, in other named Thomas (Soapy) and Dorothy (Dolly) Molloy, but more or less the same characters; another swindler, Alexander (Chimp) Twist, who also calls himself J. Sheringham Adair; and the nostalgic Mr. Cornelius of Valley Fields.
These books are of different types, but the majority can be classified as "light comedy". Some are plays transferred into novels, and it shows a little too clearly. "The little Bachelor", however, became a high-quality Wodehouse novel from a play. One of the books, "The little Nugget", is a school novel, but also one of the best among Wodehouses light comedies - and perhaps the most sentimental. Another book, "The Coming of Bill", is by far the most serious novel P.G. wrote.
The quality varies more than in the saga books and in short stories. In my opinion Wodehouse wrote his best non-saga novels between 1917 ("Uneasy Money") and 1940 ("Quick Service"), but "Ice in the Bedroom" from 1961 chould be counted among them. My personal favourite is "Hot Water" from 1931. The plot is complex and very satisfying, it contains some of the funniest situastions Wodehouse ever conceived, and the dialogues never get stuck in empty and repating talk, as they often do in Wodehouses weaker novels. From the first to the last page this book seems to be written on a flow of inspiration.
After "Hot Water" Wodehouse wrote his non-saga novels more and more as farces. The dialogues grew longer and became more theatre-like, the "story-world environment" was reduced from a "landscape" to a "theatre", and well-rounded character were replaced by standardized types. At that time Wodehouse wrote both for the scene and for the book-stands, and this two-lined production may explain this development.
Almost all the non-saga novels centers around a love story, and sometimes several couples get each other at the end. The oldest books are quite romantic, even a little sentimental, but as the farce factor got the upper hand the romances faded into little more than "boy-meet-girl, boy-and-girl get each other". Still fun, but no longer love stories.
All in all, the non-saga novels show some of the best creations by P.G. Wodehouse as well as some of his weakest efforts. But one have to take into account that they were written during the sixty years from 1913 til 1973, and very few writers have been able to keep the standard so high for so long time.
|The little Nugget||1913||E|
|A Damsel in Distress||1919||E|
|The Coming of Bill||1920||E|
|The Indiscretions of Archie||1921||E|
|Jill the Reckless||1921||E|
|The Girl on the Boat||1922||E|
|The Adventures of Sally||1922||E|
|Bill the Conqueror||1924||E|
|Sam the Sudden||1925||E|
(Sam the Sudden)
|The small Bachelor||1927||E|
|Money for Nothing||1928||E|
|Penger som gress
|If I were You||1931||E|
|Money in the Bank||1946||E|
|The Old Reliable||1951||E|
|Barmy in Wonderland||1952||E|
|Ice in the Bedroom||1961||E|
|Gjemt men ikke glemt
(Ice in the bedroom)
|Company for Henry||1967||E|
|Du Butlers Burgle Banks?||1968||E|
|The Girl in Blue||1970||E|
|The Man Upstairs||1914||E||
The short stories of P.G. Wodehouse are among his very best writings. The quality is very high, and they're always funny. Perhaps this was a format that suited Wodehouse well, but it should be noted that he wrote most of his short stories before the WW2, when he was at the top as a writer.
The two first collections (1914 and 1917) are written in a traditional style. In 1922 he wrote his first golf stories, and he must have realized at once that here he had found a promising field for much fun. The golf tales are told by The oldest member, a man completely without any humorous sense, and his pompous style makes his story-telling even more funny.
In 1927 Wodehouse published his first collection of Mulliner stories. Mr. Mulliner tells "tall stories" about the experiences of his relatives, and he never tells a dull story. This group of short stories shows Wodehouse at his very best. The "Drones" stories, beginning in 1936, are masterfully written, they too.
|The Man with Two Left Feet||1917||E|
|The Clicking of Cuthbert||1922||E|
|The Heart of a Goof||1926||E|
|Meet Mr. Mulliner||1927||E|
|Mr. Mulliner Speaking||1929||E|
|Young Men in Spats||1936||E|
|Eggs, Beans and Crumpets||1940||E|
|A Few Quick Ones||1959||E|
|The Luck of the Bodkins||1935||E||The first part of the two-part saga of Monty Bodkin and Gertrude Butterwick was published in 1935. The last one came 36 years later, when Wodehouse obviously felt that 91 years old he had to tell the rest.|
|Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin||1972||E|
|Uncle Fred in the Springtime||1939||E||Frederick Altamont Cornwallis, fifth Earl of Ickenham, is the main character in three novels (left) and in several short stories. Wodehouse called the lord "a sort of elderly Psmith", but that must be an understatement. The short story "Uncle Fred Flits By" (in "Young Men in Spats", 1936) shows a far more dynamic and creative character than Psmith. It is also one of the best things that Wodehouse wrote. If Lord Ickenham is in some way related to other Wodehouse characters it must be to Galahad Threepwood, the brother of Lord Emsworth in the Blandings Castle sagas. And Lord Ickenham even visits Blandings Castle in one book.|
|The inimitable Jeeves||1923||E||
This saga started with short stories, but from "Thank You, Jeeves" full-length novels give us the rest of the Bertie and Jeeves story. Perhaps it's better to call it the Bertie and Jeeves universe, populated with aunts and uncles, a lot of friends and not fewer girls, policemen and judges, an aspiring dictator and a superb chef, school masters and even a nerve specialist - everyone involved in entanglements that Bertie sets off and Jeeves sorts out.
Bertie doesn't lack intelligence, it's just that he isn't trained to use it. Even so he is a superb story teller in his naïve way. Jeeves isn't his valet or butler. He is Berties "personal gentleman", or perhaps his puppet-master. Together they constitute a remarkable duo, one of the best and most well-known in the so-called "light literature". But the eminent writing processes that made these sagas were far from light. Bertie and Jeeves are the creations of a genius.
The Bertie and Jeeves universe - or story-world, to use a newer and better phrase - is English Upper Class in the early 1900"'. Wodehouse doesn't give us a realistic picture of it, it is more a caricature, but never a malicious depiction. He makes good-hearted fun of young men with so much money that they don't have to work - they're gentlemen of leisure.
The Bertie and Jeeves books must be read chronologically, because this story-world also have a time-line with themes that develop from book to book, and make the saga a serial.
|Carry On, Jeeves||1925||E|
|Very Good, Jeeves||1930||E|
|Thank You, Jeeves||1934||E|
|Roght Ho, Jeeves||1934||E|
|The Code of the Woosters||1938||E|
|Joy in the Morning||1947||E|
|The Mating Season||1949||E|
|Ring for Jeeves||1953||E|
|Ring på Jeeves!
(Ring for Jeeves)
|Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit||1954||E|
|Jeg stoler på Jeeves
(Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit)
|Jeeves in the Offing||1960||E|
|Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves||1963||E|
|Friskt mot, Jeeves!
(Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves)
|Much Obliged, Jeeves||1971||E|
|Aunts Aren't Gentlemen||1974||E|
The Blandings Castle saga begins with two Psmith books. After that Wodehouse started writing novels and short stories about Lord Emsworth and his castle, and gave us another magnificent story-world. The main characters in the Bertie and Jeeves saga come from the English Upper Class, in the Blandings Castle stories they mostly belong to the British nobility. And one more thing: Berties world is fundamentally urban, Lord Emsworths is rural.
Lord Emsworth is a very absent-minded man who most of all wants to be alone with his interests - overseeing his pig-breeding or reading books about the same. But there are always commanding sisters and fussing secretaries and annoying guests and pennyless impostors and girls-in-love-with-the-wrong-man around to spoil his day and make him confused.
Blandings Castle seems to be the perfect place for romantic couples to get each other in spite of the wishes and commands of Lord Emsworths sisters. As a rule the Lord doesn't understand much of what's going on around him, but now and than he raises his voice and do a little commanding himself. Then he always takes the side of the young and romantic.
Wodehouse was writing a new chapter in the Blandings Castle saga when he died in 1975. It is published as "Sunset at Blandings".
|Leave it to Psmith||1923||E|
|Lord Emsworth and Others||1937||E|
|Pigs Have Wings||1952||E|
|Svinhugg går igen
(Pigs Have Wings)
|Service with a Smile||1962||E|
|Svin på skogen
(Service with a Smile)
|Galahad at Blandings||1965||E|
|A Pelican at Blandings||1969||E|
|Sunset at Blandings
|Performing Flea||1953||E||I have theese three books in a one-volume edition. Wonderful reading, but don't expect to learn much about his writing methods, and he tells nothing about how he was able to create so much fun and joy during more than seventy very productive years.|
|Bring on the Girls||1954||E|
A Prefect's Uncle
The Gold Bat
William Tell Told Again
The Head of Kay's
The White Feather
Not George Washington
By the Eay Book
|1902-1909||E||School books, at least the first six. After reading "Tales of St. Austin's" I guess they're well written, but not up to the later Wodehouse standard. Well well, if I find a used copy ...|
|The Prince and Betty||1912||E||Some of this history also appears in "Psmith, Journalist", which I have in my library.|
|My Man Jeeves||1919||E||Eight short stories, four of them about Jeeves and Bertie. Those four I have in other collections.|
|Louder and Funnier||1932||E||A collection of articles that Wodehouse wrote for the Vanity Fair magazine.|
|Something Fishy||1957||E||A light novel or farce. I really should like to have it.|