Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

Re­mould­ing for the fun of it English as a lan­guage can be teased and moulded to great hu­mor­ous effect, and few could master the art as well as the late PGWode­house.

His most mem­o­rable char­ac­ters are the bum­bling English­man Ber­tie Wooster and his ef­fi­cient, eru­dite valet Jeeves, and you would be hard pressed to tell that a sin­gle au­thor wrote these con­ver­sa­tional lines (from Jeeves in the Spring­time) for both:

Jeeves: “A some­what cu­ri­ous char­ac­ter, sir. Since re­tir­ing from busi­ness he has be­come a great recluse, and now de­votes him­self al­most en­tirely to the plea­sures of the ta­ble.” Ber­tie: “Greedy... you mean?” Wode­house drew upon and had fun with his clas­si­cal school ed­u­ca­tion. Those fa­mil­iar with Shake­speare’s Mac­beth will re­call that af­ter Mac­beth’s in­co­her­ent ram­blings on see­ing the ghost of Ban­quo seated at a for­mal ban­quet, Lady Mac­beth asks that the guests de­part without for­mal­ity, say­ing, “Stand not upon the or­der of your leav­ing”. This line is para­phrased to hu­mor­ous effect in­Wode­house, when a safe-crack­ing bur­glar, hear­ing a noise without, ‘stood not upon the or­der of his go­ing’.

In an­other story the hero, Archibald Mulliner, is a guest at a coun­try house, but is held cap­tive au­di­ence by the bor­ing host­ess in the liv­ing room while her daugh­ter (whom Archibald loves) is talk­ing with his ri­val for her hand. Archibald es­pies a bat­tleaxe on the wall, and longs to “re­move the weapon from its hook, spit on his hands, and haul off and dot this dod­der­ing old ruin one just above the imi­ta­tion pearl neck­lace”.

For fans, the fun of PGW lies in the repet­i­tive­ness. And here’s how the au­thor re­buffed the al­le­ga­tion that his books are all the same: “A cer­tain critic – for such men, I re­gret to say, do ex­ist – made the nasty re­mark about my last novel that it con­tained ‘all the oldWode­house char­ac­ters un­der dif­fer­ent names’. He has prob­a­bly by now been eaten by bears... but if he still sur­vives he will not be able to make a sim­i­lar charge against Sum­mer Light­ning. With my su­pe­rior in­tel­li­gence, I have out­gen­er­alled the man this time by putting in all the oldWode­house char­ac­ters un­der the same names. Pretty silly it’ll make him feel, I rather fancy”.

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