This weekend, I took a brief but refreshing dive into P. G. Wodehouse in the form of Very Good, Jeeves.
I dare any to read Bertie’s bungling’s and Jeeves rescues without a smile traversing your face. In this case, I listened to the Audible version with the fine work of Jonathan Cecil. His narration is spot on. While it’s difficult for me to read or listen to Wooster without visions of Laurie and Fry wafting in front my eyes, the old black on white still does bring joy today. (If you’ve never seen the brilliant work of Hugh Laurie, better known in the US as House, and Stephen Fry, probably best known here as Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s brother or Dr. Gordon Wyatt in Bones, then you missed a treat. Here’s a glimpse.)
What makes Wodehouse both fun and brilliant. In part, it’s the breathy language, the picturesque backdrops to their escapades and the clever resolutions to various conundrums always entertain. Dear Bertie no only uses the slang of his day but has his own idiolect. His references are smashing:
- Aunt Dahlia – the old flesh and blood (any family memeber) – my fluttering old aspen –
- the red-hot spark of pash – love
- strong drink or coffee, depending on the time of day – a fluid ounce of the hot and strengthening
- Bertie – young hound
Even more delightful is his use of metaphor. Douglas Wilson wrote nicely on the topic (full disclosure: written from a decidedly Christian perspective): Who Is P.G. Wodehouse, and Why Should It Matter to Us?
[taking some formatting liberties] Wodehouse is a black belt metaphor ninja. Evelyn Waugh, himself a great writer, once said that Wodehouse was capable of two or three striking metaphors per page.
- He looked like a sheep with a secret sorrow.
- One young man was a great dancer, one who never let his left hip know what his right hip was doing.
- She had just enough brains to make a jaybird fly crooked.
- Her face was shining like the seat of a bus driver’s trousers.
- He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom.
The metaphors are consistently laugh-out-loud funny, but they are more than that. They are arresting. They are memorable. They connect things that are not usually connected. They show wordsmiths how wordsmithing should be done. Aristotle once said that the ability to use metaphor was a mark of genius, and if this is correct, as I believe it is, then Wodehouse has a lot to teach anyone who works with words. We learn by imitation, and when it comes to striking similes and metaphors, Wodehouse is worthy of imitation.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of dashing away with Bertie or seen the over-abundance of grey matter in action with Jeeves, I highly recommend the books and, even more so, Mr. Cecil’s excellent narration on Audible. In Bertie Wooster, Mr. Wodehouse gives voice to a young scalawag who skewers his upper-class world with joie de vivre. So, curl up with the old flesh and blood and enjoy a good har with dear old Bertie, Stinker and the whole gang.