Friday, October 15, 2021

Quote of the Day (P. G. Wodehouse, on a Valet’s Unusual Literary Taste)


“‘The sky is the limit. State your desire.’

‘Well, sir, there has recently been published a new and authoritatively annotated edition of the works of the philosopher Spinoza. Since you are so generous, I would appreciate that very much.’

‘You shall have it. It shall be delivered at your door in a plain van without delay. You’re sure you’ve got the name right? Spinoza?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘It doesn’t sound probable, but no doubt you know best. Spinoza, eh? Is he the Book Society’s Choice of the Month?’

‘I believe not, sir.’” — English humorist P. G. Wodehouse (1881–1975), Joy in the Morning (1947)

The valet (and Spinoza aficionado) in the above quote is Jeeves, the indispensable wingman to his utterly clueless employer, Bertie Wooster. They were embodied for a transatlantic TV audience in the 1990s series Jeeves and Wooster, starring (from left to right in the accompanying photo) Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Wooster.

I’m not sure I would want to live in a world where, in one country or another, the creator of this duo, P.G. Wodehouse, would not be a book society or book club’s Choice of the Month.  

Born on this day in 1881 in Guildford, England, he had, by the time of his death 93 years later, published 90 books, 40 plays, and 200 short stories and other writings. He is also, at one and the same time, one of the most polished stylists and funniest writers in the English language.

As good as it is to discover Wodehouse on one’s own, it is even better to hear his work read by a fellow master craftsman. Such was the case in February 2018, during the one-man show John Lithgow: Stories by Heart. One of the two tales conjured up by the versatile actor at that marvelous matinee performance was Wodehouse’s “Uncle Fred Flits By.”

For a fine introduction to Wodehouse for newbies, see this fine appreciation of the comic novelist by blogger Robert Pimm.

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