Plum! Comfort food for readers
by P G Bhaskar
Bhaskar is the author of Jack Patel’s Dubai Dreams (Penguin (I)) and Jack is back in Corporate Carnival (Harper Collins (I))’
P G Wodehouse is known to have said that he started turning out the stuff from the age of five. Before that, he has confessed to not remembering what he did. ‘Just loafing, I suppose’ is how he described it.
Too bad. Else, we would have had another five years of delightful reading material. Over a hundred years after he first started writing, what is it that still has millions of people reading his books? If ever relevance had been considered a necessary factor in writing a successful novel, Wodehouse has done much to shatter this myth. Indeed, his stories ceased to have relevance shortly after he started writing them. Butlers had started slimming down and shrunk both in size and numbers. Earls had started working. So had ‘younger sons’. Soon spats fell by the wayside. Top hats were reduced to antiques. Class distinctions got blurred. Technology took rapid strides. Travel became easier and so did migration and tourism. Suffice it to say that between the year 1900 and 2000 the real world changed completely.
Thankfully, the Wodehousean world didn’t. It remained happily and magically intact, like in a time capsule, unpolluted by changes and untouched by reality. For his fans the world over, it is a blessing. Years back, Evelyn Waugh had written this about Wodehouse. ‘Wodehouse’s idyllic world cannot stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own.’ How perfectly prescient can one get!
What is it about a P G Wodehouse novel that appeals to so many of us?
Is it the beauty, charm and cosy warmth of his world; one of blooming flowers and shimmering lakes, of castles and moats and of sunshine peeping in through the curtains in an attempt to spread brightness and cheer? A world where people are inherently good? Where villains abound but no man is vile? Indeed, in the world of Wodehouse, even the meanest of characters can stoop no lower than use a little ‘soup’ while busting a safe, indulge in a little temporary kidnapping of a badly behaved adolescent or bean someone on the head with a good, stout vase.
Or could it be the heart-warming simplicity of his characters? Save for an occasional double crosser, Wodehouse’s novels are packed with those who wear their heart on their sleeve and who speak what they think. There is none of the modern world’s shifty shades of grey. Of course, while the characters themselves are simple, the plots are often, far from it. Wodehouse revelled in twists and turns; they are inevitable, yet unpredictable. Except, of course, for the customary and delightful happy ending. The complexity of some of his convoluted plots only served to bring out the best in him. Even as plans are floundering, schemes are going awry and perturbed characters are scratching their heads in disbelief amidst an unprecedented ‘concatenation of circumstances’, you can almost sense the master at work, getting ready to fit the pieces where they belong. And in the end, invariably, he delivers. With the precision of a magician and the practiced ease of a maestro, he waves his wand and voila! Every loose end gets tied, every character gets what he or she deserves and each note falls perfectly in its position as its conjurer concludes yet another bewitching, lyrical rhapsody.
The Wodehousean world is inherently just. It is large and accommodating. It has a place for everyone and everyone is perfectly placed. Timid, faltering poets co-exist peacefully with dashing, young modern novelists who have ‘drunk the cup of illicit love to its dregs’. Earls are never far away from pig men. Even business tycoons are not allowed to live in a cocoon of power and luxury. They are forced to rub shoulders with small time conmen, detectives and bar maids.
P G Wodehouse’s novels have a timeless beauty and grace about them. His sense of rhythm, his command over the language and his comic timing all come together in complete harmony in each one of his books. As our real world becomes increasingly ‘irksome’, the world of Wodehouse appears even more heavenly. Well, thank God for that. Whatever be the state of the world that one find ourselves in, Wodehouse readers will always have another that they can happily escape into.
So, come, let us quietly celebrate. We can nip across to this little place round the corner that I know and have a quick one. A Gustave special, perhaps? But if you would rather make a bit of a splash and step high, wide and plentiful, let me know. We can really get into the spirit of the thing and maybe steal a policeman’s helmet.
P G Bhaskar