“You are evidently fond of mystery plays.”
“I love them.”
“So do I. And mystery novels?”
“Have you read Blood on the Banisters?”
“Oh, yes! I thought it was much better than Severed Throats.”
“So did I,” said Cyril. “Much better. Brighter murders, subtler detectives, crisper clues … better in every way.”
The two twin souls gazed into each other’s eyes. There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.
P G Wodehouse (‘Strychnine in the Soup’ in Mulliner Nights)
I recently asked the ‘Fans of P G Wodehouse’ Facebook community about their favourite authors – who they like to read when not curled up with Plum’s latest. The response was a staggering 370 comments (and counting) listing over 250 different authors. I’ve collated the replies and can now reveal the top 50 authors these Wodehouse lovers named as their favourites. I start today with the top 5.
1. Agatha Christie
Christie and Wodehouse had much in common: they were contemporaries, prolific writers, and masters of their respective genres with huge audiences for their work. They both had problems with income tax, and were embroiled in personal scandals that continue to attract media speculation long after their deaths. In their lifetimes they were mutual fans, and Agatha Christie dedicated her 1969 Poirot novel Hallowe’en Party:
“To P. G. Wodehouse — whose books and stories have brightened my life for many years. Also, to show my pleasure in his having been kind enough to tell me he enjoyed my books.”
Wodehouse was an enthusiastic reader of crime stories, as Maggie Schnader discusses in her excellent piece: ‘On P.G. Wodehouse and Crime Fiction: Or, Wodehouse Writes a Thriller?’ , and Wodehouse’s plots are brimming with criminal activity – from burglary, fraud and impersonation through to assault and battery. Mickey Finns abound, and even Jeeves knows how to handle a cosh! Some of Wodehouse’s best ‘crime’ stories have been collected in a volume called Wodehouse on Crime.
With Christie and Wodehouse among the world’s most loved (and translated) writers, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see her feature so highly among Wodehouse readers. She is certainly one of my favourites.
2. Douglas Adams
People sometimes say to me, “Do you ever aspire to write a serious book?” And my practiced glib answer to that is, “No, my aspirations are much greater than that. I aspire to write like P.G. Wodehouse.” (Writing like P.G. Wodehouse)
Douglas Adams was open in his admiration for Wodehouse, calling him ‘the greatest comic writer ever’, and Wodehouse’s influence is clear in his wonderfully funny style. He contributed a Foreword to a modern edition of Wodehouse’s last novel, Sunset at Blandings, which was included in ‘The Salmon of Doubt.’
Master? Great genius? Oh yes. One of the most blissful joys of the English language is the fact that one of its greatest practitioners ever, one of the guys on the very top table of all, was a jokesmith. Though maybe it shouldn’t be that big a surprise. Who else would be up there? Austen, of course, Dickens and Chaucer. The only one who couldn’t make a joke to save his life would be Shakespeare….
What Wodehouse writes is pure word music. It matters not one whit that he writes endless variations on a theme of pig kidnappings, lofty butlers, and ludicrous impostures. He is the greatest musician of the English language, and exploring variations of familiar material is what musicians do all day.
Adams’ Introduction to Sunset at Blandings
Many modern readers of Wodehouse (myself included) read Douglas Adams before we discovered Wodehouse. Some have even come to Wodehouse on the strength of Adams’ recommendations – so it’s little wonder that Adams is so highly regarded among the modern Wodehouse-loving public.
3. Terry Pratchett
‘Susan hated Literature. She’d much prefer to read a good book.’
Terry Pratchett (Soul Music)
Susan’s feelings on ‘Literature’ are in sympathy with views expressed by many a Wodehouse hero. As a huge Terry Pratchett fan, I was delighted to discover Pratchett is a popular author among fellow Wodehouse fans – and with good reason. There is much to enjoy in Pratchett’s wit and style, and like Wodehouse, Terry Pratchett is a superb creator of strong female characters. The following exchange ( for example) would not be out of place in Wodehouse:
“The female mind is certainly a devious one, my lord.”
Vetinari looked at his secretary in surprise. “Well, of course it is. It has to deal with the male one.”
Terry Pratchett (Unseen Academicals)
Terry Pratchett has also been a fitting winner of the Bollinger Wodehouse prize, awarded to authors who best capture the ‘comic spirit’ of Wodehouse. Many Wodehouse fans would agree!
4. Jane Austen
“It is not everyone,’ said Elinor, ‘who has your passion for dead leaves.”
Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility)
Elinor Dashwood might as easily have been speaking to Madeline Bassett, or indeed to thousands of modern females who delight in the romance of Jane Austen, but don’t ‘get’ the jokes. In a world where the commercialisation of Jane Austen has depreciated her work through ill-conceived adaptations for the soupy ‘bosoms and bonnet’ brigade, it is heart-warming to know there are still many – men and women – who read and admire Austen for her sharp, satirical humour.
Douglas Adams, in his introduction to Sunset at Blandings (cited above) also included Austen in his list of greatest writers. Oddly enough, Wodehouse wasn’t a great fan of Jane Austen. One can only presume he started with the ‘wrong’ book.
5. Jerome K. Jerome
“It would not be a good place for the heroine of a modern novel to stay at. The heroine of a modern novel is always “divinely tall,” and she is ever “drawing herself up to her full height.” At the “Barley Mow” she would bump her head against the ceiling each time she did this.” Jerome K. Jerome (Three Men in a Boat)
Wodehouse, who preferred his heroines pint-sized, might well have approved. He would certainly have been familiar with Jerome K. Jerome’s much-loved classic ‘Three Men and a Boat’, which was published in 1889 when young Plum was still in sailor suits. Was Wodehouse a fan? Either the record is silent on the matter, or it’s a record I couldn’t find. Experts please advise.
Three Men in a Boat is a work often cited by Wodehouse readers. I read it following a recommendation from a fellow Plum fan several years ago, and I recall attracting unwanted attention while reading it on The Tube – as my feeble attempts to suppress laughter resulted in a fit of bodily heaving and shaking. Here is a classic excerpt:
I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch – hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into – some fearful, devastating scourge, I know – and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms – discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it – wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance – found, as I expected, that I had that too, – began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically – read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee….I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.I went to my medical man. He is an old chum of mine, and feels my pulse, and looks at my tongue, and talks about the weather, all for nothing, when I fancy I’m ill; so I thought I would do him a good turn by going to him now. “What a doctor wants,” I said, “is practice. He shall have me. He will get more practice out of me than out of seventeen hundred of your ordinary, commonplace patients, with only one or two diseases each.” So I went straight up and saw him, and he said:“Well, what’s the matter with you?”
“I will not take up your time, dear boy, with telling you what is the matter with me. Life is brief, and you might pass away before I had finished. But I will tell you what is NOT the matter with me. I have not got housemaid’s knee. Why I have not got housemaid’s knee, I cannot tell you; but the fact remains that I have not got it. Everything else, however, I HAVE got.”
These five authors were the indisputable (and deserving) favourites of our group, but if you think these choices reflect rather predictable reading tastes, think again! The reading lists of Wodehouse fans are incredibly diverse, and I look forward to sharing more with you over the coming days and weeks.
You might also like to join the ‘Fans of P G Wodehouse‘ Facebook community (which is just one of many excellent Wodehouse groups) as well our new Facebook bookclub ‘The Wood Hills Literary Society’. We look forward to meeting you.
Next in the series: Five more favourite writers of Wodehouse readers
53 thoughts on “What do Wodehouse lovers read when not reading Wodehouse?”
Lovely article, Miss. G. Numerous examples of Wodehouse expressing admiration for Jerome; Psmith Journalist for one, where he mentions Three Men in a Boat. Also mentioned in the Globe often. But I do think he was probably out of sailor suits by 1889!
Thanks so much John. I had a feeling Wodehouse was a fan, but couldn’t find any direct references. I wasn’t entirely sure about the ‘use-by date’ for sailor suits, but I just couldn’t resist the joke.
Wodehouse certainly knew Three Men in a Boat 🙂 In “PSmith in the city,” PSmith is aghast that a fellow called Jerome K Jerome has swiped Comrade Bickersdyke’s plaster of paris fish anecdote. That must count as a tribute, surely!
Well spotted indeed, ideallaedi!
Excellent post. I do believe PGW was a great admirer of Agatha Christie whose characters do pop up once in a while!
What Ho, Ashokbhatia. Can you think of any examples of Christie characters finding their way into Wodehouse? I was trying to think of one, but drew a blank (as so often happens when I look into my memory bank).
Can’t remember off hand. Shall try and revert in due course.
Right Ho! I’d love to know if you come across any.
Reblogged this on ashokbhatia and commented:
Here is an excellent post on authors who can be linked to P G Wodehouse by virtue of a common bond, the fans!
Thanks so much for sharing 🙂
Pleasure is mine.
Interesting post. Another mystery author that admired Wodehouse and was admired in return was Rex Stout. For all readers of Agatha Christie, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels are worth trying.
Watch this space, Satish. Rex Stout is also on the Plum fans’ reading list.
I’m with Douglas Adams in this one 🙂 Seriously to be told you are read between Wodehouse tales is a high accolade for a writer. Admittedly it probably means you’re not going to win many literary prizes, but it does mean you’re doing the job right 🙂
Absolutely. All good writers are readers too. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able talk about what they read – and authors they admire.
With me, I sort of grew up with Jeeves and Wooster, mainly from TV. Then when my Father in Law was in hospital he needed books taking to him and he loved PG Wodehouse. I started reading them after he did, and after his death I continued, working my way slowly and methodically though his collection. What really struck me was not merely that Plum was a genius with the language, or that he has no illusions about the writers life, or even that he was remarkably perceptive in so many ways. No what really struck me is that he is a genius with plots, I can think of nobody who is better at turning the screw just one more turn 🙂
His plots were intricately worked out with surprisingly few loopholes in them. I also find Wodehouse very soothing in times of trouble – there are some excellent audiobook versions as well.
I might have to look out for a few CDs for when I’m driving 🙂
Great idea. I listen to them at bedtime if I’m too tired to read.
I love Sherlock Holmes, er…I guess the author is so great at characterization that the name does not come to mind first ! 🙂
Absolutely, my dear JV! Look out for Conan Doyle in a future post as he’s definitely on the list.
RE: Agatha Christie,”Beginning in 1920 with The Mysterious Affair at Styles, his ‘little grey cells’ supplied Hercule Poirot’s brain-power for five decades of Agatha Christie mysteries. They appeared in a Wodehouse book as early as 1934’s Thank You, Jeeves.” (Ian Michaud and
Lynn V.G. annotations for Ice in the Bedroom.) As far as I know, no one has uncovered any Christie characters or wheezes in Wodehouse. but “In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Three, Buckle my Shoe (1940), Alistair Blunt’s head gardener is called MacAlister — anybody’s guess whether this is a bow to Wodehouse or parallel evolution.” (Mark Hodson, Blandings Castle annotations.)
Excellent. Excellent. I know there is a suspect in one Christie novel who is a bit of a drones type. Christie comments that he’s a character straight out of Wodehouse. Can’t recall the title, but it’s set on an archaeological dig.
Pratchet and his Diskworld are my other passion. 🙂 Jerome i’ve spoken of plenty of times.. These 2 and plum are my main antidepressants
Me too! They have all helped me in tough times.
Ah – didn’t realize you’d written a blog post – wonderfully expressed and I’m more than a little jealous of your ability to remember quotes and references, despite your claiming otherwise. 🙂
While I’m not a big fan of Christie (I’ve read a few but never got hooked on like some of the others), JKJ, Adams, Prachett all hit the right spot (somewhere above the third waistcoat button, I would think, if I wore waistcoats) after a hard day’s work squeezing blood out of turnips.
What Ho, Chetan. The secret to my capacity for quotation is a quick and steady ‘google’ hand. I get them right because I always look them up (in book form and/or google) because my memory is absolutely not to be trusted. Even if I got the words more-or-less right, I could never hope to punctuate from memory 🙂
As for Christie, I find her an enjoyable read, perfect for train journeys or days at home with a cold in the head. Not too taxing on the ‘little grey cells’, but well written and interesting enough to draw you in for the duration. Many attempts have been made to imitate or better her style, but remarkably few manage it. Personally, I prefer Miss Marple and the Beresfords to Poirot.
Maybe I’ll pick up a Christie again to see what I may be missing. 🙂
In other news, did you see my FB msg asking about the theme you’ve used for your blog – I love the look of it and would like to use it for mine as well, if you don’t mind.
What Ho, Chetan! It appears to be entitled ‘The Misty Lake Theme’.
Reblogged this on Plumtopia and commented:
What Ho! What Ho!
In my recent talk at the Psmith in Pseattle convention, I touched on the subject of what the modern Wodehouse reader is reading. As promised, I am ‘reblogging’ my original post on the subject. I will also share the two follow-up pieces which reveal the full list.
I have to say I’d never heard of Terry Pratchett until I came upon the FB Wodehouse group. Douglas Adams, I’d heard of but never came across any of his books.
There rest – 2 thumbs up for them, especially Jerome who is a class apart, IMO.
E.M. Delafield (The Provincial Lady series is her best known work) might be a good addition, and also E F Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books.
So happy to find others who love Wodehouse! I am a little late to the party but I love all of the authors mentioned in the blog post and the comments section.
What Ho, Terell! It’s always wonderful to meet another Wodehouse lover, and never too late to join the party.
I re read this post and it has not lost its grip. After wading into Wodehouse for years, my current pattern is to go to a random page, read and believe that all is right with the world. For this I will be ever thankful!
I love your posts and to sum it best, I will re quote “There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature”.
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No surer foundation indeed! Your wonderful comments have made my day Prabha. Thank you so much for writing them.
An excellent list to which I will also add:
(1) R.K.Narayan: his writing is brilliant. I know I have gone back and read his Swami & His Friends many times over laughing each time.
(2) Miss Read: her writing deals with village life in England. It may not be laugh out loud funny, but it is definitely feel good reading. She wrote over 40 books – 2 main series set in fictional Fairacre and Thrush Green villages
(3) Gerald Durrell: HIs writing is so energetic and refreshing. Both his autobiographical, My Family and Other Animals, and other works of fiction like Mockery Bird are laugh out loud funny
(4) Born a Crime 0 By Trevor Noah
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Great additions to the list. R.K. Narayan and Gerald Durrell are mentioned in the later pieces in this series, as they both featured in the poll of Wodehouse readers’ favourites. I love Trevor Noah’s stand-up so I must look out for his book.
E.F. Benson!! Miss Mapp is one of my favorite books of all time. It is hilarious.
The Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens
Diary of a Nobody – George and Weedon Grossmith
Mornings at Bow Street – John Wight
Mrs Caudle’s Curtain Lectures – Douglas William Jerrold
Thanks so much for sharing this — I haven’t read the last two (and I love to get new reading suggestions).
I read the Number One Ladies Detective Agency series. Like PGW , it takes place in a pleasant place. The author has a clear voice and it is sweetly funny.
I am a bit surprised not to find Nancy Mitford among the suggested authors. Though she wrote certainly several books that have beside humourous passages also more serious ones, her older titles (such as Highland Fling or Wigs on the Green) are in my opnion very Wodehouse-like.
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I’m pleased to be able to report that Nancy Mitford was on the (much longer) full list of authors nominated. I love her historical biographies.
Another author that springs to my mind: Leonard Wibberley and his Duchy of Grand Fenwick novels (alias: The Mouse Books).
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What, no Waugh — author of the second (or maybe third) funniest passage ever written, the story of Apthorpe’s thunderbox? Or Greene — another creator of his own world (Greeneland) into which he tipped Our Man in Havana and Travels with My Aunt? Or, golly going back a bit: Thackeray (Vanity Fair) and Trollope (Barchester)? Or on the other side of the ditch — Thurber, Fitzgerald, Faulkner etc etc etc and, blimey, etc? The Old Stepper is shocked, shocked I tell you!
Over 250 authors were nominated and endorsed at the time. I compiled a top 50 list here: https://honoriaplum.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/50-authors-wodehouse-readers-love/
Waugh, Greene and Thurber were on it.
I remember seeing your list, Mrs Plum, when it was first published and I was surprised by it at the time but refrained from adding my prejudices to it. Couldn’t help myself yesterday, I’m afraid. But there is one surprise, for me anyway, still to be explored: Wodehouse readers’ liking for Douglas Adams. I mean, I do, but I’m a bit strange. Dirk Gently needs to investigate.
No restraint required, old bean. I suspect a serious stocktake of Wodehouse readers’ extended reading preferences could result in a list of authors numbering in the thousands.