In my last piece, I revealed the top top five authors Wodehouse lovers in the ‘Fans of P G Wodehouse’ Facebook community named as their favourites (when not reading Wodehouse). No doubt you’re itching to know who else our Plum chums love to read, so I’m here to share the next five most popular authors named. As these five were almost equally popular, I’ve listed them chronologically.
Charles Dickens (b. 1812)
‘She dotes on poetry, sir. She adores it; I may say that her whole soul and mind are wound up, and entwined with it. She has produced some delightful pieces, herself, sir. You may have met with her ‘Ode to an Expiring Frog,’ sir.” ‘
Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers
Dickens has both fans and detractors among our Wodehouse loving fraternity. As someone who reads for escapist pleasure, I sympathise with those who avoid Dickens. It seems Wodehouse was not a fan either. In a 1954 letter to Denis Mackail, he asked: ‘Do you hate Dickens’s stuff? I can’t read it.’ (Sophie Ratcliffe, A Life in Letters) And yet he must have done, because Dickens references have be spotted in the Wodehouse canon.
Take this example, from an early school story Tales of St. Austin’s (see ‘The Annotated Wodehouse’ for others):
‘Bradshaw,’ I said, as I reached page 103 without having read a line, ‘do you know any likely bits?’
Bradshaw looked up from his book. He was attempting to get a general idea of Thucydides’ style by reading Pickwick.
‘What?’ he said.
I obliged with a repetition of my remark.
‘Likely bits? Oh, you mean for the Thucydides. I don’t know. Mellish never sets the bits any decent ordinary individual would set. I should take my chance if I were you.’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘I’m going to read Pickwick. Thicksides doesn’t come within a mile of it.’
I thought so too.
Tales of St. Austin’s (1903)
The choice of ‘Pickwick’ is significant here; one can hardly imagine the boys reading Bleak House or Barnaby Rudge with the same enthusiasm. Author Julie Berry suggests ‘Pickwick’ might have influenced Wodehouse more deeply. It’s a view I’m ill-qualified to judge without reading ‘Pickwick’ for myself, so I’ve acquired a copy and have added it to my reading list.
Saki (b. 1870)
“I’m living so far beyond my means that we may almost be said to be living apart.”
Saki (The Unbearable Bassington)
The stories of Hector Munro, written under the pen name Saki, are often cited as a favourite of Wodehouse readers, and if that’s not recommendation enough – Wodehouse himself was a fan. So too was the ever-reliable Christopher Hitchens:
‘At the age of 15, Noel Coward was staying in an English country house and found a copy of Beasts and Super-Beasts on a table: “I took it up to my bedroom, opened it casually and was unable to go to sleep until I had finished it.” I had a similar experience at about the same age, and I agree with Coward that H. H. Munro—or “Saki,” the author of the book in question—is among those few writers, inspirational when read at an early age, who definitely retain their magic when revisited decades later. I have the impression that Saki is not very much appreciated in the United States. Good. That means I can put into my debt many of you who are reading these words. Go and get an edition of this Edwardian master of the short story. Begin with, say, “Sredni Vashtar” or “The Lumber-Room” or “The Open Window.” Then see whether you can put the book down.’
I’ve not read any Saki, but I like what I’ve seen and plan to correct this at the earliest opportunity.
Richmal Crompton (b. 1890)
“ Readin’ all those books makes me wonder whether anyone ever dies natural.”
An author I’m sorry to say I’d never heard of until last week (and must also add to my reading list), Richmal Crompton was a contemporary of Wodehouse, a prolific author of over eighty titles, best remembered for her Just William books. They are school stories, a genre Wodehouse started in, but moved away from. I’d love to know what he made of them. Crompton also wrote novels and short stories for adults. I look forward learning more about her and her writing.
R.K. Narayan (b.1906)
“The faint aroma of gum and calico that hangs about a library is as the fragrance of incense to me. I think the most beautiful sight is the gilt-edged backs of a row of books on a shelf. The alley between two well-stocked shelves in a hall fills me with the same delight as passing through a silent avenue of trees. The colour of a binding-cloth and its smooth texture gives me the same pleasure as touching a flower on its stalk. A good library hall has an atmosphere which elates. I have seen one or two University Libraries that have the same atmosphere as a chapel, with large windows, great trees outside, and glass doors sliding on noiseless hinges.”
The choice of this Indian writer in an otherwise British ‘top ten’ line-up reflects, to some extent, Wodehouse’s large following in contemporary India. Although to be fair, R.K. Narayan is also highly regarded and deservedly popular outside his homeland. Narayan was also a Wodehouse fan, and a quick google search reveals scores of readers who are devoted readers of both – making Narayan another recommendation I’ll be adding to my list.
‘R. K. Narayan tells ordinary stories extraordinarily well… His Malgudi is like Hardy’s Wessex and P.G. Wodehouse’s Blanding (sic), far from the clamour and turmoil of urban settings, a place where life carries on at a leisurely pace and change is minimal.’
John Mortimer (b.1923)
“The main aim of education should be to send children out into the world with a reasonably sized anthology in their heads so that, while seated on the lavatory, waiting in doctor’s surgeries, on stationary trains or watching interviews with politicians, they have something interesting to think about.”
Through the medium of 1970s television, I was acquainted with Leo McKern as Rumpole of the Bailey, long before I was old enough to read Mortimer’s original. Every Sunday night, the family would sit around my Grandmother’s colour television watching Rumpole and other British comedies of the era: The Two Ronnies, Dad’s Army, The Good Life, Are You Being Served. Whatever faint chance I had of understanding these shows at such a young age was wholly shattered by my inability (or anybody else’s) to hear anything above the hysterical noise emanating from my grandmother. It hardly mattered. Her frothing and squealing delighted and fascinated me far more than any television show could have done. As an adult, I’ve read most of John Mortimer’s books several times over. His wit, easy style, and nostalgic associations always make for a pleasurable read.
Until I started researching this piece however, I’d never associated Mortimer with Wodehouse, whom I discovered much later (that’s quite a story, by the way). So I was delighted to find John Mortimer was a great Wodehouse fan. Indeed, after Mortimer’s death in 2009, Edward Cazalet (Wodehouse’s grandson) said of him:
‘He never missed an opportunity of referring to “The Master”, as he called Plum when speaking to me, in terms of the highest admiration. He wrote a thorough and scholarly assessment of Wodehouse in The Best of Wodehouse (an Everyman Anthology), starting with the theme that “It is a serious fault in our approach to literature, that we do not take comedy seriously”. Then, taking comedy seriously, he went on to rank Wodehouse as one of the best writers of the first half of the 20th century.’
I can certainly recommend Mortimer to fans of Wodehouse. UK-based fans can also listen to the new BBC radio adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Rumpole. He is not Leo McKern of course, but one can hardly blame a chap for that. He is also far too young for the part, but despite my misgivings I thought he was very good.
This completes our top ten. What do you think of it? Have you discovered anything new? I look forward to sharing a third and final instalment on ‘authors Wodehouse readers also read’ very soon. Until then, happy reading!
Next in this series: 50 authors Wodehouse readers love
34 thoughts on “Five more favourite writers of Wodehouse readers”
Another Dickens reference Wodehouse used often was ‘It is a far, far better thing that I do’ from A Tale of Two Cities.
Great post, yet again. Tolstoy, G B Shaw, Shakespeare………..the list goes on!
What Ho! Thanks awfully. The list does indeed go on.
Just a few of my pennies here (paisa in my currency)…an author’s greatness should probably judged on parameters aside from their contribution to the world of literature, if we consider the litterateurs only.
They could perhaps be best judged on parameters like their influence on their contemporaries’ works and characterizations, in the way their style inspired idioms or sayings or caricatures, in the way other mediums like cinema or theatre or even science (Isaac Asimov is one such author who made a tremendous impact on how space research got direction) evolve around or due to their works.
It is significant to note here that the word ‘great’ or its attributes have no more meaning for today’s world because such attributes best become a world, where a lot of ingenuity, command and mastery of the tool were required to both survive and make an impact.
Put in the perspective of how humans, nowadays, live a ‘packaged’ life because all that is ‘eatable’ has been already discovered for us, all we have to do is eat but imagine that period when ‘spices’, for instance, were being discovered and people were discovering how and what proportions if added changes the taste of the food, best explains why the ‘authors’ today have a more ‘packaged’ world to deliver to than these and other great authors of the past !
What Ho Ravichandran, and thanks for popping in with the paisa. Yours is a very interesting proposition, and we needn’t go back to far to get a sense of this. I can remember, in the world before the internet, the joy of ‘discovering’ a new book or author – perhaps in a second hand bookshop, a market stall, at the library, or though a friend. I now have more reading recommendation than it would be possible to satiate in the remainder of my lifetime, and yet so much of it fails to grip! Perhaps the problem lies with the modern ‘package’ you describe. I want to be treated like a reader, not a ‘market’
correction – an author’s greatness should probably judged on parameters – *be judged*
Welcome, Honoria, a virtual penny or paisa saved will not make me any richer so am quite generous thereabouts.
But really, I think one ‘discover’s a Victorian or an Elizabethan author in a book stall than a modern one because the modern one has ‘already’ reached one through some marketing medium and so, nowadays, one rarely picks up a new book (knowing where to pick it from) not to ‘read’, pre se, but more to satisfy the curiosity of whether what is being talked about or whether that opinion of that person is really correct or not.
So, whether you like it or not, a reader, nowadays, is only a ‘component’ of market economics
and so, too, the writer.
Great post, which amongst other things has corrected my long-held but clearly erroneous belief that Richmal Crompton was a man!
Fiction Fan – I think I would have drawn the same conclusion, if I hadn’t been looking her up for this piece.
Reblogged this on ashokbhatia and commented:
Here is yet another post which would be of interest to those who survive on their daily dose of quality reading. ‘The Guide’ and ‘Malgudi Days’ of R K Narayan happen to be my favorites!
Thanks Ashokbhatia. I have ordered some Narayan for our local library. Can’t wait!
I guess my writing has become rustic for not having written in a meaningful medium for a long time and hence, these corrections. I hope they do not qualify for ‘troll’.
“one rarely picks up a new book (knowing where to pick it from) not to ‘read’, pre se,”
*one rarely discovers a new book (due to already knowing where to pick it from) to ‘read’, per se,*
What Ho, Ravichandran. No need to worry. I sometimes use an ipad, which automatically completes and corrects my writing, sometimes after I’ve written a word and moved on. Even when I’m convinced that I’ve proof-read stuff, I see errors in the stuff once it has been posted. It irks! Don’t let it worry you here though.
I love Dorothy Whipple too. But PG is always such a hard act to follow..!
Never read any Whipple. Thanks for the suggestion.
Didn’t she write ‘The Care of the Fig’?
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Ha ha! I’d never made the connection! Maybe Augustus and Dorothy are related?
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Reblogged this on Plumtopia and commented:
Hot on the heels of yesterday’s top five, this piece completes the top ten list of authors endorsed by Wodehouse readers. Some surprises, I thought. Since writing this piece, I have read a good deal of Saki and am grateful to have ‘discovered’ his stuff via Wodehouse lovers.
I recommend the Mapp and Lucia stories by E.F. Benson. They were also adapted to British Television starring Geraldine McCuan and Nigel Hawthorne.
I really love these lists.. 😀 William is wonderful (in fact, picked up Richmal Crompton from here only last time.. 🙂 ), and so is R K Narayan! John Mortimer sounds very interesting.. 🙂
Me too, Sindhuja! I still have not read enough of these authors. I loved your story about Richmal Crompton.
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If I’m correct, all but one of the ten writers listed are British. And this does not surprise me at all. I’m American, but I’ve always found British writers to be full of a wit and charm that we just don’t have over here. I fell in love with Douglas Adams when I read him, and I’ve dabbled in some Wodehouse, but I’ve not read any of these others, and clearly I must. I love A.A. Milne and Mervyn Peake, and Tolkien, for example, and of course Adams. But the only American writer I really connect with is Salinger. I’ve got to dive into this list. Thanks for this. Good stuff.
You are sport on with your observations. Saki was born in Burma to British parents, but he was raised in England and claimed as a British writer. From the original long list of authors generated and many book related discussions (in the Facebook Wodehouse group and elsewhere) I feel confident in claiming that our reading tastes are more diverse that the list suggests, but it is British writers (particularly humourists) where our reading tastes intersect.
I’m so glad you liked it. I shall now have to give to Sallinger a try too.
Love the British humorists, I do. Love love love them. Never would have put Dickens in with that bunch though, that’s interesting. But then I’ve never read Dickens and maybe a I should.
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What Ho, Walt. I still have not read Dickens, beyond a chapter of Pickwick. Someday I am determined to read another chapter of Pickwick. But that’s as far as my ambitions go where Dickens is concerned. I’ve no doubt it’s brimming excellent stuff and fascinating historical insights, but much of it is grim, grim, grim. Call me an escapist, but when I want gritty realism, I need only put my book down.
Sounds even better. I like grim, too!
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In which case, Dickens may be just your cup of tea.
Well I was a late arrival at the Wodehouse Ball. I remember first coming across him when I was a teenager and boldly decided to buy Carry On Jeeves because I had heard it was so funny. But I tried and I tried and thrice times tried, but could not get it. So I abandoned it until well into my adult years when an emergency need for a small volume to take on a camping holiday meant that I determined to try him again. I had in the meantime feasted on Douglas Adams and so many other authors who all praised Plum. The Spanish campsite reverberated with my laughter and I have never looked back.
What ho, Tommy. What a great story. I was a relative latecomer too. I ‘discovered’ and enjoyed my first few Wodehouse books in my early twenties, but was living in a remote area (pre-internet era) so I couldn’t get my hands on any more. It was some years later, when I moved to something approximating civilization that I was able to start scouring second hand bookshops for Wodehouse. Even then, they were hard to find, so each battered old paperback I unearthed was much treasured.
I have read a couple of Richmal Compton’s adult novels. Loved them. But the Just William books are hilarious.
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Thanks Addison. I still need to read them, but I’ve heard only good things about them.
Make that Richmal Crompton. Sorry.
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The Just William books are very funny, but they are not really school stories. School features in only a minority of the stories, most of William’s adventures take place out of school.