‘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’ (Mulliner Nights)
To celebrate World Book Day, I’ve put together a little reading list of some of the books featured in Wodehouse’s writing.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
‘… I’m in the middle of a rather special book. Ever read Great Expectations? Dickens, you know.’
‘I know. Haven’t read it, though. Always rather funk starting on a classic, somehow. Good?’
‘My dear chap! Good’s not the word.’The Pothunters (1902)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
‘Mr. Downing had read all the Holmes stories with great attention, and had thought many times what an incompetent ass Doctor Watson was; but, now that he had started to handle his own first case, he was compelled to admit that there was a good deal to be said in extenuation of Watson’s inability to unravel tangles.’Mike and Psmith (1909)
‘His book was The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and the particular story, which he selected for perusal was the one entitled, “The Speckled Band.” He was not a great reader, but, when he read, he liked something with a bit of zip to it.’Indiscretions Of Archie (1921)
She looked down. “Have you been reading? What is the book?”
“It’s a volume of Tennyson.”
“Are you fond of Tennyson?”
“I worship him,” said Sam reverently. “Those–” he glanced at his cuff–“those Idylls of the King! I do not like to think what an ocean voyage would be if I had not my Tennyson with me.”
“We must read him together. He is my favourite poet!”
“We will! There is something about Tennyson….”
“Yes, isn’t there! I’ve felt that myself so often!”The Girl on The Boat (1922)
A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain
‘Out of a library which was probably congested with the most awful tosh, he had stumbled first pop upon Mark Twain’s Tramp Abroad, a book which he had not read since he was a kid but had always been meaning to read again; just the sort of book, in fact, which would enable a fellow to forget the anguish of starvation until that milk-train went.’Mr Mulliner Speaking (1929)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
‘You cannot copyright an idea, and times have become so hard for thriller-writers that they are after any possible new murderer like a pack of wolves.
You see, the supply of murderers is giving out. They have all been used so often. You cannot even be sure of the detective’s friend flow. Ever since Agatha Christie’s Roger Ackroyd we keep a very sharp eye on that friend. It is very lucky for Doctor Watson that he belonged to the pre-Christie era.’Louder and Funnier (1932)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
What does a fellow’s face matter anyway?’ said Joey Cooley.
‘Looks don’t mean a thing. Didn’t Frankenstein get married?’
‘Did he?’ said Eggy. ‘I don’t know. I never met him. Harrow man, I expect.’Laughing Gas (1936)
Das Kapital by Karl Marx
What a curse these social distinctions are. They ought to be abolished. I remember saying that to Karl Marx once, and he thought there might be an idea for a book in it.Quick Service (1940)
‘Bertie! This is amazing! Do you really read Spinoza?’
It’s extraordinary how one yields to that fatal temptation to swank. It undoes the best of us. Nothing, I mean, would have been simpler than to reply that she had got the data twisted and that the authoritatively annotated edition was a present for Jeeves. But, instead of doing the simple, manly, straightforward thing, I had to go and put on dog.
‘Oh, rather,’ I said, with an intellectual flick of the umbrella. ‘When I have a leisure moment, you will generally find me curled up with Spinoza’s latest.’Joy in the Morning (1947)
And not forgetting:
The complete works of William Shakespeare
‘Beginning by quoting from Polonius’s speech to Laertes, which a surprising number of people whom you would not have suspected of familiarity with the writings of Shakespeare seem to know, Mr Pott had gone on to say that lending money always made him feel as if he were rubbing velvet the wrong way, and that in any case he would not lend it to Pongo, because he valued his friendship too highly.’Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939)
‘From start to finish of every meal she soliloquized. Shakespeare would have liked her.’The Mating Season (1949)
‘His blood pressure was high, his eye rolled in what they call a fine frenzy, and he was death-where-is-thy-sting-ing like nobody’s business.’Jeeves in the Offing (1960)
This little compilation merely scratches the surface of literary reference in Wodehouse’s work, providing further proof, if further proof is needed, that the great comic master offers much more than a light read — he’s educational!
Cover Image: P.G. Wodehouse’s reading chair and library by Honoria Plum