Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

P.G. Wodehouse recommends: A Reading List for World Book Day

‘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

dickensGE

‘… 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

adventures_of_sherlock_holmes

‘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)

Tennyson’s Idylls of the King 

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

the_murder_of_roger_ackroyd_first_edition_cover_1926

‘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

frank

What does a fellow’s face matter anyway?’ said Joey Cooley.

‘Exactly.’

‘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)

Spinoza’s Ethics

‘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

title_page_william_shakespeare27s_first_folio_1623

‘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!

Happy Reading!

HP

Cover Image: P.G. Wodehouse’s reading chair and library by Honoria Plum

Five more favourite writers of Wodehouse readers

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

pickwickclub_serial1Dickens 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.’

Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic (2008)

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.”

Richmal Crompton

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.”

R.K. Narayan

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.’

Rajdeep Bains in The Tribune, India (2004)

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.”

 John Mortimer

rumpoleThrough 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.’

Edward Cazalet (in a piece for the P G Wodehouse Society)

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!

HP

Next in this series: 50 authors Wodehouse readers love

Cover Story: 5 people share their ideas about Classic Novels they’ve never read

I wrote this a few years ago at my personal blog, which I am now decommissioning. I thought I’d save this piece to share here with fellow Wodehouse lovers.

This week, I enjoyed a piece called Judging a Book by Its Cover: A 6-year-old guesses what classic novels are all about. It inspired me to conduct a similar exercise of my own. I showed the covers of 7 classic novels – one from each category of  The Guardian’s list of 1000 novels everyone must read) – to five people, of different ages, who had not read these books. I asked them to consider what, if anything, they already knew about the book, what they thought it was about, and whether they’d like to read it. I was particularly interested to compare how their responses varied.

The subjects were:

  • Amelia, a bright 6-year-old girl.
  • Ian, an intelligent 28-year-old who has struggled with reading throughout his life due to a learning disability (he can read words, but loses track of meaning in complex sentences).
  • Stephanie, a 37-year-old avid reader with eclectic tastes.
  • Bill, a 43-year-old who likes science fiction.
  • Lena, a 63-year-old who reads popular psychology and spiritual non-fiction.

Decline And Fall by Evelyn Waugh

“a bit of an odd cover for a historical book.”

AMELIA: thought this might be a P.G. Wodehouse book because “one of them looks like Jeeves.” She thought the story might about things that fall off. “Coats might fall off people or cars might fall into water.”

IAN: thinks it might be “about somebody gaining money or gaining power and then losing it.” Asked if he would be interested to read it, he wasn’t convinced it would be worth reading.

STEPHANIE: “I don’t know what it’s about, but I loved Vile Bodies and I’d love to read this. It might be about the same kind of thing – decadent living and debauchery.”

BILL: “I’ve heard of this, it’s a history of the Roman Empire. It’s a bit of an odd cover for a historical book. I would have expected Roman Emperors or statues of things. Something a bit more Roman. Have I got the right book? It’s not the sort of thing I’d usually read.” After reading the blurb Bill said, “That sounds better  – I might actually give it a read.”

LENA: “It’s probably set in the early 1900s – 1930s, perhaps a romance between people from different social stratas.” When the plot was described, Lena was surprised. “It hadn’t entered my mind that it might be a comedy. I’ve heard Evelyn Waugh is a good writer so I’d certainly give it some consideration on the basis of that – and the period in which it’s set. I quite like things of that era.”

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Not Anna Karenina

AMELIA: “It might be about “someone stealing and then they had to get in jail. It doesn’t sound very nice. It sounds a little bit mean.”

IAN:  “I have heard of this.” Ian thought the story would be “exactly what is says: steal the bread and you get your fingers cut off; do the crime, do the time.” He wouldn’t read it, but might watch the film version, “as long as it’s not subtitled.”

STEPHANIE: “I have a copy of this. I know I should read it.” She thought it might be about “Russians suffering.” When the plot was described, Stephanie said, it was “just as I suspected – grim and depressing.”

BILL: “I’m not all that hot on Russian novels”. Bill had heard of the title and author, but wasn’t really sure – or interested – in what it was about. After reading a description of the book, he was still “not really interested.” He elaborated by saying, “I tend to think of Russian authors as being a bit too depressing.”

LENA: “It’s certainly one that I’ve heard of. I’d guess that it’s set in Russia, possibly in war-time. Perhaps it’s about a captain in the Russian army – there’s a woman involved who’s married to somebody important, but she’s attracted to this dashing young officer and they have wild fling, and get caught. He’s sent to the Russian front and ‘disposed of’.” After reading the synopsis, Lena was interested in reading further” ‘I think that sounds really interesting.”

Ulysses by James Joyce

“…about a man who has no brain”

AMELIA: “It might be about a man and he has no brain and he does not know what any answer is to anything.” She thought “it might be a little bit funny, so I think I do want to read it.”

IAN:  “Is this about that over 50’s motorcycle group? Maybe he’s a blind guy who is toffee-nosed and thinks he’s better than everyone else. ” After hearing a synopsis, Ian said, “265,000 words about one day! That sounds like my Mum. She could talk for half an hour about going to the shop.”

STEPHANIE: I’ve read a biography of James Joyce and I’ve read Portrait of the Artist. I don’t find Joyce very appealing, and a lot of the people who talk about him are really pretentious. I wouldn’t mind betting half them haven’t read it (Ulysses).” After hearing a synopsis of the book, Stephanie thought it sounded “…pretty pretentious as well.”

BILL:  “It’s a bit of a classic. He named it after the Greek story by.. Homer isn’t it?” Bill doesn’t know what it’s about, but he remembers reading somewhere that it’s one of those book he ‘should’ read.” After reading the description, Bill is less keen. “I’m not really into stream-of-consciousness novels.”

LENA: “This would be a novel based loosely on the epic poem and brought into the modern era – or his era. It’s probably about a young fellow leaving the shores of his country and a fairly narrow, predictable existence – to go to war. And his whole life changes beyond what his experiences might have been if he’d never gone to war. His whole way of viewing things is challenged and he returns a very different person.” When a synopsis of the book was read to her,  Lena felt she wouldn’t want to read it. “I know people think he (Joyce) is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it doesn’t interest me. If I want stream-of-consciousness, I can listen to myself.”

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“it’s going to be a romance”

AMELIA: “It’s about a magic fence that could open by itself and someone invisible is coming into the house, and tries to steal all the kids in the house, and the children might think it’s a ghost. There might be a big adventure.” She doesn’t want to read it “because it might be too scary, but I like to hear about big adventures.”

IAN: “Stupid title for a book unless it’s a biography.” He thought it might be a thriller or a horror.  “Not my cup of tea.”

STEPHANIE: “I’ve got an old penguin paperback copy of this, and it’s always somewhere near the top of the pile so I’ll probably read it eventually. I don’t know a lot about it, apart from the fact that Alfred Hitchcock made a film of it. I’m imagining something a little bit like a Bronte novel.”

BILL: “I don’t really know anything about the book or the author. It sounds a bit like a romantic novel , or Thomas Hardy – I can’t bear Thomas Hardy! Bill was even less interested after reading the blurb.

LENA: “My mother used to read Daphne Du Maurier, but her copy of this book had a very different cover. I remember it quite vividly because it was very different from other book covers of the time – it had a picture of a very glamourous looking female on the front and it really caught my eye as a kid. I just presumed it was a romance. I guess it would be set in the 1800s. She’s either a well-to-do woman – it’s going to be a romance – who meets a guy from the wrong side of the tracks and has to leave her wealthy home behind. Or otherwise, she’s incarcerated in an insane asylum. I can’t make up my mind. Those gates seem to be symbolic of either being locked up or escaping from something.” After hearing the plot synopsis, Lena thought she probably wouldn’t read it, “but I might watch the film if it came out”.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

“mystery about a one-handed person who murders people”

AMELIA:  “There was a mountain with snow on it and even though it was a bright day, it was dark. And there was a queen who lived in the castle and whenever she saw people go past, she got a book of spells off the shelf to see if she could stop them from getting her gold and stop the white tigers from guarding the forest of darkness. At the end, when she lost, she went ‘nooooooooo!’ It might be a little be too scary for me.”

IAN:  “A murder mystery about a one-handed person who murders people with their one hand.” Ian didn’t want to read it. “I can’t really follow science fiction fantasy plots very well.”

STEPHANIE: “I’d heard of this title, but it never sounded very appealing. I really like the cover though. I have no idea what it’s about – some kind of futile struggle for meaning in the face of adversity, blah blah blah.” After hearing a synopsis of the book, she thought it was”nothing like I’d thought it was. I’d be more likely to read it, but I already have a lot of others books I want to read, so I won’t make any promises.”

BILL:  “I have heard a synopsis of the plot in past. I’ve forgotten what it was about now, but I’ve always wanted to read it.” After reading a synopsis of the book, Bill said slowly “…ahh, I think I have read that – and it was really good.” Yeah, Bill. Obviously!

LENA: “I don’t get science fiction at all. I don’t know what it could be about – some kind of time travelly, futuristicy sort of thing, set in some other dimension.” After hearing a synopsis, Lena said she was interested in reading it “on two counts because I’d be interested to see how she works that. I have got a sense of her as a name that I associate with good writing, so I’d be prepared to give it a chapter or two to see if I could get into it.”

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

“Why would you call a book Bleak House?”

AMELIA:  “About a house called Bleak and a boy called Bleak, and the house could talk. And whenever the Mum called ‘Bleak!’ the boy Bleak and the House both ran to her, but she said “Bleak go away!” So she decided that she would call them ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Bleak Boy’ whenever she called out, and that solved the problem.” Amelia would read this story, “because it doesn’t sound that scary.”

IAN: “A very boring sort of house in a very boring street – the people who live there are not very nice and nobody wants to go there.” Asked if he’d read it, Ian said, “Definitely not! Why would you call a book Bleak House?”

STEPHANIE:   “I am interested in Dickens, and I know he created great characters and exposed some of the terrible conditions of his time, but… I’m depressed enough already.”

BILL:  “I’ve heard of this and I’ve heard of Dickens of course. Mainly ‘A Christmas Carol'”. It doesn’t look very cheery. Probably it’s like most Dickens – all about hardship and deprivation and incredibly depressing. I read to escape from depressing reality, not read something even more depressing.”

LENA: “Well if it’s Charles Dickens, it’s gotta be a social commentary sort of thing depicting the life of the times. He might have written it as one whole sentence. He wrote the longest sentence in history, I think. The child might be the central character, probably an orphan who has found himself in the poor house. Some rich benevolent fellow and his family might discover him, take pity on him and rescue him, and later he falls in love with the daughter of the benefactor and they go through all sorts of trials and tribulations. And Dickens covers a fair bit of territory in terms of covering the life and times of the poor and disadvantaged in England at the time. I’ve read quite a few Dickens and I really enjoyed him when I was young. A Tale of Two Cities was fantastic – really different from my life in the Australian bush. I understand what he was about, but I don’t know that I could be bothered any more.”

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad 

“wild west high shenanigans”

AMELIA: “It’s about a man who is trying to kill someone and he has a gun with five shooting holes so the girl’s in trouble. But the girl throws the cannonball back and it hits the gun. And the man turns into a prince who says, ‘How did you know I was really a prince and got transformed?” Amelia wouldn’t really like to read it “because I don’t like fighting stories.”

IAN:  “Some Spanish guy with a neat moustache hiding in the bushes? Sounds like it might be about a Mexican guy trying to sneak into America or working on a cotton or cocaine plantation in Mexico and he rises to become some head army dude like Fidel Castro. It’s probably his memoirs. Yeah! If it was a movie I might be tempted.”

STEPHANIE: “I have to confess I’ve avoided reading any Joseph Conrad because I used to go out with this guy who really loved Conrad. This guy was an awful prat, and unfortunately I’ve just associated Conrad with him and haven’t been able to touch him (Conrad). But I started reading The Secret Agent the other day and I have to say that I love his writing style. I don’t know what this one is about though. Is it the sea one?” After reading the book blurb, Stephanie wasn’t sure if she’d read it. “This doesn’t really sound like my kind of thing, but he’s such a great writer, perhaps he makes it more interesting than it sounds.”

BILL: “The name of the author rings a bell. Is he American? Nostromo is the name of the spaceship in the first Alien movie.” Looking at the cover, Bill thought it might be about “gold digging, claim jumping, wild west high shenanigans. Not really my sort of thing.” But after hearing a description, Bill thought, “it could be interesting.”

LENA: “I’ve read one of his. It’ll be in some exotic place. The book I read was something to do with the sea. He’s probably picked a country like South America or Spain, and he’s writing about this fellow Nostramo who takes a journey across the seas to South America and makes his fortunes in the gold mines. And the story will go on and on and on forever and he’ll describe eloquently and painstakingly every fly that flies past him, so it’ll be pretty hard going. It’ll be deep and meaningful, but I don’t think that I could be bothered. I might watch it as a movie and if I thought it wasn’t such a bad yarn, I might decide it was worth reading.”

Thanks again to my ‘subjects’ for their time and refreshing honesty.

HP