Tag Archives: Paul Kent

Sweetness and light – How seriously should we take Wodehouse?

Times Literary Supplement (TLS) Book Review

“I always strive, when I can, to spread sweetness and light. There have been several complaints about it”.

Service with a Smile (1961)

Of interest to Wodehouse fans, Eliza Easton has written a review — Sweetness and light: How seriously should we take Wodehouse? — of Paul Kent’s ‘Pelham Grenville Wodehouse Volume 1: This is Jolly Old Fame’ and the latest Wodehouse compilation Above Average at Games’ by Richard Kelly — in the Times Literary Supplement.

HP

New Wodehouse book: ‘This is jolly old Fame’ by Paul Kent hits the spot

It’s here we arrive at the main thrust of this Introduction: literary criticism – which is a significant branch of the Culture Industry – has thus far failed Wodehouse miserably; that is, when it has deigned to notice him. And this has long hindered a true appreciation of his achievements not just as a great comic writer, but as a great writer and Artist…

Paul Kent ~ This is jolly old Fame

Whenever I try to describe this blog to people who don’t read it and, let’s face it, probably didn’t ask and don’t want to know, they seem to come away with the impression that I write book reviews. But between ourselves, I find book reviews incredibly difficult and rarely attempt them.

I mean, it’s easy enough to write a ripping admonishment of a uniformly dreadful book, but who has the time to read dreadful books in these busy modern times, let alone make their authors feel any worse? So too, the kind of self-indulgent opinion sharing that routinely passes for review online, which I’m quite good at. Look me up on Twitter, Facebook or Goodreads and you’ll find no shortage of unsubstantiated literary opinions (at least unsubstantiated by me) along the lines of Jane Eyre was a tedious whiner and we’d all be a lot better off if everybody just stuck to reading Wodehouse.

But Paul Kent has written something worthy of more thoughtful review, and I’m dashed if I know how to go about it.

It’s not that I’m lacking in things to say about this book. On the contrary, if you’ll observe my reading copy below, each tag indicates a point on which I’ve been prompted to reflect and want to return to later — so many in fact, that about half way first reading I had to go back and start again with a colour coded system.

jolly

This is why, as far as I’m concerned, This is jolly old Fame hits the spot. In some places, Paul Kent makes points that I’ve always wanted to make, but never quite found the right time or had the wit to put into words. To pick just one instance: he says:

…reading even a few Wodehouse novels with reasonably careful attention, there appear scores of themes and recurring motifs which, considered together, add up to something that is both significant and, ultimately, revealing…

And he’s right!

More often, Kent makes points which had never occurred to me, setting my thoughts in a multitude of new directions. He draws on an impressive array of literary sources and opinions, but doesn’t hold back from giving his own – firmly, but respectfully questioning some of the ideas many of us seem to have accepted as lore when it comes to discussing Wodehouse and his work. This is the sort of thinking and writing the world of Wodehouse appreciation needs – and gives the rest of us plenty to talk about.

And this is just Volume 1, with two more volumes to yet come. The focus here is on Wodehouse’s early writing career, influences, and the development of his inimitable style and reputation. Kent begins with this quotation, from one of Wodehouse’s letters to his step-daughter Leonora:

I really am becoming rather a blood these days. . . [In] a review of a book in the Times, they say “The author at times reverts to the P.G. Wodehouse manner”. This, I need scarcely point out to you, is jolly old Fame. Once they begin to refer to you in that casual way as if everybody must know who you are all is well. P.G. Wodehouse

Kent, Jolly Old Fame

I could say more, but each of the many threads I’d like to unpick would lead us to another 1500 or so words of superfluous chattering, when all you really need to know is:

‘This is jolly old Fame’ hits the spot.

You can buy it — here.

HP

5 Books Published by P.G. Wodehouse on his Birthday

PG Wodehouse was born on this day, 15 October 1881, in Guildford England. I make no apology for mentioning it each year as an occasion to celebrate, because, as Wodehouse expert Paul Kent puts it:

…his 100 or so books must represent one of the largest-ever bequests to human happiness by one man, at least in literature.

in Pelham Grenville Wodehouse Volume 1: ‘This is jolly old fame’

Five of these gifts to humanity were, like Wodehouse himself, also published on 15 October – in four different decades.

1925 Sam the Sudden montage1925 – Sam the Sudden

Published on P.G. Wodehouse’s 44th birthday, this hidden gem is much loved by Wodehouse fans.

For a moment Kay stared speechlessly; then, throwing her head back, she gave out a short, sharp scream of laughter which made a luncher at the next table stab himself in the cheek with an oyster fork. The luncher looked at her reproachfully. So did Sam.

Sam the Sudden

1954 – Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit

Published on Wodehouse’s 73rd birthday, it features a moustached Bertie Wooster, Aunts A and D, Florence Craye, Stilton Cheesewright, Jeeves (of course) and a cast of extras that includes the memorably named Lemuel Gengulphus Trotter.

‘Well, there it is,’ I said, and went into the silence.  And as he, too, seemed disinclined for chit-chat, we stood for some moments like a couple of Trappist monks who have run into each other by chance at the dog races.

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit

1961 – Service With A Smile

Published on Wodehouse’s 80th birthday, this was a particularly special gift to humankind – a Blandings novel featuring Uncle Fred.

I suppose if the scruples I’ve overcome in my time were laid end to end, they would reach from London to Glasgow.

Service with a Smile

Service With A Smile montage.JPG

1971 – Much Obliged, Jeeves

Published on Wodehouse’s 90th birthday, this was Jeeves and Bertie’s  penultimate outing. I’d be sad, if it wasn’t so good.

By what I have always thought an odd coincidence he paused at this point and asked me why I was looking like something the cat brought in, precisely as the aged relative had asked me after my interview with Ma McCorkadale. I don’t know what cats bring into houses, but one assumes that it is something not very jaunty, and apparently, when in the grip of any strong emotion, I resemble their treasure trove.

Much Obliged, Jeeves

1973 Bachelors Anonymous

Published on Wodehouse’s 92nd birthday.  It’s damned good stuff for a nonagenarian.

…he saw now that Mr Llewellyn was simply one of those lovable characters who readily explode but whose explosions, owing to their hearts being in the right place, are sound and fury signifying nothing. He had met them before, and he knew the type. They huffed and they puffed, but you just sat tight and waited till they blew over. As for throwing porridge at the breakfast table, that was a mere mannerism, easily overlooked by anyone broad-minded. He anticipated a happy association with his future employer.

Bachelors Anonymous

I like to imagine each of these 15 October publication days added a dash of joy to Wodehouse’s birthday. He deserved it!

HP

PG Wodehouse was born on this day, 15 October 1881, in Guildford England. I make no apology for mentioning it each year as an occasion to celebrate, because, as Wodehouse expert Paul Kent puts it:

…his 100 or so books must represent one of the largest-ever bequests to human happiness by one man, at least in literature.

in Pelham Grenville Wodehouse Volume 1: ‘This is jolly old fame’

Five of these gifts to humanity were, like Wodehouse himself, also published on 15 October – in four different decades.

1925 Sam the Sudden montage1925 – Sam the Sudden

Published on P.G. Wodehouse’s 44th birthday, this hidden gem is much loved by Wodehouse fans.

For a moment Kay stared speechlessly; then, throwing her head back, she gave out a short, sharp scream of laughter which made a luncher at the next table stab himself in the cheek with an oyster fork. The luncher looked at her reproachfully. So did Sam.

Sam the Sudden

1954 – Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit

Published on Wodehouse’s 73rd birthday, it features a moustached Bertie Wooster, Aunts A and D, Florence Craye, Stilton Cheesewright, Jeeves (of course) and a cast of extras that includes the memorably named Lemuel Gengulphus Trotter.

‘Well, there it is,’ I said, and went into the silence.  And as he, too, seemed disinclined for chit-chat, we stood for some moments like a couple of Trappist monks who have run into each other by chance at the dog races.

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit

1961 – Service With A Smile

Published on Wodehouse’s 80th birthday, this was a particularly special gift to humankind – a Blandings novel featuring Uncle Fred.

I suppose if the scruples I’ve overcome in my time were laid end to end, they would reach from London to Glasgow.

Service with a Smile

Service With A Smile montage.JPG

1971 – Much Obliged, Jeeves

Published on Wodehouse’s 90th birthday, this was Jeeves and Bertie’s  penultimate outing. I’d be sad, if it wasn’t so good.

By what I have always thought an odd coincidence he paused at this point and asked me why I was looking like something the cat brought in, precisely as the aged relative had asked me after my interview with Ma McCorkadale. I don’t know what cats bring into houses, but one assumes that it is something not very jaunty, and apparently, when in the grip of any strong emotion, I resemble their treasure trove.

Much Obliged, Jeeves

1973 Bachelors Anonymous

Published on Wodehouse’s 92nd birthday.  It’s damned good stuff for a nonagenarian.

…he saw now that Mr Llewellyn was simply one of those lovable characters who readily explode but whose explosions, owing to their hearts being in the right place, are sound and fury signifying nothing. He had met them before, and he knew the type. They huffed and they puffed, but you just sat tight and waited till they blew over. As for throwing porridge at the breakfast table, that was a mere mannerism, easily overlooked by anyone broad-minded. He anticipated a happy association with his future employer.

Bachelors Anonymous

I like to imagine each of these 15 October publication days added a dash of joy to Wodehouse’s birthday. He deserved it!

HP

Volume 1 of Paul Kent’s Wodehouse is available to order now.