March 24, 2005

I Don't Call It "USELESS TODAY" For Nothing...

As I was perusing my complimentary hotel copy of USA Today on Tuesday, I came across this review of Robert McCrum's biography of P.G. Wodehouse by Dierdre Donahue.

This struck me as odd. McCrum's book has been out a good six months or so and was reviewed last fall by most major papers. Hell, even I've reviewed it. I have no idea how newspapers schedule this sort of thing, but it seemed to me that this article's appearance at this late date was an example of filler on a slow day.

Donahue starts off by establishing her creds as a true Wodehouse fan by praising McCrum for not to falling into the trap of trying to be funny about him. She also vows -out of respect for the Master - to avoid the temptation to imitate Wodehouse's style other reviewers seemingly cannot resist. So far, so good. But then I read this bit:

Wodehouse was enormously popular and well compensated for his books and song lyrics. Beginning in 1902 with the publication of his first novel and ending with the writer's death at 93 on St. Valentine's Day 1975, Wodehouse created an alternative yet enduring universe of bossy aunts, private clubs, country estates and eccentric characters such as the newt-loving "Gussie" Fink-Nottle, the nerve specialist Sir Roderick Glossop, his terrifying daughter, Honoria, and the ever-in-love Pongo Little.

Pongo Little? Pongo Little? No Wodehouse for you, Madam!

All true fans know that it's Bingo Little. He appears in many of the early Bertie and Jeeves short stories, falling in love with a rather large assortment of girls and getting himself in a number of messes from which Jeeves must extricate him. Eventually, Bingo marries Rosie M. Banks, the popular writer of extremely mushy romantic novels, and like most of Wodehouse's newly-married characters, falls off the face of Planet Plum.

The moniker Pongo belongs to Pongo Twistleton, nephew of one Frederick Altemont Cornwallis Twistleton, Fifth Earl of Ickenham, more generally known as "Uncle Fred". Uncle Fred - who first appears rather later in the Wodehouse chronology - is a sort of senior version of R. Psmith, causing trouble for the sheer hell of it and getting himself out via smooth talking and quick wit. Pongo gets dragged into several of these adventures, very much against his will.

Bertie Wooster mentions Pongo Twistleton once or twice in the course of the Bertie & Jeeves cycle, but I do not recollect that there is any closer contact than that.

(Oh, just as an aside, Pongo's sister Valerie eventually marries Hugo Carmody. The trials and tribulations of their secret engagement are the subject of one of the best of the Blandings Castle novels, Summer Lightning as well as its sequal, Heavy Weather. Some day, when I've nothing better to do, I'm going to sit down and map out all the relationships of Wodehouse's characters to each other.)

Why do I rant like this? Well, because a dumb mistake like the transposition of knicknames suggests to me that the author isn't really a Wodehouse fan, but instead is paying him lip service, probably reading off some copy generated by the publishers of McCrum's book. I know I sound all Holden Caufieldish about it, but I hate this kind of phoniness.

One other thing. Later in the review, the author states: "After World War II, Wodehouse never stepped foot in England." In fact, the expression is "set foot". Doesn't USA Today employ editors?

Posted by Robert at March 24, 2005 09:55 AM

Dude, the mainstream media can't even get massive news stories correct, you should know that! So they're gonna painstakingly fact-check a book review when they can't even get the dern news right?


Posted by: red at March 24, 2005 12:36 PM

Yeah, call me a starry-eyed dreamer.

Posted by: Robert the LB at March 24, 2005 12:46 PM

Well, it's also cause you know a lot about Wodehouse, so you feel proprietary towards him. I have the same thing with Joyce. Like - how can they get the simplest thing wrong???

But still. Not surprising whatsoever.

Posted by: red at March 24, 2005 12:48 PM

Thet merely rehash bad stories which have been written before that show up in Lexis-Nexis. One factual error gets propagated over and over again until it has the weight of truth.

It's like cheating off the math test of the dumbest kid in the class.

Posted by: The Colossus at March 24, 2005 01:32 PM

Thet = meaning they.

They = meaning the media.

Posted by: The Colossus at March 24, 2005 03:05 PM
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