February 10, 2007

Gratuitous Plum Blogging

Stephen Fry on the literary genius (yes, genius) of Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse:

Wodehouse's genius in the Jeeves and Wooster canon lies in his complete realisation of Bertie as first-person narrator. Almost all the other stories depend upon standard, impersonal narration. The particular joy of a Jeeves story comes from the delicious feeling one derives from being completely in Bertie's hands. His apparently confused way of expressing him- self both reveals character and manages, somehow, to develop narrative with extraordinary economy and life. Since the Jeeves stories often lead one from the other, he will often need to repeat himself, which he manages to do with great ingenuity. He is called upon more than once, for example, to remind the reader about the dread daughter of Sir Roderick Glossop. The first example shows Bertie's way with Victorian poetry:

"I once got engaged to his daughter Honoria, a ghastly dynamic exhibit who read Nietzsche and had a laugh like waves breaking on a stern and rockbound coast. "

Another description of precisely the same characteristics in Honoria give us a very Woosteresque mixture of simile:

"Honoria... is one of those robust, dynamic girls with the muscles of a welter-weight and a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging on a tin bridge."

Sometimes Bertie's speech moves towards a form of comic imagery so perfect that one could honestly call it poetic:

"As a rule, you see, I'm not lugged into Family Rows. On the occasions when Aunt is calling to Aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps... the clan has a tendency to ignore me."

The masterly episode where Gussie Fink-Nottle presents the prizes at Market Snodsbury grammar school is frequently included in collections of great comic literature and has often been described as the single funniest piece of sustained writing in the language. I would urge you, however, to head straight for a library or bookshop and get hold of the complete novel Right Ho, Jeeves, where you will encounter it fully in context and find that it leaps even more magnificently to life.

Hear, hear. Indeed, I plugged in the link to the novel precisely in the hope that, if you don't already have it, you'll nip over and purchase a copy right now.

I must say that I've never liked the Bertie & Jeeves tee vee series that Fry and Hugh Laurie did together precisely because Bertie Wooster's narration cannot be reproduced on the screen. (Well, there are some other things about it that I dislike also.) However, my criticism is somewhat tempered by the fact that both Fry and Laurie acknowledge this weakness and appreciate love Plum's writing for what it is.

Yips! to Sir Basil.

Posted by Robert at February 10, 2007 08:42 AM | TrackBack