January 06, 2005

Yet Another Highly Tedious Wodehouse Update

Allrighty then.

I finished Right Ho, Jeeves last night.

My conclusions---which I all know you've been waiting for with bated breath---can be found after the jump.

I really like Bertie.

When I wondered in my earlier screed about what Bertie added to the mix, well, the answer appears to be everything.

For example:

Tuppy's fatheaded words were still rankling in my bosom as I went up to my room. They continued rankling as I shed the form-fitting, and had not ceased to rankle when, clad in the old dressing-gown, I made my way along the corridor to the salle de bain.

It is not too much to say that I was piqued to the tonsils.

I mean to say, one does not court praise. The adulation of the multitude means very little to one. But, all the same, when one has take the trouble to whack out a highly juicy scheme to benefit an in-the-soup friend in his hour of travail, it's pretty foul to find him giving the credit to one's personal attendant, particularly if that personal attendant is a man who goes about the place not packing mess jackets.

But after I had been spashing about in the porcelain for a bit, composure began to return. I have always found that in moments of heart-bowed-downness there is nothing that calms the bruised spirit like a good go at the soap and water. I don't say I actually sang in the tub, but there were times when it was a a mere spin of the coin whether I would do so or not.

The spiritual anguish induced by tactless speech had become noticeably lessened.

The discovery of a toy duck in the soap dish, presumably the property of some former juvenile visitor, contributed not a little to this new and happier frame of mind. What with one thing and another, I hadn't played with toy ducks in my bath for years, and I found the novel experience most invigorating. For the benefit of those interested, I may mention that if you shove the thing under the surface with the sponge and then let go, it shoots out of the water in a manner calculated to divert the most careworn. Ten minutes of this and I was enabled to return to the bedchamber much more the merry old Bertram. {...}

{Chapter Nine, Right Ho, Jeeves. Copyright 1934, 1964 by P.G. Wodehouse. All Rights Reserved.}

Now, I ask you: how can you not love a man who thoroughly enjoys playing with rubber duckies in the bath and finds them a balm to his mightily troubled soul?

Bertram Wooster is the key. He is the marshmallow in the fluff. He makes it tasty, instead of just sticky.

I've read some criticism that called Bertie some rather foul names (No doubt Bertie would take offense. The Woosters being who they are and all.). The slurs "yammering ass" and "idiot" seemed to be bandied about with lavish frequency. Well, I don't think that's quite right. Bertie is quite intelligent. Bertie "wrote" the books, for God's sake. It's just that Bertie, in my opinion, has just never been challenged to earn his keep. Earning your keep makes you a wiser individual. Bertie has never been forced to deal with the world. He lives in his little bubble. And a pleasant little bubble it is, too.

As far as my earlier complaint with Ring for Jeeves about how boring and predictable the plot was, well, the plot in Right Ho, Jeeves was just as predictable, but I found myself not minding all that much. And it was Bertie who kept me from minding. If you think the rubber duckie story was the only instance where Bertram went off the reservation to make a few humorous observations of his own, well, you're wrong. The book is loaded with them and they're all equally, if not more, funny than his rubber duckie being the one who makes bathtime lots of fun.

Reading Wodehouse has provided some challenges for me. As Robert so wisely counseled, I needed to ditch the urge to compare and contrast with the real world. This is why I don't read science fiction or fantasy: I need a touchstone to make sense of it all. You can never find that in science fiction and it drives me batty. Who knew, however, that I'd find that same problem with reading Wodehouse? I surely didn't. But Wodehouse, God Bless Him, has managed to achieve what no other writer has been able to make me want to work for: the ditching of the comparison and contrast. It becomes readily apparent that Wodehouse is not about the real world: he's about creating fiction out of the everyday troubles most writers would blow right past as being too boring. If you do bother to compare and contrast, looking for scabs to pick at, you're missing the point. The man mines comedy from the least likely sources in the least likely world and for that, yes, I would consider him to be a genuis. The man made me suspend my disbelief and that's a pretty rare feat.

The other trouble I had with reading Wodehouse is my own problem, but I'll share anyway: I have to slow the hell down. To explain: I still have the bad habit I gained in college of skimming. I had to read a lot in college (my design major flunky of a sister once told me that for all the time I spent in the library, reading and researching, I should just move in.) and as such, my reading habits changed dramatically. I can no longer hang on every word if you're managing to bore me. There's other stuff to read, damnit! Prove your worth or I'll just get to the end of your book by skimming it! With most authors, I've surprisingly found, you really don't miss much by skimming. You get the general gist and are still entertained, one way or another. I really only focus on the text when I'm seriously involved, and for me to get seriously involved, well, I'm sorry to say, the author has to work for it.

The fact that I'm now a novelist does nothing to help me in this area, either. If nothing else, it's made me more choosy about what I read because, God, when you turn into Toto and pull that curtain back and get to see all the levers and gizmos that you were previously unaware of, well, it kind of ruins the experience of just sitting down and reading a book for the hell of it. Reading becomes an exercise in wondering if I'm not involved. Obviously I don't wonder about the story itself or the characters, but rather why the author chose this path, instead of being more creative and taking this other path, but that path was probably too long and their publisher probably nixed it because it would take up too much time, or it didn't occur to them, and why didn't it occur to them if it occured to me, the unpublished dork, etc. You look at novels differently once you start writing them. Nowadays it takes a highly skilled author to distract me from the simple business of writing and seeing how people do it differently.

Bertie kept me involved and I found myself slowing down dramatically to savor what he had to say. But---and you knew there was a 'but' coming, didn't you?---I can't read Wodehouse from start to finish, like I would a regular novel. And this is completely my own fault. It's hard to break long-held habits overnight. With Wodehouse, I would read a chapter and then my patience would start to wane as I'd had a bit too much fluff, and I would find myself skimming again. My bad habits intruded. It's my fault completely, and not because the work was poorly crafted. Hardly. Wodehouse shouldn't have to pay for my mistakes. It's an insult. And I didn't want my reading of this book to become yet another exercise is pulling the curtain back and wondering about the business end. So, while I generally consider this sort of behavior to be anathema, I put the book down. I picked up the other book I'm reading and read that for a while. I kept up with this pattern for the better part of the week, and I'm pretty happy with not only the reading material, but that I managed to beat back the instinct to hurry through this book because of my bad habits.

So, unless I manage to ditch my appalling habits borne of impatience, I don't think I'll ever be able to simply read Wodehouse from start to finish. I don't know if I'll be shot out of a cannon for not being able to greedily devour Wodehouse's catalogue now that I've found it. I leave it up to you, the Wodehouse freaks of the World to make that call. But, on the upside, I've gained an author who will, I have a feeling, entertain me for years on end, when I choose to pick him up, and that's not so bad.

Posted by Kathy at January 6, 2005 02:13 PM
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