“George wandered down Shaftesbury Avenue feeling more depressed than ever. The sun had gone in for the time being, and the east wind was frolicking round him like a playful puppy, patting him with a cold paw, nuzzling his ankles, bounding away and bounding back again, and behaving generally as east winds do when they discover a victim who has come out without his spring overcoat. It was plain to George now that the sun and wind were a couple of confidence tricksters working together as a team. The sun had disarmed him with specious promises and an air of good fellowship, and had delivered him into the hands of the wind, which was now going through him with the swift thoroughness of the professional hold-up artist.”
These words from P.G. Wodehouse, one of my very favorite authors, in the fabulous book, A Damsel in Distress, seemed particularly apropos on this sunny but cold fall morning. The reader here meets George just before he falls in love with the eponymous damsel in distress. There is nothing like a new romance for lifting you out of ennui. But reading P.G. Wodehouse’s beautifully crafted and hilarious novels comes a close second.
Wodehouse’s books are set in London or in the British countryside of the early 1900’s. (His latter works, written after he moved across the pond, are set in old-timey New York.) There is nothing that today’s reader would have in common with the gentlemen (and ladies) of the British upper class that populate most of his novels. But the humor buried in every paragraph is timeless.
Wodehouse’s classic creation is Jeeves, the supremely intelligent “gentleman’s gentleman” employed by Bertram Wooster. Wooster, gentleman of leisure, and many his friends from the Drones club, have an uncanny penchant for getting into hilarious scrapes, and Jeeves is constantly pressed into super-heroic action to save them. Another set of novels are based in Blandings Castle, seat of Lord Emsworth and his prize-winning pig. The immaculate, loquacious and monacled Psmith, one of Wodehouse’s rare working characters, stars in yet another series. The effervescent Earl of Ickenham (Uncle Fred), and bumbling Ukridge round out the recurring cast, although Wodehouse’s 97 novels and 300 short stories offer plenty of other rib-crackingly funny characters — too many to be named here.
His novels frequently center around the idea of love — not the heartbreakingly dramatic “Romeo and Juliet” type of sagas, but the sweet romances of spring flowers. In a world littered with romantic tragedies, it is such a relief to relax with an author who considers love the work of an idle and cheerful hour. No matters what travails befall our hero and heroine, you can be confident the story will end on a happy note.
Wodehouse’s cheery work seems effortless, but he would actually edit and re-write his books many times over to achieve that effect. For a student of writing, nowhere is his craft more evident than his last (and unfinished) novel, Sunset at Blandings. The first half of the book is in his familiar style, but the second just has the bare skeleton of the plot.
Wodehouse, in my opinion, is one of the all-time greats of the literary world. If you have already been through some of his vast body of work, be cheered, for there is more. If you’ve been through all of it, it’s worth repeating. And if you are new to him, don’t wait. P.G. Wodehouse collections are available for free on the Kindle app.
Do you have a favorite author whose gentle humor can cheer you up at any time? Let me know in the comments below!