4/21/14 – Spring Is a Great Time to Read P.G. Wodehouse

Posted by Brad McMillan, CFA, CAIA, MAI

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This entry was posted on Apr 21, 2014 2:00:00 PM

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I’ll be honest with you; I don’t have a lot to talk about today as far as economics and the market go. The recovery continues, markets are back in the trading range of the past six weeks or so, and there simply is not a lot to write about today.

So let’s talk about books. I have been cleaning out my basement the past couple of weeks, and one of the joys of that task has been finding boxes of books that I haven’t looked at in years. I kept them because I love them, so, in many cases, and after so many years, it’s like getting to read a favorite for the first time.

The book I want to talk about today is the best of the Jeeves and Bertie Wooster books, Right Ho, Jeeves, available for free on Project Gutenberg or here on Amazon. Wodehouse deserves to be read more and by a wider audience. He was a tremendously gifted writer who wrote dozens of books, plays, musicals, and stories. He is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and is admired by authors such as Rudyard Kipling, Christopher Hitches, Douglas Adams, J.K. Rowling, and John LeCarre.

Wodehouse’s continuing relevance led to a PBS series, Jeeves and Wooster, which drew on Right Ho, Jeeves, among others, but I encourage you to read the book before watching the series. It does no justice to Wodehouse’s prose, which, in my opinion, is one of the things that makes him stand out as an author. Consider a few of these excerpts from the Jeeves and Wooster stories:

“Oh, Jeeves,” I said; “about that check suit.”
“Yes, sir?”
“Is it really a frost?”
“A trifle too bizarre, sir, in my opinion.”
“But lots of fellows have asked me who my tailor is.”
“Doubtless in order to avoid him, sir.”
“He’s supposed to be one of the best men in London.”
“I am saying nothing against his moral character, sir.”

“I flung open the door. I got a momentary flash of about a hundred and fifteen cats of all sizes and colours scrapping in the middle of the room, and then they all shot past me with a rush and out of the front door; and all that was left of the mob scene was the head of a whacking big fish, lying on the carpet and staring up at me in a rather austere sort of way, as if it wanted a written explanation and apology.”

If Wodehouse’s prose is masterful, so is the sheer complexity of his plots. You know you will spend the next couple of hours trying to figure out how all of the threads can possibly come together at the end—but they do, in a way that is both surprising and, in retrospect, inevitable. Part of the joy of rereading his novels is watching the pieces of the puzzle come together, and Right Ho, Jeeves certainly doesn’t skimp on that end.

Because I don’t want to diminish the joy of it for you (and because of several failed attempts), I am not going to try to describe the plot. If you like comic novels, just go ahead and read it. If you’d prefer a description beforehand, read this Wikipedia page—then go and read the book.

I plan to pull out Right Ho, Jeeves tonight to immerse myself once more in Wodehouse’s world. In tribute, I’ll close with this quote from Evelyn Waugh: “Mr. Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.”

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