Saturday 6 December 2008

The Wodehouse cure

It won't be long now until the final day of reckoning on my thesis. My friend Darren who long ago defended his has instructed me to read fluff for the next little while and because he's a Doctor (of Philosophy, but no matter - he can still prescribe good times!), I'm doing as instructed.

The first stop in what I'm hoping to make into a series of mindless fluff reads was P.G. Wodehouse's Uncle Fred in the Springtime. I have to say, there's only one other Wodehouse novel I've enjoyed this much and it was the first: Leave it to Psmith.

With Wodehouse, it's all about the characters, and Uncle Fred is as charming, scheming, benevolent, and hilarious as Psmith. Indeed, if these characters were going to fight for the title of The Most Superior Ultimate Super-Wodehousian Character of all time, I honestly don't know who would win. I'm going to have to do more research, clearly, into each of their various other exploits and, of course, to see if there are any other contenders.

Spoiler Alert
I think I've mentioned before that the pleasure in reading Wodehouse comes not from plot (because they're all pretty much the same, with a few alterations in each story) but in the characters. Uncle Fred in the Springtime generally followed the usual pattern but the conclusion turned out somewhat differently than usual.

Normally, when the Efficient Baxter shows up, one can count on him becoming the sort of fall guy whose gulling and humiliation become central to the other characters' desires working out. Uber-secretary Baxter has, in my experience, tended to function as a sort of Malvolio character, receiving all the abuse and etc. before being run out of town like any good scapegoat should.

This time, however, his fate was left curiously unresolved; indeed, this time, the focus of the denouement was entirely on Uncle Fred's grand success rather than on Baxter's comeuppance. This definitely makes for a more pleasant read. With both Shakespeare and Wodehouse, I've always been made a little uncomfortable by their Comic resolutions needing to hinge on someone's downfall, even the downfall of characters as irksome as Malvolio and Baxter.

Squeamishness aside, it's nice to see that Wodehouse was capable of sometimes departing, even in a minor way, from his very successful template.

Now, the Doctor has ordered drivel as my current reading material so there are two things to note: 1) I'm not even going to consider trying Pilgermann again until this is all over; 2) I think it may be time for a vampire novel. I take the Doctor's orders very seriously indeed.

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