Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Happy 122nd, Pelham

This, from the Writer's Almanac:

"It's the birthday of English novelist Sir P(elham) G(renville) Wodehouse, born in Guildford, England (1881). He was one of the most popular writers of the first half of the twentieth century. His father worked as a magistrate in Hong Kong, and because his mother traveled back and forth between England and Hong Kong, he was raised mostly by a series of aunts. His books are filled with evil and terrifying aunts, and he once wrote, "It is no use telling me that there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core they are all alike. Sooner or later out pops the cloven hoof." While he was in high school, he found out that his father had gone bankrupt and wouldn't be able to pay for college. He got a job as a bank clerk and started publishing humorous stories and poetry on the side. He said, "[My] total inability to grasp what was going on [at the bank] made me something of a legend." He eventually switched to journalism, and it was as a journalist that he first traveled to the United States to cover a boxing match. He fell in love with America. He said, "Being there was like being in heaven without going to all the bother and expense of dying." He moved to Greenwich Village in 1909, and began to publish the stories that made him famous in the Saturday Evening Post. From America, he wrote about an imaginary, cartoonish England, full of extremely polite but brain-dead aristocrats, and his work was wildly popular in the years leading up to the decline of the British Empire. He is best known for books such as My Man Jeeves (1919); Carry On, Jeeves (1927); Thank You, Jeeves (1934) and Right Ho, Jeeves (1934) - books about a servant named Jeeves who is constantly saving his employer, Bertie Wooster, from all kinds of absurd situations.

Wodehouse was an extremely shy man. When his wife rented them an apartment in New York, he made her promise to get one on the first floor, because he never knew what to say to the man who ran the elevator. People who knew him said that he was incredibly dull, that he was never funny in person, and that he didn't seem to have any emotions. He said, "I haven't got any violent feelings about anything. I just love writing." Over the course of his life he wrote almost a hundred books of fiction, wrote for sixteen plays, and composed lyrics for twenty-eight musicals. When asked about his technique for writing, he said, "I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit." He is known for his metaphors and similes. He described one character as "A tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say 'when!'" He wrote of another, "He felt like a man who, chasing rainbows, has had one of them suddenly turn and bite him in the leg." In his lifetime, he was generally considered a writer of light entertainment, but he's since been recognized as a master prose stylist."

On a personal note, Bertie was the inspiration for both Giogi Wyvernspur and Tertius Wands from the Forgotten Realms. The difference between the two is that Giogi found love and grew as a person, while Tertius, like Bertie, remains a cloth-headed today as he was when he first sprang to life.

Happy Birthday, Plum. More later,