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« The discordant sounds at the mall | Main | Texas DA fights DNA testing because exonerations override juries »

October 15, 2011

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My daughter decided to go on a Jeeves and Wooster binge last night, of the TV series kind. After laughing through Jeeves' 'Indeed, sirs', uttered with just the right degree of 'Says you' ism (in Bertie's words), I had a discussion with her on her attempts to read Wodehouse. "It's funny for a page or so, then the language becomes too difficult", she complained. The perfect chance for me to explain that sometimes it's better to just plough on, trusting that one's sense of what the mystery word means is correct as inferred from the context.
"I might guess that 'flummoxed' means 'disgusted', though", she sounded rather dubious.
"But from the rest of the paragraph, you will figure out that 'disgusted' isn't a better fit than.."
"Puzzled"- she filled in.

Now I will have to see if the Wodehouse companion to the series starts to show any wear and tear.

Sujatha, my kids had similar difficulties with the quaintness of Wodehouse's old style British verbiage when they were in their early teens. But they (especially my daughter) went back to him again in their twenties and found him much more appealing. So let your daughter enjoy the TV shows now and don't worry if the companion book doesn't show much use. She may learn to relish Wodehouse in print a bit later in life.

Sujatha, maybe I came at the TV show (the BBC one right?) the wrong way since I'd read dozens of the books before ever watching an episode, but not even my considerable respect for Fry and Laurie makes me believe they really "got" Wodehouse in that show. It was just a mild social satire (and they did get the social dynamic right) with some slapstick added on. The funniest parts of Wodehouse all have to do with word use, and nothing in that program would make anyone delight in language.

Might I recommed a nice Blandings Castle book to ease your daughter into reading Wodehouse? The humour is usually broader, and I remember the ten year old me finding them rather more delightful than the relatively more understated Jeeveses. There's a ~50 page story I particularly remember, called the Crime Wave at Blandings, that ranks with the funniest stuff he's ever written.

Ruchira, I tried reading aloud the first story in the Jeeves and Wooster set that the BBC series was based on, and it did sound funny. But one requires a strong sense of 'voice in the head' to enjoy the silliness of the language there, I think.


Prasad: Great idea! I'll try Blandings Castle and Lord Emsworth on my daughter. She may enjoy the Pig-HOooeys much better than the outdated language of rich toffs with erudite valets.

The funniest parts of Wodehouse all have to do with word use, and nothing in that program would make anyone delight in language.

Agree with Prasad wholeheartedly, which is why I don't like the TV version of Jeeves and Wooster. I also concur on Blandings Castle. Note in one of my comments on the post that I like to initiate readers who haven't encountered P.G. before, with that book. Lord Emworth's travails are far more simpler for new comers to appreciate than the Jeeves-Wooster dynamics or Psmith's perils.

Also, Wodehouse is guaranteed "safe" reading for the young. This is what I said in a later post about the "Plum."

I don't know that one can accurately point to a national trait, history or culture to explain why Wodehouse is loved by Indians. I happen to be a long time Wodehouse fan but not for some of the reasons described in the Times article. The nostalgia for the Raj, the butler, the pucca sahib culture of the gymkhana etc., none of them works for me. I think I know what I find so charming about P.G.W. - mainly his extraordinarily adept linguistic calisthenics, for sure. And perhaps also what Orwell said. Although I am perfectly at home with dark brooding humor, searing satire, biting badinage and cutting edge cleverness, there may indeed be something oddly comforting about a prodigious body of literary work which has no sex, no serious love, little existential angst and very few moral dilemmas.

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