ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On P G Wodehouse, or How an English Literary Chappie Became My Favourite Author

What is it about P G Wodehouse that endears his writing to a particular section of Indians?

Read a P G Wodehouse or two,” the heroine of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy is told, as she faces impending heartbreak. Seth’s Lata Mehra bonds with both, her Oxford-educated suitor Amit Chatterji and her best friend Malati, over a shared love for P G Wodehouse. I too have reached for Wodehouse when I have needed a bit of cheering up—a day in bed with the flu, say, or a bad exam result. I
encountered my first Wodehouse, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen (1974), when I was in secondary schoolI forget the details of the plot, but they involved Wodehouse’s most famous creations, the affable but “mentally negligible” member of the idle rich, Bertie Wooster, and his gentleman’s personal gentleman, Jeeves. I was hooked. Wodehouse, or Plum as he was nicknamed, wrote stories about the Edwardian upper class and their minor inconveniences. Bertie Wooster did not have a real job, but he did have an Aunt Agatha who “wore barbed wire next to her skin” and “eats broken bottles.” Through the series, Bertie gets in little scrapes involving fiancées, aunts, the occasional canine and various colourful characters, and Jeeves steps in to rescue him. Another set of stories is set in Blandings Castle, where the eccentric Lord Emsworth lives with his large family and prize pig, Empress. Yet others feature the smooth-talking, monocle-wearing Psmith, who might address you as 
comrade” if he ran into you in London. Over the years, I worked my
way through all the Wodehouse stories in my local library, and reread them in college and in my professional life. Wodehouse has been there for me through illness, heartbreak and other general tough times. His prose can soothe the angriest temper, provide courage to the most run-down, and make the happiest days seem—remarkably—just that little bit better.

I am not the only Indian with a soft spot for Plum. A quick Google search informs me that Wodehouse societies and re-enactments are alive and well all over the country;indeed, a prominent Indian politician was once president of a Wodehouse society in university. So why do so many of us Indians, fictional or otherwise, have such a fondness for a most decidedly English author? Or, in my case, why is
Wodehouse my preferred source of comfort reading and not, say, R K Narayan? I could say it’s his way with language, or the silliness of the situations his characters find themselves in, or the way that they always have a happy ending. Wodehouse provides, at the very least, a gentle chuckle, if not a great big guffaw, in every bit of writing, while avoiding all mention of serious, real-life events like the world wars or the Spanish flu. I love his wordplay and his clever subversion of literary devices, and it is rare to find a book that doesn’t make a reference to Shakespeare or Keats or another literary chappie, as Bertie might say.

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Updated On : 12th Sep, 2022
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