Another Novelist to Consider Reading

Reading Justin Taylor’s excellent series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading has gotten me thinking about good old Jeeves and Wooster. I’ve mentioned before my delight in P.G. Wodehouse.

Wodehouse (1881-1975) is hands down one of the best writers in the English language. Ever.

He isn’t profound. He isn’t penetrating. His books may not be dissected in lit classes. But his command of vocabulary and syntax is amazing. And his humor is, unlike many humorists, is actually very, very funny. There’s nothing like unwinding with a little Jeeves and Wooster after a four hour elder meeting to get the old egg cracking again, what? (Take my word for it, and read Wodehouse to understand my drift).

Reading Wodehouse spin tall tales about foppish socialites and an unflappable butler is reminiscent of the best (and cleanest) episodes of Seinfeld. The stories are about nothing, but the characters are so memorable (e.g., the newt loving Gussie Fink-Nottle), and the dialogue so perfectly ridiculous (“Hello ugly, what brings you here?”), and his insults so ingenious (“It was as if nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment”) that you can’t help grin, chuckle, and even occasionally cackle.

The next time someone looks at you cross, try this line:

She looked at me in rather a rummy way. It was a nasty look. It made me feel as if I were something the dog had brought in and intended to bury later on, when he had time.

And to express your discouragement:

I’ve examined the darned cloud with a microscope, and if it’s got a silver lining it’s some little dissembler!

For use with the outdoorsy members of your family:

I ordered another. If this was going to be fish-story, I needed stimulants.

Looking for a good put-down?

It seemed to me almost incredible that a fellow could be such a perfect chump as dear old Biffy without a bit of assistance.

Wodehouse had a genius for word pictures and similes:

Honoria, you see, is one of those robust, dynamic girls with the muscles of a welter-weight and a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging over a tin bridge.

His writing is also stuffed with biblical allusions and church-related hilarity. Here, for example, is a clergyman asking Bertie Wooster, who is secretly engaged in a gambling ring betting on the length of sermons, if his message might be too long:

You do not think it would be a good thing to cut, to prune? I might, for example, delete the rather exhaustive excursus into the family life of the early Assyrians?

And then there’s this allusion to Job 39:25 (which I had to look up):

He sat up with a jerk. The Biblical horse that said “Ha, ha” among the trumpets could not have displayed more animation.

For good measure, here are a few more of my favorite biblical references strung together:

There was a death-where-is-thy-sting-fulness about her manner which I found distasteful.

For the first time since the bushes began to pour forth Glossops, Bertram Wooster could be said to have breathed freely. I don’t say that I actually came out from behind the bench, but I did let go of it, and with something of the relief which those three chaps in the Old Testament must have experienced after sliding out of the burning fiery furnace, I even groped tentatively from my cigarette case.

Bertie Wooster won the Scripture-knowledge prize at a kids’ school we were at together, and you know what he’s like. But, of course, Bertie frankly cheated. He succeeded in scrounging that Scripture-knowledge trophy over the heads of better men by means of some of the rawest and most brazen swindling methods ever witnessed even at a school where such things were common. If that man’s pockets, as he entered the examination-room, were not stuffed to bursting point with lists of the kings of Judah.

And last but not least:

He fingered his moustache unhappily. He was feeling now as Elijah would have felt in the wilderness if the ravens had suddenly developed cut-throat business methods.

And as far as memorable one-liners, these have always stuck with me:

I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say “when.”

For your own growth in writing and facility with the English language, and most of all for sheer delight, read P.G. Wodehouse. It doesn’t matter much where you start, but Right Ho, Jeeves is one of my favorites.