Summer Class 2010, Day 5: More About Wodehouse

Previously: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

Days left: 14

Today’s class was slightly better; I don’t know if I was just in a better mood after a delightfully relaxing weekend or if it actually was more interesting, but I do know that I took more notes and so have something to write about here.

We spoke more about Wodehouse and the techniques he used in his books. They’re very structured books, isolated in their own little lighthearted world and populated by very similar people. The unfortunate thing about humor books, especially ones of a series, is that the characters tend to be very flat. There’s no character growth in Wodehouse’s books: Bertie keeps making the same mistakes he’s made before, and Jeeves will always get him out of it. My prof explained the lack of character depth in humor books is that a humorous character is constrained to respond to a situation through the lens of whatever humor they’re representing. So Jeeves will always respond to some situation with droll wit, Bertie will say something pun-y and silly, etc. This makes them consistent characters, but it also makes them somewhat boring after so many books (just my personal opinion).

The pacing of Wodehouse’s books is very quick, and according to my prof it’s because Wodehouse, like many other humor writers during that time, took inspiration from vaudeville, where the acts would come one right after another. Think of a Marx brothers movie: the jokes come out like rapid fire, almost without giving you time to laugh. Now think of a Wodehouse book, or one of the adaptations for television: it’s very much the same thing, with quick movement from one scene to another and no long, contemplative pauses anywhere.

One interesting aspect of Wodehouse’s books that lifts them out of the dullness of characters is the power structure between the aristocratic class (Bertie, Lord Emsworth) and the working class (Jeeves, Lord Emsworth’s gardner). Normally you’d think the aristocrats would be in charge of their staff, but in Wodehouse’s books it’s more the other way around. Jeeves may take orders from Bertie, but he does it in a way that says “I’m only doing this because it’d be improper to refuse”– that is, if he doesn’t try to get out of it by suggesting another course of action instead of whatever Bertie’s decided to do.

My favorite Jeeves & Wooster

The aristocrat/working class dichotomy is somewhat similar to the dichotomy between the traditional Victorian characters like Aunt Agatha and the new flapper-ish characters like Bertie and everyone at the Drones Club. While Aunt Agatha thinks Bertie should settle down and get married already, start a family and get a job, just like all Victorian gentlemen did (I suppose), the new flapper mindset is that one should have as much fun as possible and that marriage is death– hence why Bertie so refuses to actually succumb to what Aunt Agatha wants (with help from Jeeves, of course). Jeeves, meanwhile, is an interesting character because while he embodies all the old generational values of the Victorians and Edwardians, he also understands the flappers and wants to help kept them afloat, so to speak: so he helps Bertie out when he can.

Of course, he’s probably also looking out for his own interests, but that’s something we’re going over tomorrow, I think.

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1 thought on “Summer Class 2010, Day 5: More About Wodehouse”

  1. How interesting! I have not yet read any of the Wodehouse works, but have heard such great things about them. Having this background information will certainly help me to appreciate the books all the more.

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