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Posts Tagged ‘Bertie Wooster’

ashokbhatia

Bertie imageI wonder if I should endeavor to find a true and worthy soul mate,

Who would join me in facing the harsh slings and arrows of fate.

 

Let me be spared of someone like Madeline who gazes moodily at stars in the sky,

While I yearn for smoked salmon, cheese and wine, or some bacon and egg fry.

 

Honoria Glossop would be prone to slapping the backs of guests with all her might,

Nudging me to perform goofy deeds without any consideration of my own plight.

 

Roberta Wickham would sashay up to the altar with much aplomb,

But each moment spent with her would be like a ticking bomb.

Pauline Stoker would exhort me to swim a mile before breakfast,

And then play five sets of tennis post-lunch, leaving me gasping and aghast.

 

Florence Craye would like to mould me into an intellectual cove,

Being a…

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ashokbhatia

What happens when a banking professional like Suvarna Sanyal, who has spent a life time poring over bulky ledgers and checking debit and credit figures, turns his attention to one of the popular stories dished out by P G Wodehouse? Well, he simply whips up a series of illustrations which figure some of the better known characters from the canon in some selected scenes from the story!

Residents of Plumsville would recall that this is the only story in the canon which is narrated by Jeeves. Savour below the results of his labour of love which, incidentally, have already undergone a scrutiny under the precise microscope of an expert in all Plummy matters.

I want to explain to you why I am speaking to you directly, instead of letting Mr Wooster present one of his tales.  I have been asked quite frequently to explain any formula I might have for…

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ashokbhatia

I confess I have never had the chance of listening to the prattle of tender feet around me. However, this does not mean that I do not observe kids. I do so, with all the shrewdness at my command. When they giggle and stare at public speakers, the latter are all of a twitter. When they seek protection money from their wannabe step fathers, the soul cringes. When they use paraffin wax to douse fires, one sickens in horror. When they decide to extract a revenge of sorts from cabinet ministers who have reported their smoking endeavours in the shrubberies, one draws appropriate conclusions. When they celebrate their birthdays by either putting sherbet in ink pots or by going AWOL to enjoy a dinner and a movie, one gets overawed with the kind of courage they have.

Having suffered at the hands of such obnoxious kids as Thos, Seabury, Edwin…

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ashokbhatia

Fans of P G Wodehouse (Plum) often wonder as to why their favourite author of sublime humour is often found missing on the high table of English literature.

Comparisons are odious, but let us take the case of The Bard, considered one of the literary geniuses of our times. If he has dished out narratives rooted in such human emotions as greed, revenge, jealousy and love, so has Plum. Many of their characters are as quirky as they come. Both have contributed in so small measure to the enrichment of English. To the current generation, both sound a trifle outdated and, by and large, incomprehensible.

The Incomprehensibility Quotient

Perhaps, the reason I find The Bard’s works relatively unfit for human consumption can be traced back to their high level of Incomprehensibility Quotient.

Is there really any fun in picking up a book where, after each sentence, one has to consult…

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ashokbhatia

Cupid has a free run in Plumsville. He is present everywhere. He influences and enables incidents which go beyond the normal call of his duty, not restricting himself merely to generating and sustaining magnetic currents flowing between two individuals.

The large circle of influence of Cupid

When he wants someone goofy like Thos to acquire a saintly disposition, he strikes at him, leaving him besotted with Greta Garbo, thereby making him rise in love. When he decides to champion the cause of vegetarians, he uses Madeline Bassett as a front and forces Gussie Fink-Nottle to lay off all the vitamins of animal origin, making him skip Anatole’s lavish spreads and survive only on spinach, sprouts, broccoli and similar stuff. When he wishes to campaign for safety of sharks, he deploys Angela to do his bidding.

Those who serve in the constabulary, however tough their exteriors and however pure their intentions…

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(Continued)

Indian Ocean and Typhoons

The Indian Ocean surrounds India on most of its Eastern, Southern and Western sides. It is the third largest of the world’s oceanic divisions. Often, cyclones and tsunamis come about, enabling water, one of the five elements of nature, to demonstrate its disastrous powers. Plum uses this to comic advantage.     

  • In Jeeves in the Offing, Kipper, upon seeing the newspaper announcement of the engagement of Bobby Wickham and Bertie, writes a stinker to her. Bobby Wickham takes umbrage. She takes his head off and Kipper experiences something akin to that of facing a typhoon on the Indian Ocean. She promptly announces her intention to get married to Bertie and returns Kipper to store. Jeeves, who is off to Herne Bay on a vacation, gets promptly roped in and helps Bertie Wooster to avoid a saunter down the aisle.  
  • In ‘Feet of Clay’, Nothing Serious, Captain Jack Fosdyke tells Agnes Flack of the time he saved Princess della Raviogli in the Indian Ocean. He claims that ‘there were half a dozen sharks horsing about then and behaving as if the place belonged to them’. He used a Boy Scout pocket knife to teach them a lesson or two.

Of Fakirs and Mystic Powers

Indian scriptures often use the Sanskrit term ‘siddhi’ to signify either a remarkable accomplishment or a singular proficiency attained by an aspirant. These could be material, paranormal, supernatural or magical in nature, attained by such practices as meditation, yoga and intense ‘tapas’ (austere practices).

Such attainments could include the ability to reduce one’s body to the size of an atom or even become invisible, to become infinitely large, to become weightless or lighter than air, to instantaneously travel or be anywhere at will, to achieve or realize whatever one desires, to control nature, individuals, organisms, etc., and also the ability to control all material elements or natural forces.

Like much else, this facet of India is also used by Plum to amuse, elevate and entertain his readers.

Floating Around Like a Gas

One of the sterling qualities of Jeeves is that of quietly popping up as and when the Master needs him. This quality of his is routinely invoked by Plum, using the teleportation analogy from India.

  • In ‘The Artistic Career of Corky’, Carry On, Jeeves, he is described as ‘one of those birds in India which dissolves itself into thin air and hop through space in a sort of disembodied way, assembling the parts again just where it wants them’.
  • In such other narratives as Right Ho, Jeeves and Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, he is said to be like those who go into thin air in Bombay (now Mumbai), reassemble the parts a little later in Calcutta (now Kolkata), displaying the property of a kind of gas which seems to float from Spot A to Spot B without much ado.
  • Joy in the Morning compares Jeeves to Indian blokes ‘who shoot their astral bodies to and fro’, disappearing in Rangoon (now Yangoon) and reassembling the parts in Calcutta (now Kolkata).
  • In ‘Trouble Down at Tudsleigh’, Young Men in Spats, Freddie demonstrates a similar proficiency by means of the speed at which he rushes down the stairs, only to run into Captain Bradbury. He behaves like an Indian fakir who would go ‘into thin air in Bombay (now Mumbai) and reassemble the parts two minutes later in Darjeeling’.
  • Galahad at Blandings also alludes to Indian fakirs of this kind.

Curling Up on Spikes

  • In Pigs have Wings, Jerry Vail does not like the ambience of Emsworth Arms and finds a furnished villa on rent as an option. However, when inspecting the bed on offer, he shrinks from the prospect of occupying it for many nights. After all, he is not an Indian fakir who is accustomed from childhood onwards to curling up on spikes.
  • In Summer Lightning, Rupert Baxter, when he starts becoming conscious of a growing cramp in his left leg, turns on one side with the nonchalance of those Indian fakirs who spend the formative years of their lives lying on iron spikes.

Contemplating the Infinite

  • In The Clicking of Cuthbert, Plum captures the kind of discipline and meditative contemplation required while playing golf. The club gets raised at least two times, touching the ball and being raised back again after a careful inspection of the horizon. At the third attempt, he brings it down and ‘then stands motionless, wrapped in thought, like some Indian fakir contemplating the infinite. Then he raises his club again and replaces it behind the ball. Finally he quivers all over, swings very slowly back, and drives the ball for about a hundred and fifty yards in a dead straight line.’
  • In The Girl on the Boat, when Sam achieves an almost imbecile state of boredom, his position is described as that of one of those Indian mystics who sit perfectly still for twenty years, contemplating the Infinite.

Indian Love Calls

Wherever Plum is, love cannot be far behind. India has gifted the world with the Kama Sutra, but it is not surprising that Plum never alludes to this unique treatise, because he never used sex as a ploy to popularize his narratives. All of his male characters are steeped in chivalry, strictly bound by Victorian norms. This aspect of his work had been covered by me in an earlier article entitled ‘Cupid in Plumsville’: (https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/02/14/cupid-in-plumsville)

In his narratives, Wodehouse appears to have instead based his observations on The Garden of Kama, a collection of lyric poetry of Indian origin published in 1901, which makes liberal use of imagery and symbols from the poets of the North-West Frontier of India and the Sufi poets of Persia (Iran). The poems, written by Laurence Hope, a pseudonym of Violet Nicholson, are typically about unrequited love and loss. She had married Colonel Malcolm Hassels Nicolson, who was a commandant of the 3rd Battalion of the Baluch Regiment. The couple lived in Mhow in the central part of India from 1895 to 1900. 

One of her famous compositions, known as a ‘Kashmiri Song’, also appears in at least two of Plum’s narratives. 

  • In ‘The Knightly Quest of Mevryn’, Mulliner Nights, when Mervyn pops up at Clarice’s abode to report having suffered several privations and challenges in procuring strawberries in the month of December, he is made to wait in the drawing room where there is not much to entertain and amuse a visitor. He finds a photograph of the girl’s late father on the mantelpiece and several other items, including a copy of Indian Love Lyrics bound in limp cloth.
  • In Galahad at Blandings, Galahad strongly urges Lord Emsworth to be alert and on his guard. Dame Daphne Winkworth is not to be allowed to get him alone in the rose garden or on the terrace by moonlight. If she starts talking about the dear old days, he is to change the subject. He is to be wary if Dame Daphne Winkworth asks him to read her extracts from the Indian Love Lyrics after dinner. According to him, these have to be avoided like poison, because the consequences could be disastrous.
  • Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit opens with Bertie Wooster in his bath tub. ‘As I sat in the bath tub, soaping a meditative foot and singing, if I remember correctly, “Pale Hands I Loved Beside the Shalimar”, it would be deceiving my public to say that I was feeling boomps-a-daisy. The evening that lay before me promised to be one of those sticky evenings, no good to man or beast. My Aunt Dahlia, writing from her country residence, Brinkley Court down in Worcestershire, had asked me as a personal favour to take some acquaintances of hers out to dinner, a couple of the name of Trotter.’
  • In Ring for Jeeves, we find an alert and bright Captain Biggar crooning ‘Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar, where are you now, where are you now? Where are you now? Where are you now?’ Jeeves walks in just then and outlines his ‘spider sequence’, a scheme to deprive Mrs. Spottsworth of a precious pendant she wears around her neck, thereby bringing some financial relief to all concerned. 

(Continued)

Notes:

The inspiration for this essay comes from the scholarly work done by Ms. Masha Lebedeva, who had earlier whipped up a research paper entitled The Russian Salad by P. G. Wodehouse.

The author expresses his sincere gratitude to an eminent expert on Plummy matters for having spared the time to go through a part of this composition and provide insightful suggestions. Some fans of P. G. Wodehouse have also suggested improvements in its contents.

Thanks are also due to Mr. Suvarna Sanyal for dishing out the main illustration in Part 1; also, to Ms. Sneha Shoney, who has edited the text.

Those of you who wish to cruise through this essay in its entirety may kindly write to akb_usha@rediffmail.com for a PDF version of the complete document to be mailed to them.

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ashokbhatia

A tide in the affairs of men

Amongst the not-so-delicately-nurtured characters in the Wodehouse canon, there are at least three brainy coves we all admire – Jeeves, Lord Ickenham and Psmith. As to the last one, here is how one of his theories of Life gets bolstered by The Bard.

‘It was one of Psmith’s theories of Life, which he was accustomed to propound to Mike in the small hours of the morning with his feet on the mantelpiece, that the secret of success lay in taking advantage of one’s occasional slices of luck, in seizing, as it were, the happy moment. When Mike, who had had the passage to write out ten times at Wrykyn on one occasion as an imposition, reminded him that Shakespeare had once said something about there being a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, &c., Psmith had acknowledged with…

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ashokbhatia

To be or not to be a die-hard fan of a particular literary figure is perhaps decided by our Guardian Angels. Mines have been benevolent and ensured that I suffer from acute Wodehousitis.

But when it comes to William Shakespeare, much revered by all and sundry, my GAs have ensured that I never qualify to be even a mild case of Shakespearitis. One of the several challenges I have faced in my life is that of understanding the literary fare dished out by William Shakespeare. Given the high level of what Bertie Wooster might label as my Pumpkin Quotient, repeated attempts on my part to comprehend the ingenious outpourings of The Bard have failed miserably.

But an absence of Shakespearitis does not necessarily guarantee peace of mind. On the contrary, it makes life even more of a challenge. The brow is invariably furrowed. The heart is leaden with woe. This…

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ashokbhatia

There come some truly humbling moments in one’s life when, while imagining that one’s Guardian Angels are surely in a benevolent mood, one suddenly wakes up to a reality which appears to be quite to be contrary. Scales fall from one’s eyes. One realizes with sudden horror that one had perhaps been promoted to the post of an honorary Vice President of the Global Association of Morons, exuding negative vibes to all the hapless souls around. Or, as P G Wodehouse would have put it, one looks ‘like the hero of a Russian novel debating the advisability of murdering a few near relations before hanging himself in the barn.’ 

Yours truly was recently in a suburb of a city known as Trondheim in Norway. Nudged by my hosts, I had decided to take a walk on a relatively lonely road overlooking the fjord. Seagulls were having a gala time…

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ashokbhatia

As ever, Jeeves entered the room at the exact time. Neither too soon or too late, but just when I was about to begin to open my eyes, the honest man shimmered into view holding the salver with the invigorating cup of morning tea.

‘Good morning, Jeeves’, I said.

‘Good morning, sir’, said Jeeves.

‘What’s the weather like, outside?’

‘Extremely clement, sir. A balmy afternoon can be expected.’

‘Just the thing to encourage a chap to go for a constitutional around the park after breakfast, preparatory for a good lunch at Simpson’s, eh, Jeeves?’

‘Under usual circumstances, most definitely, sir.’

There was a clearly unhappy undertone in that. Almost imperceptible to the untrained ear, but definitely there. I decided to probe further into the matter.

‘Is anything the matter, Jeeves? Is the park being drilled for oil? Is the Serpentine being converted into some sort of dam to generate electricity…

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