The Code Of The Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse

51ePalGkKML ‘It’s grand to be an Englishman in 1910,’ sings Mr Banks at the beginning of Mary Poppins. Unwise to read too much into a musical fantasy, of course, but you can’t help thinking that in four years’ time, Mr Banks is going to be dead in a trench somewhere in France, along with the irritating Bert and the other cheery mockney types who make up the numbers. A similar sense of dramatic irony hangs over The Code of the Woosters. It’s the usual country house nonsense, with fiancés thwarted and curates demure and stupid rural policemen who get their helmets knocked off. But it’s published in 1937 and, two years later, Europe would be aflame and a chap would have so much more to worry about than a ticking-off from Sir Watkyn Bassett, viz. (as Bertie Wooster might say) he could be lying in a hedgerow, his mouth open, a hole where his forehead had been (as Cornelius Ryan does say in The Longest Day). Or you could just ignore that and enjoy it all, I suppose. Actually, the world Walt Disney depicted is only slightly less realistic than that which P.G. Wodehouse sets his characters spinning around: Sir Watkyn has a cow-creamer….Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia needs it and wants Bertie to steal it…while Bertie must ensure that his idiot friend Gussie Fink-Nottle marries the drippy Madeline, otherwise she will want to marry Bertie instead…but then the plot doesn’t matter. It never matters. There’s so much else to enjoy, not least the sinister Fascist Roderick Spode and his Black Shorts. (‘By the time Spode formed his association, there were no shirts left.’) Mussolini also gets a passing, cheeky mention, proving that matters outside of Totleigh Towers were at least vaguely on the author’s mind. As it happened, the Second World War was a disaster for Wodehouse, captured by the Germans in Le Touquet and invited by them to do some witty radio broadcasts from Berlin. Naïve, stupid, but not treasonous although it is a shame that the creator of Jeeves did not absorb more of the character’s formidable foresight, Anyway, back to the book, and it’s central dichotomy: Bertie’s exhausting, wildly privileged and silly world is fine advert for Communism. It’s also irresistible.

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