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Which Wodehouse to start with?

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Mar 8, 2009, 2:27pm Top

I am embarrassingly ignorant of the works of P.G. Wodehouse, but have heard enough about his tone and style to know that I would like him. Which book should I start with? Thanks in advance for any recommendations.

Mar 8, 2009, 2:30pm Top

That's a good question. I am also ignorant of Wodehouse but so many here love him.

Mar 8, 2009, 2:31pm Top

ya i have no idea who he is but im gonna look him up-what does he write

Edited: Mar 8, 2009, 3:42pm Top

I don't own much Wodehouse but have read a good deal of his humor. He has several series, ongoing stories with recurring characters - that sort of thing - and all of them have his trademark style of comedy and humor with layers of complications. He is best known for his "Jeeves and Wooster" stories - mistaken identity, over indulgence in gambling and alcohol, quick-witted servants, confusion, and the inevitable clever finale.

I would recommend beginning there: The Inimitable Jeeves, Carry On Jeeves perhaps - there are also numerous anthologies and omnibus editions of the Jeeves stories.

Wodehouse himself was an interesting fellow - he was naive and drastically underestimated the Nazi threat, then found himself interned in Europe during WWII. He made a series of witty and upbeat radio dialogues for the Germans, believing he was showing the English "stiff upper lip" in times of crisis. The English, suffering under the hardships of the Blitz, did not think them so very funny and for a long while - well after the war - he was viewed with derision and suspicion as a German collaborator. Ultimately cleared, he was knighted and is acknowledged as a foremost humorist and comic author.
He's funny - hope you like him.

Mar 8, 2009, 4:08pm Top

sorry, now I have Elmer Fudds voice in my head

Mar 8, 2009, 6:04pm Top

My Man Jeeves is the first in one of the series. If you would like the full list
check out this website.


They are all in order and all the titles too.

Mar 8, 2009, 7:58pm Top

The only one I've read was Right Ho, Jeeves. Many had recommended this, and I wasn't disappointed.

Mar 9, 2009, 5:27am Top

joshberg - Congratulations! If you really do find you like Wodehouse (not everyone does, of course) then you'll be in the happy situation of having ninety-odd hilarious novels and short-story collections still to discover. Lucky thing!

There are a lot of books, and it really doesn't matter greatly where you start. To amplify slightly what people have said above, there are a few books that form series, and a lot of one-off novels. Even with the series, the sequence you read them in doesn't matter greatly, because Wodehouse always includes plenty of recapitulation if there's back-story you need to know about. The main series are:

* Jeeves & Wooster -- these stories are all (except one!) narrated by Bertie Wooster, an amiable young man whose clever manservant gets him and his friends out of various scrapes. You may have seen the recent TV version with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

* Blandings -- these are set in and around a stately home in Shropshire. Lord Emsworth just wants to be left alone to commune with his prize pig, the Empress of Blandings, but his relatives won't leave him in peace.

* Mr Mulliner -- these are short stories told to unfortunate fellow-guests in the Anglers' Rest pub by Mr Mulliner, and usually involve his many nephews and nieces. Unlike the rest of Wodehouse, they tend to be "tall tales" and aren't necessarily realistic, but arguably they include some of his best verbal flights of fancy.

There are a few other smaller groups of books with recurring main characters (Psmith, Uncle Fred, Monty Bodkin, the golf stories), and to some extent these also overlap with the other series.

The other way to divide up Wodehouse's output is chronologically: there are a lot of bibliographies out there on the internet: the factsheets of the PGW Society (UK) http://www.pgwodehousesociety.org.uk/ are probably the most comprehensive, but it's a complicated business because books were often published in the UK and US at different dates, with different titles, and in the case of short story collections even with different contents.

As a very crude rule of thumb to get you started, the early period up to about 1914 isn't very interesting unless you're a serious fan or you have a special interest in Edwardian school stories. From the mid-1920s on it starts getting mainstream, and his best and funniest books were written in the thirties. After WWII he's still producing good stuff, but the books get a bit more self-consciously archaic in tone (you're more aware that he's erasing all the unpleasant side of modern life). In the late 60s and early 70s you get the feeling that he's getting older and a bit less original in tone.

I'd suggest that you start off with a mid-period Jeeves story - Right Ho, Jeeves, as suggested above, or Thank you, Jeeves, but not My man Jeeves, which is an early work mostly recycled in later books; a Blandings story say Summer Lightning; and a non-series book from the thirties - maybe The luck of the Bodkins or Hot Water. Don't give up at once if you don't like the Jeeves book - for some people it takes a while to get the hang of Bertie as narrator. If you enjoy those, then work outwards...

Oh, and stop by The Drones Club, the PGW group on LibraryThing, of course!

Mar 9, 2009, 5:35am Top

Thanks to everyone who has made suggestion! They are such a big help.

Thanks, thorold. That's a wonderful summery.

Mar 9, 2009, 7:51am Top

I started with the Blandings books and was immediately sucked in to become a Wodehouse fanatic, but in my opinion, no matter which book you choose, you can't go wrong :)

Mar 9, 2009, 7:53am Top

I totally agree with you, Kittybee!

Mar 9, 2009, 2:06pm Top

I'd say that Heavy Weather and Leave it to Psmith are my two favorites...I laugh out loud the whole way through both of them!

Mar 11, 2009, 10:58pm Top

I agree with all--I don't think there is a Wodehouse that you can go wrong with! I went through a spell in my much younger days when, along with a friend (my first reading group?), I read every Wodehouse in our library. I remember being so upset when I had finished. I should probably do it again.

Mar 12, 2009, 4:54am Top

>13 tloeffler: I don't think there is a Wodehouse that you can go wrong with!

True, although there are a few of his books that are treasures for the initiate, but might leave a newcomer wondering what all the fuss was about. Edwardian school stories aren't to everyone's taste, for instance, nor is The coming of Bill (his one attempt at a serious novel). And there are a few novelisations of things originally written as plays that come out a bit thin - Doctor Sally for instance. But those few oddities tend to be the books it's hardest to find anyway, so the chance of a newcomer stumbling on them is fairly slim.

Mar 15, 2009, 9:42am Top

I appreciate your expertise, thorold, and the time you've taken to respond so thoroughly. I 'm looking forward to getting to a bookstore (the next time I'm in an English-speaking country) and having a closer look at the titles you suggested. Cheers.

Mar 17, 2009, 2:56am Top

For anyone who likes Wodehouse audiobooks I highly recommend Jonathan Cecil's unabridged reading of Right Ho, Jeeves. It's worth it just to hear Gussie Fink-Nottle's speech at the Market Snodsbury Grammar prize ceremony :D

Mar 17, 2009, 5:30am Top

I'll second that. Jonathan Cecil's recorded a number of other Wodehouses too.

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