July 20, 2011

A hard slider from the Performing Flea

If England has any dignity left in the way of literature, she will forget for ever the pitiful antics of English literature's performing flea. - Sean O'Casey

Over the past 15 years I've made a fairly serious commitment to Wodehouse, reading all the Mulliner and golf stories, most of the Jeeves material, and about 2/3 of the the Blandings line. All in all, I've consumed about 1/2 of his lifetime output.

Certain things recur, obviously. There will be a love story, probably between someone of noble birth and someone of more proletarian origins. There will be a helpful older mentor, and some grumpy gus (male or female) who doesn't want the marriage to happen. Someone will need money. There will be repartee, stooges, straight men, and handsome wavy-haired men who turn out to be cads. There will be no sex or murder, with the exception of one unfortunate monkey. And really, in that instance it would be fairer to call it manslaughter, or...

Getting to the point, Wodehouse made a living writing these things in serial fashion for magazines, and like any such writer, he had a routine. He had his tropes. What makes him special to me, however, is that as he conducts his routine business, he throws in, at no extra charge, some choice bits of really, really fine writing.

Here is an example from the late-ish Blandings saga, Pigs Have Wings, which we have been trolling through over the past few weeks (available in finer bookstores or, of course, here). It's not bad reading to oneself, but reading it out loud gave me fresh appreciation for the man:

Lord Vosper became calmer. What a writer of radio drama would have called the moment of madness, sheer madness, passed and Reason returned to her throne. He rebuked himself for having allowed his thoughts to wander in such a dubious direction. He had received his early education at Harrow, and Old Harrovians, he reminded himself, when they have plighted their troth to Girl A, do not go about folding Girl B in their arms. Old Etonians, yes. Old Rugbeians, possibly. But not Old Harrovians. With a sigh and a gesture of resignation he closed the door and returned to the piano. Resuming his seat on the music stool, he began to sing once more.

'The sun is dark (tiddle-om) . . . The skies are grey (tiddle-om) . . . since my sweetie (pom) . . .went away,' sang Orlo Vosper, and Gloria Salt, in her bedroom above, clenched her hands as the words came floating in through the open window and stared before her with unseeing eyes.

Youth, according to most authorities, is the season for gaeity and happiness, but one glance at this girl would have been enough to show that nobody was likely to sell that idea to her. Her lovely face was twisted with pain, her dark eyes dull with anguish. If she had appeared, looking as she was looking now, in one of the old silent films, there would have been flashed on the screen some such caption as:


And such a caption would have been roughly correct.


Post a Comment

<< Home