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Wodehouse: A Life
W. W. Norton & Company, 2004
530 pp., $27.95
C. Stephen Evans
Laughing in Eden
Evelyn Waugh, in a tribute to P. G. Wodehouse delivered on the BBC on July 15, 1961, zeroed in on a theological ground for the unmatched appeal of Wodehouse's fiction:
For Mr. Wodehouse there has been no fall of Man; no "aboriginal calamity." His characters have never tasted the forbidden fruit. They are still in Eden. The gardens of Blandings Castle are that original garden from which we are all exiled. The chef Anatole prepares the ambrosia for the immortals of high Olympus. Mr. Wodehouse's world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.
A deeply Catholic novelist such as Waugh knows what sin is and notices its absence. The first time I read this often-quoted praise, I immediately thought, "Of course," and I understood why Wodehouse is a writer who is not merely enjoyed but deeply loved.
I had for many years been a Wodehouse lover, beginning with Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, moving on to Lord Emsworth, the Empress of Blandings (a pig) and the Blandings Castle stories, and experiencing sheer bliss when I discovered that Wodehouse had actually written some golf stories. For several years I struggled with a phobia about flying, and there were many times when the only way I could get myself to board a plane was to walk onto the jetway clutching an unread Wodehouse novel. Waugh had it exactly right; to enter the Wodehouse world is to enter a world with no sin, and no real horrors. In that world no planes fall from the skies.
I am certainly not alone in my love of Wodehouse. According to Robert McCrum's biography, there is a long roster of distinguished admirers in addition to Waugh, including T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Dorothy Parker, Arthur Balfour, Hilaire Belloc, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Eudora Welty, Ogden Nash, John le Carré, and Salman Rushdie. Incredibly, all of Wodehouse's booksof which there are more than 100are still in print. ...