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The women of Wodehouse

The women of Wodehouse

I don’t know if you’ll remember but I kind of have a thing for this guy called Pelham Graham Wodehouse. Relax, it’s not at hidden-shrine-in-back-of-closet level, I just happen to think the man is a legend and the creator all things amazing and beautiful. The most I’ve read of Wodehouse is the Jeeves series, a few Blandings novels, The Uncle Fred series and a school story or two from the early years (I recommend A Prefects Uncle and The Golden Bat.) Yet as a woman, there was always the impression that I was butting into a very exclusive boys club. The women in Wodehouse novels, as I’ve mentioned on Small Fry before, are neatly categorised into one of three. The sappy, annoying kind that need to be drowned with immediate effect (Madeline Basset), the tall, stately ones with their minds full of the higher pursuits in life (Florence Craye, famed writer of Spindthrift) or the great sports, who, while their hearts are fixed firmly in the right place, seem always to have their hands stirring up all sorts of trouble. It is the last kind that always tend to land Bertie Wooster “in the soup” as he puts it. Honoria Glossop, that ghastly dominating horror, stayed away from these three categories but that was about it. Without knowing it, I had unwittingly become so blinded by the man’s plots and the way he skipped lightly over beautifully turned phrases, that I forgave the fact that my own sex couldn’t break past the idea he had in his head.


Until last week, when I bought The adventures of Sally, and had my first encounter with a female Wodehouse protagonist, Sally Nicholas. Sally is bright, beautiful and generously endowed with wit and humour. At first she comes across as a little forced, as though Wodehouse was trying too hard to make us like her but as the plot charged forward with spirit and verve, and as I got acquainted with all the characters, I started to like her more and more. This girl, was evidently a “good egg.” She takes misfortune on the chin, she’s funny and though she can’t see past the end of her nose when it comes to dating, she has sense in her head. Her gentlemen suitors are all well drawn out and as for the guy who ultimately wins her, Wodehouse made him a complete ass but with a sound core. I mean he’s so bumbling and adorable and inarticulate. (“Well, look here…I know I’m not much of a chap, but …I’ve loved you like the dickens ever since I met you.”) And the other female characters aren’t half as bad either and are chockfull of fun if impractical advice, (“When you marry, Sally, grab a chump. Tap his forehead first and if his head rings solid, don’t hesitate. All unhappy marriages come from the husband having brains. What good are brains to a man? They only unsettle him.”)

Good for Wodehouse, you know. I now don’t have any doubts at all. He’s funny, he writes like a dream and he knows how to tell a story AND he has the ability to understand human beings.

P.S: In a bit of background reading for this column, I came across this article by guess who (it’s Shashi Tharoor), and seeing that some of you may not have read it, well, you’re welcome.

Female characters who shine (despite bleak circumstances)

Female characters who shine (despite bleak circumstances)

Elliot Reid from Scrubs

Through eight seasons of Scrubs, I have never stopped feeling bad for Elliot. She’s pudgy, and a complete emotional mess. She cries in broom closets, she loses all her stuff, she gets dumped so many times, I’ve lost count. But she’s a great doctor. She braves all that stuff (when she isn’t crying in a closet) and faces up to Dr Cox managing to not go utterly apeshit crazy.

Christina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy

Meredith Grey is one of the most boring protagonists ever. Christina is the real rockstar here. She is the best doctor at Seattle Grace, she’s focussed, she’s driven and she will not take your crap. Well she cannot seem to keep a man. But who cares? She isn’t whining and crying like poor little Meredith, she goes out and kicks ass.

Robin Scherbatsky from How I met your mother

Robin is a news reporter, a pop sensation, a bull fighter, a scotch drinker and a wearer of boots. She is starved for attention from her father and can’t have babies and has a job, that is downright humiliating at times, but through it all, she manages to look hot…I mean, keep a brave face and still be funny.

Arya Starck from Game of thrones

Her circumstances are not bleak. They downright suck. First her dad’s head gets chopped off and she barely has time to register this and she has to make a run for it on account of the most powerful people in the country wanting her captive. She escapes horrific fires, men with swords and inevitable torture. She’s alert, quick-witted and brave. Oh and btw, she’s only 11 years old. Stick ‘em with the pointy end, Arya.

Kima Greggs from The Wire

She’s a woman cop in the most dangerous unit in the city but who cares about that, right? We love Kima, because she comes out of five seasons with her professional integrity intact. Not even her righteous boss, Daniels can boast of this. In season one, when she awakes from a coma, she recounts exactly what she experienced, even when it meant that an extra name could put away a hardened criminal. Justice and fairness, all the way. In season five, she picks chain of command over shielding an errant colleague. Natural Poh-lice.

Why I will never be a reading snob again

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Why I will never be a reading snob again

Someone once told me that she would never take my advice about what book she would read next. Her argument was that I was too judgemental and choosy, that I re-inforced the snobby lit student stereotype.

She can have the last laugh though. Last year, I bought a second hand copy of Lady Chatterley’s lover because I wanted to read that rebel book that changed the very definition of female sexuality. I ignored that voice in my head that said “But you’re not a fan of DH Lawrence.” (It’s true. When I was 16, I tried reading my mother’s copy of Sons and Lovers and the first page gave me a headache that stayed for a week). I bought the book and I was all set to recommend it to all people who didn’t care either way, when I was done reading it.

The first chapter was…difficult. Still, I was a lit student, if I couldn’t go through this, who would? I laboured on. Oh my god. This was really something else. By chapter three I was coming up for air every three seconds. This. Book. Made. No. Sense. At. All.

Well, it made some sense. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is about the 19-year-old Lady Constance Chatterley who is doomed to a life of no sex because her husband was crippled in the war. Bummer, but you know, this was the early 19th century and women were not really as sexually liberated as they are today. Not Lady C. She wants some all the time.

The first half of the book alternates between Constance’s desperate “physical and sensual” needs and a lot of boring conversations around a fireplace. Her husband’s friends are all pseudo-intellectuals who frankly sound like total pricks. Whatever. Contance just wants to get lucky. She hooks up, briefly, with one of the pseudos. That doesn’t last.

Finally, we reach the place where she spots the gamekeeper. It’s evident that she has a new object of desire. By this point in the book, I was just about stopping myself from blacking out from boredom and irritation. She gets with gamekeeper man and for a while I’m almost relieved because she doesn’t gaze sadly at herself naked anymore but indulges in some serious dirty time. (In the 19th century that meant you wove flowers into a man’s chest hair. I actually laughed out loud at this bit.)

In between all this, you don’t get to feel sorry for the poor Mr Chatterley. He’s busy indulging in some mommy fantasy with his nurse. Good for him.

When I finally finished reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I lay for a full minute wondering what had happened to me. Then to clear my head, I picked up my roommate’s copy of The Sands of Time by Sidney Sheldon.

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