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.