Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Very good, sir ...

... Jeeves and Diminishing Returns.


  1. Anonymous8:00 PM

    Frank, do you agree with the blogger's premise that Wodehouse isn't funny enough to keep you read after a few books or that Code of the Wooster's is the funniest book of the lot?

  2. I think the the blogger ought to read more of Wodehouse's priceless short stories before he passes judgment on him.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  3. Anonymous9:37 AM

    What's with this "the blogger" stuff? I'm no stranger to Books, Inq., and I haven't exactly hidden my name on my blog. Anyway, Phil and Peter, in the future you're welcome to write comments on my blog itself -- would've been nice if you had and would have added to the subject. And I'm curious to know Frank's answer to Phil's questions. I'll link to these comments from my post so people can read them.

    I don't know if Code of the Woosters is the funniest of the lot. I just think it's the funniest of the four Jeeves books I happened to read (Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves; How Right You Are, Jeeves; Jeeves and the Tie that Binds). If someone can suggest one that they think is better than or as good as Code..., maybe it would be worth it for me to check it out.

    Peter, I didn't pass judgment on Wodehouse as a writer generally, or didn't intend to. I was talking specifically about the Jeeves novels and the question of whether the formula -- even when done well -- can get old. For me, by the fourth book, it did. It felt by then that he was going through the motions, following a recipe, whereas the first Jeeves novel I read by him felt fresh and inventive. The ones I read later were still funny and well-constructed. But it felt like I'd read it before.

    To the extent that I did pass judgment on him as a writer, I think it was favorable. I did say that he wrote one of the funniest and most entertaining novels I'd ever read. I'm not sure how much higher the praise can be. In a recent interview that'll be appearing in a magazine soon (which I'll announce on my blog when it's out), I actually named Wodehouse, along with Douglas Adams, as a humor writer I admire. Not that anyone should care what I think of Wodehouse's work, either way. He sold like a trillion books and in England they made him king or something.

    Obviously, one's response to humor is highly subjective. This course I've been teaching at the University of Pennsylvania for the last year and a half, "What's So Funny," has made that clearer than ever to me. One thing I have noticed is how difficult it is for older humor to continue to be funny years later. I don't think humor generally translates as well as other literary genres down through the years. Some pretty big names in humor writing just don't work for modern audiences. I think it has to do with audience expectations and shock value and cultural references, to name a few. Anyway, it is remarkable, to me, how Code... still works so well for my students, mostly freshman. I can tell you that plenty of other so-called great humor from that time period and earlier doesn't work as well for contemporary audiences. (This is a point that E.B. White made in his introduction to an anthology he edited of American humor writing.)