“An artificial world of my own creation”: the comforting humour of P.G. Wodehouse

5 min read

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, known affectionately by family and friends as ‘Plum’, was one of the most widely-read humourists of the 20th century. Over the course of his writing career (1902-1974) Wodehouse wrote more than 90 books, 40 plays and 200 short stories. Many of his early novels were school stories, but he later switched to comic fiction and created several of his most well-loved characters, including the iconic duo Jeeves and Wooster. 

The Performing Flea

In a letter to an old school friend, which later featured in a collection of letters called “Performing Flea”, Wodehouse wrote:“I go off the rails, unless I stay all the time in a sort of artificial world of my own creation.” He was, of course, referring to the world that we see in all of his novels - a pseudo-Edwardian world of perpetual spring-summer, country estates, Mayfair apartments, sports, luncheons and clubmen. Ask most people to describe a P.G. Wodehouse novel, and they’ll paint a picture of this “artificial” world. 

His are tales of a quintessentially English leisured upper class society, of contrived comical scenarios and two-dimensional characters that lean towards caricature. His literary world is not one of deep psychological analysis or complex worldly issues, but an escape from such concerns. There is a sense of nostalgia for a time and place that never truly existed, but that we can nevertheless escape into; this is a comforting world of humour and simplicity. A novel by P.G.                                                                                 Wodehouse is ‘light reading’ in the best way. 

Read on to find out how Wodehouse creates this comforting “artificial world” that so many readers have come to treasure...

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Always look on the bright side of life 

“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, 'Do trousers matter?'"
"The mood will pass, sir.” - The Code of the Woosters

The Inimitable Jeeves

Wodehouse’s prose is notable for its originality, and his trademark ability to see the funny side of any situation. His novels are full to the brim with artfully crafted prose - on the surface silly and tongue in cheek, but beneath the surface very much deliberate. Wordplay, hyperbole, far-fetched similes, irony, contrived comical plots and cases of mistaken identity, character stereotypes - Wodehouse knows exactly how to use language for comic effect.  

"If you take life fairly easily, then you take a humorous view of things. It's probably because you were born that way." P.G. Wodehouse

From Lord Emsworth’s love for his prize-winning pig the Empress of Blandings, to the hilarious escapades of the amiable gentleman Wooster and his intelligent valet Jeeves - to appreciate Wodehouse you do have to relinquish reality and be a little silly.  But once you do, his writing is                                                                             second to none, and will always leave you with a smile on your face. 

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Location Location Location

“The  village of  Market Blandings is one of  those sleepy  hamlets which  modern progress has  failed to touch... The  church is Norman, and the  intelligence of the  majority of the  natives palaeozoic.” - Something Fresh

Sunset at Blandings

Location is very important in P.G.Wodehouse novels. English country houses like Blandings are a frequent backdrop, as are fictional schools like Mike and Psmith’s haunt of Sedleigh, and Bertie Wooster’s Mayfair residence Berkeley Mansions. 

The Edwardian country house is just as you’d expect it to be, with a ‘cast’ of characters that always includes the valet, the chef, the butler and maids. There are acres of beautiful gardens and orchards, and there is never a shortage of countryside to roam in. This is an idyllic, nostalgic world where any problems are ultimately resolved, even if there are some comical clashes along the way! 

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A sporting good time

“The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.” - The Adventures of Sally 

The Clicking of Cuthbert

Sporting stories feature in many of Wodehouse’s novels; his output covers an array of games, but he was particularly interested in cricket and golf. Wodehouse is noted to have enjoyed many sports in his school days, dabbling in cricket, football, golf, athletics and even boxing. 

The valet Jeeves, arguably Wodehouse’s most famous character, was named after the real-life cricketer Percy Jeeves, who he saw play in Cheltenham in 1913. Then there are the golfing stories in the anthology “The Clicking of Cuthbert”, Mike Jackson and Psmith’s cricket adventures in their eponymous novels, boxing and athletics in “The Pothunters”, cricket in “Piccadilly Jim”... the list goes on.

Wodehouse’s sporting knowledge and schoolboy enthusiasm is palpable in his writing, which is perhaps what makes it so appealing, along with his characteristic ability to see the funny side of                                                                         things - even the competitive highs and lows of sport. It isn’t always easy for sports fans to find                                                                           good sport-focused fiction, but Wodehouse certainly made a hefty and charming contribution to                                                                       the genre. 

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In summary 

“I always strive, when I can, to spread sweetness and light.  There have been several complaints about it”. - Service with a Smile 

Some critics have accused Wodehouse of ‘recycling’ characters and plots, but there is no doubt that he created a formula that really worked - and always left readers asking for more. His novels and short stories are an eclectic mix of humour, idealism and nostalgia that clearly speak to many people. ‘Light reading’ is not a criticism here; in Wodehouse’s case, his lightness is very much his strength. 

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