Sparkling gems from the greatest-ever humourist II

I was acquainting you with some delectable pieces of humour by the most skilled practitioner of the genre in the entire twentieth century – P.G. Wodehouse himself.

“The greatest living writer of prose”, “the Master”, “the head of my profession”, “akin to Shakespeare”, “a master of the language”…  was some of the praise lavished by him by authors like Compton Mackenzie, Evelyn Waugh, Hilaire Belloc, and Susan Hill – as author, actor, playwright (and a great many other things) Stephen Fry – who has the distinction of playing Wodehouse’s most famous creation, the valet Jeeves – puts it.

Many have sought to “explain” Wodehouse, to psychoanalyse his world, to examine his creations under the microscope of modern literary criticism. Such a project, as an article in Punch observed, is like “taking a spade to a soufflé” – and you will well appreciate how foolish that will make you look.

Therefore, I will say no more and go to list some more personal favourites –

The girl laughed – the gay, wholehearted laugh of youth. Pongo remembered that he had laughed like that in the days of before he had begun to see so much of his Uncle Fred.  (Another sentiment I can relate to… and it doesn’t have to be an Uncle Fred)

Henry glanced hastily at the mirror. Yes, he did look rather old. He must have overdone some of the lines on his forehead. He looked something between a youngish centenarian and a nonagenarian who had seen a good deal of trouble.

He wore the unmistakable look of a man about to be present at a row between women, and only a wet cat in a strange backyard bears itself with less jauntiness than a man faced by such a prospect. (No comments)

A man’s subconscious self is not the ideal companion. It lurks for the greater part of his life in some dark den of its own, hidden away, and emerges only to taunt and deride and increase the misery of a miserable hour.

He looked like a dictator on the point of starting a purge.

He looked like a bishop who has just discovered Schism and Doubt among the minor clergy.

It was my Uncle George who discovered that alcohol was a food well in advance of modern medical thought. (Hail Uncle George!)

Anybody can talk me round. If I were in a Trappist monastery, the first thing that would happen would be that some smooth performer would lure me into some frightful idiocy against my better judgment by means of the deaf-and-dumb language. (Speaks for itself)

Whenever I meet Ukridge’s Aunt Julia I have the same curious illusion of having just committed some particularly unsavoury crime and—what is more—of having done it with swollen hands, enlarged feet, and trousers bagging at the knee on a morning when I had omitted to shave.

At this moment, the laurel bush, which had hitherto not spoken, said “Psst!”

This done, he felt a little—not much, but a little—better. Before, he would have gladly murdered Beach and James and danced on their graves. Now, he would have been satisfied with straight murder.

When you have been just told that the girl you love is definitely betrothed to another, you begin to understand how Anarchists must feel when the bomb goes off too soon. (No comments, again)

One of the first lessons life teaches us is that on these occasions of back-chat between the delicately-nurtured a man should retire into the offing, curl up in a ball, and imitate the prudent tactics of the opossum, which, when danger is in the air, pretends to be dead, frequently going to the length of hanging out crêpe and instructing its friends to stand round and say what a pity it all is. (Amen)

He groaned slightly and winced, like Prometheus watching his vulture dropping in for lunch.

Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror.

Then he rose and began to pace the room in an overwrought sort of way, like a zoo lion who has heard the dinner-gong go and is hoping the keeper won’t forget him in the general distribution.

She looked at me like someone who has just solved the crossword puzzle with a shrewd “Emu” in the top right hand corner.

And to end, another sentiment I can appreciate:

“Yes, sir,” said Jeeves in a low, cold voice, as if he had been bitten in the leg by a personal friend.

And the very ultimate put-down, Wodehouse style….

“Very good,” I said coldly. “In that case, tinkerty-tonk.” And I meant it to sting.


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