Wodehouse

55 Classics Review #9 – Heavy Weather by P.G. Wodehouse


It took me a long time to finish this relatively short book, but don’t let that soil your impression of its merit. The past 6 weeks have included, among other things, the much-anticipated and long-belated birth of my son. I haven’t felt entirely comfortable going off to read while my wife attempts to fend off the violent affections of two young ladies set on wrestling out their love for mother and new baby brother. I also blame Middlemarch; reading any book in tandem with Middlemarch makes for demotivation by osmosis.

I have been excited to dig into Wodehouse for some time. Having heard many mirthful mentionings of his work, I watched some of the BBC adaptation Jeeves & Wooster, starring the wonderful duo of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. While Heavy Weather follows an entirely different cast of characters, the eases and difficulties of adapting his work for the screen are evident. Both pros and cons draw from his ability to approach all content with such an even and natural comic sensibility.

Heavy Weather follows a large cast of characters as they attempt to gain control of a manuscript of reminiscences which would prove to be very lucrative and excessively embarrassing to almost all existing British nobility if published. Miscommunication and dumb-luck continue to keep everyone fumbling for control of said manuscript throughout most of the book, with many awkward interactions and side stories. Move by move, each pawn finds something at stake on one side or the other and occasionally on both. It is like reading a season of Downton Abbey written like Arsenic And Old Lace or Harvey. This type of story does not urge one to find out what happens next. It reads like a walk in the country, taken in for the paced experience rather than the end result. There are plenty of unexpected moments, but the plot is convoluted rather than climactic.

As a writer of many plays and comic musicals, Wodehouse makes the actions and reactions at hand in this novel flow as if written for players on a stage. The book is full of fast-paced comic miscommunication, failing strategizing, and diplomatic family blundering. He writes visually and his evocative scenes, comic dialogue, and eccentric characters make ideal performance material.

It is this singular whimsical writing style which is so central to his work that also remains in many ways untranslatable. He describes thoughts, appearances, and concepts as well as he does visual experiences and often time these are the best bits. This means that at least half of what makes this work so remarkably enjoyable remains staunchly text-based. He also uses huge amounts of period-specific British slang, which may make trouble or hinder enjoyment for some readers.

Wodehouse was a consumate writer. He wrote almost as compulsion, continuing his career into his 90’s. He has a remarkable unique voice as a humorist that does not seem contrived or even niche. Reading his work quickly feels like listening to a hilarious old pal recount familiar stories. This is, in fact, a characteristic tendency for some member’s of his cast. These mannerisms, in the author and in his characters, helps make his writing universal yet unique.

Overall, I would suspect that most who enjoy period fiction and indulgent language-building will be able to appreciate this book. It may leave those hungry for significant plot a little empty-stomached, but one cannot help loving and loathing the characters and their antics, even if the last page makes you feel like you’ve been chasing your tail all this time.

Wodehouse is a light read for those who occasionally prefer to take reading lightly.

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Further Reading

“The Railway Children” by E. Nesbit

“On Stories” by C.S. Lewis

“Frankenstien” by Mary Shelley

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Horrible Start # 2 – Roast Beef


As I wrote originally, the Bulwer-Lytton awards are something that should elicited endless hours of enjoyment for the average English major. I have devoted a menu here to creating my own, but the mood has rarely struck me as of yet. Here’s my second entry to date.

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“As he chewed, swallowed, and digested the grocery sample roast beef on marbled rye, he contemplated the metallic, rainbow, fishing-lure sheen of the meat and proposed that surely no animal existing outside of a Lisa Frank binder should ever display such morbidly brilliant chemical coloration upon dissection; he cut a wide birth with the rusty wheeled cart and made for another slice.”

You’re Off To A Horrible Start: Bulwer-Lytton and Creating the Imperfect Sentence


Edward George Bulwer-Lytton is a name with which you are probably unfamiliar but one that has influenced culture for almost 200 years. Bulwer-Lytton was a British politician and extremely popular novelist in the mid-1800’s who coined phrases like “pursuit of the almighty dollar” and “the pen is mightier than the sword.” He also started his novel Paul Clifford with the now famous line “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Here’s what you probably don’t know. The sentence does not end there but, instead of a period, we find a semi-colon and first sentence of the novel actually reads

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

It is thanks to this excessively wordy and slightly ridiculous sentence that we have The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. This competition for hilarious and wordy one-liners might have come to be without him, but Bulwer-Lytton definitely earned the namesake.

The concept of the contest is relatively simple. Anyone can submit as many ridiclous and wordy first sentences to unwritten novels as they like and once a year general and genre-specific winners are chosen. You can go to their website and browse through all the previous winners and honorable mentions.

For some reason the absurdity of it all reminds me of P.G. Wodehouse. A great portion of his appeal comes from his construction of deliciously faulty sentences. Anyway, I’m eager to take a crack at it and I think I will begin posting these here under the title of Horrible Starts. Here’s my first! Feel free to share your thoughts or comment with your own monstrous sentence creations!

“Perhaps the house at 2837 North Sutton Road might have appeared quaint and cozy had it stood alone upon a breezy hillside or next to a babbling stream in a glen somewhere; instead, it stood uncomfortably between the new gated community and the squalid and infested complex, like the single bowed and rotting plank one descends when stepping down from heaven into hell.”