I must confess I have a bit of a sweet tooth, but I am not overly fond of rich chocolatey cakes, give me a soufflé any day. After all, not all great literature needs to be complex or heavy in flavour. The hallmark of great literature is that it is forged using only the best ingredients. The words have to be organic, carefully selected and locally sourced. Great literature takes these ingredients and blends them to perfection. And nothing is trickier than making the perfect soufflé, like comedy, one false step and the whole thing collapses on itself.
One of the great masters of the comic soufflé is P.G. Wodehouse. There is nothing like Wodehouse’s humorous turn of phrase to make me bound about with excitement. I recently engaged in the digestion of not one, but two P.G. Wodehouse novels, because sometimes one serving is not enough. I was encouraged to sample these novels by Stephen Fry:
You might be forgiven for blinking in bewilderment at the praise that has been lavished on a “mere” comic author by writers such as Compton Mackenzie, Evelyn Waugh, Hilaire Belloc, Bernard Levin and Susan Hill. But once you dive into the soufflé, once you engage with all those miraculous verbal felicities, such adulation begins to make sense.
The two books I chose to devour were Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, Wodehouse’s last complete novel, and A Damsel in Distress. Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, one of the Jeeves and Wooster stories, is a hilarious adventure involving a bet, a rash and a cat. As usual Jeeves, in his immaculate way, helps to get Wooster out of a serious pickle and save the day. A Damsel in Distress is a stand alone romp of mistaken identity and forbidden romance gone pear shaped. After rescuing a mysterious woman who jumps into his taxi cab, George Bevan is determined to track down his damsel in distress and win her heart, but there are more than a few hurdles in his way. I feel I have only dipped my whiskers into the wonderful world of P.G. Wodehouse, and a had a taste of his fantastical 20s ish landscape of the idle rich, golf and tomfoolery, but as long as the soufflé stays buoyant I will return again.
P.G. Wodehouse, A Damsel in Distress, 1919.
P.G. Wodehouse, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, 1974.
Stephen Fry on P.G. Wodehouse, http://www.pgwodehousebooks.com/fry.htm.