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The Wit of P.G. Wodehouse

Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse KBE (1881 – 1975) commonly known as ‘P. G. Wodehouse’ was an English author and one of the most widely read humorists of the 20th century, who, after leaving school, was employed by a bank but disliking the work turned to writing in his spare time. He eventually created several regular characters of comic fiction who became familiar to the public, in particular Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves.

Though most of Wodehouse's fiction is set in England, he spent much of his life in the United States. He also wrote a series of Broadway musical comedies during and after the First World War which are said to have played an important part in the development of the American musical.

In 1934, Wodehouse moved to France and in 1940 he was taken prisoner by the invading Germans and interned for nearly a year. Soon after his release, he made six broadcasts from German radio to the US, which had not yet entered the war. Though the talks were intended to be comic, the fact that he had broadcasted over enemy radio prompted controversy in Britain, to which Wodehouse never returned. Taking dual British-American citizenship in 1955, Wodehouse returned to America.

Wodehouse published more than 90 books, 40 plays, 200 short stories, and other writings between 1902 and and his death in 1975 at the age of 93 in New York.

Wodehouse produced a novel in about three months, slowing in old age to around six months. His mixture of Edwardian language, poetic quotations and allusions and other techniques resulted in a distinct prose style. These quotes give a glimpse of it:

'I just sit at my typewriter and curse a bit.’

'There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.'

'If he had a mind, there was something on it.'

'And she's got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.'

'You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound.'

'The voice of Love seemed to call to me, but it was a wrong number.'

'Marriage is not a process for prolonging the life of love, sir. It merely mummifies its corpse.’

'He had just about enough intelligence to open his mouth when he wanted to eat, but certainly no more.'

'A certain critic -- for such men, I regret to say, do exist -- made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained 'all the old Wodehouse characters under different names.' He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have out-generalled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.'

'It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.'

'The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.’

'There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, 'Do trousers matter?''

'The mood will pass, sir.'

'I am not always good and noble. I am the hero of this story, but I have my off moments.'

'He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom.'

'It was one of those parties where you cough twice before you speak and then decide not to say it after all.'

'At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies.'

'Mike nodded. A sombre nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if somebody had met him in 1812 and said, “So, you're back from Moscow, eh?”’

'Everything in life that’s any fun, as somebody wisely observed, is either immoral, illegal or fattening.'

'Unseen in the background, Fate was quietly slipping lead into the boxing-glove.'

'I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.'

'I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don’t remember what I did before that. Just loafed, I suppose.'

'What ho!' I said.

'What ho!' said Motty.

'What ho! What ho!'

'What ho! What ho! What ho!'

After that it seemed rather difficult to go on with the conversation.'

'If there is one thing I dislike, it is the man who tries to air his grievances when I wish to air mine.’

'Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy's Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day's work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city's reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.'

'A melancholy-looking man, he had the appearance of one who has searched for the leak in life's gas-pipe with a lighted candle.'

'I'm not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it's Shakespeare who says that it's always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.'

'I always advise people never to give advice.'

'She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say “when”. '

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