Sunset. A lake in the north country. Moi sits on a purple blanket at the edge of the water. An open fire warms a pot of coffee. Moi reads a few different PG Wodehouse novels back-to-back for hours on end, pauses, pours a coffee, and speaks an aside.
Moi: I was always confused how Wodehouse could write such light, fresh stories while undergoing a brutal and genocidal world war; now, I see what happened: it was studied. It was a commitment. Wodehouse was not accidentally light and fresh; he fought for the light and the freshness.
A fish jumps far out on the lake.
Moi: I have perused his early works, his Edwardian historical fictions, that are pure sunshine; and, I have perused his later works which are still full of sunshine, but with jokes about the heavy, Modern preoccupations: genocide, world war, atomic bombs, top-selling brands, and Television. His novel Ring For Jeeves, I see just how studied and focused his efforts were. He even makes a Hemingway joke as if to package his light, fresh ideas in such a way to appeal to the bitter taste preference of his readers.
Up the shoreline, a hart steps out of the woods to drink from the lake.
Moi: No, he was not inept or dumb to fail to observe, hey, there’s a world war happening and it is ugly. He wanted to write light, fresh funny stuff, so he did. I can see his struggle in the novel Joy in the Morning; Wodehouse was incarcerated by Germans in France as he was writing it, so that shows you something. There is a whisper of anger in Joy in the Morning that isn’t present in other Jeeves and Wooster novels and I found it off putting until I read about the context of the novel.
Moi drinks his coffee.
Moi: I used to think that Wodehouse was kind of dumb: like if he had really just taken a moment to read Hemingway or Beckett, then he would have written some stories with a little more edge and a little less soap bubble; better, if Wodehouse wasn’t so dumb, he would have become a Deconstructionist and, you know, done something useful with his life like tear down everyone’s values and create new categories out of the gooey leftovers. But, I have been wrong; I admit it. It was today, upon this lark into his novels that I reconsider my position and came to the realization that Wodehouse knew from an early age what Cervantes teaches everyone who studies humor: a joke that gives pain isn’t a joke. To write a joke about Germans and Jews gives pain. Wodehouse knew that humor and pain were antithetical, so he tiptoes around huge societal issues, but he never gets in amongst the pain to make a joke or validates a joke by making it give a little pain. One observes Wodehouse’s delicate approach, for example, with Spode the dictator with whom Wodehouse ever so gently recalls to our mind other dictators. Another similar character might be the white hunter in Ring For Jeeves’ whose code and need to bear the white man’s burden remind one of unpleasant aspects of society, but are treated with a light hand in such a way that they reference something ugly, but without pain. Spode, after all, while he has a small Hitler mustache, owns a woman’s lingerie shop and wears black shorts to all his dictatorial meetings. I can see that Wodehouse identified the Zeitgeist issues, yes, but he writes a comedy regardless of the Zeitgeist’s obsession with death, dying, pain, nihilism, atheism, God being dead, God is dead, by the way, did you know? Oh, and, let’s not forget all the sex needed to make a good Modern novel.
By this time the hart has returned to the forest; a loon calls from across the lake.
Moi: If one sets out to write a comedy, one can’t go about telling war jokes the whole time – not if one is aiming for laughter. If one wants laughter, one can’t get it with pain.