Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Quote of the Day: Masterful Character Sketching

 

“She sprang it on me before breakfast. There in seven words you have a complete character sketch of my Aunt Agatha.” — The opening lines of Educating Young Gussie by P.G. Wodehouse

Wodehouse is doubtless familiar to many Ricochetti, but perhaps there are some among us who have not yet encountered the magic of the master. With these opening words, Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha is perfectly captured. Even readers who have just met her for the first time understand completely the kind of woman she is. Energetic. Firm. Early rising. Filled with plans for improvement that require instant and utter submission. In short, a horror.

Wodehouse is expert with these character sketches. I always want to savor him slowly, aloud with someone else if possible, just so I can share the laughter. His use of metaphor and descriptive language is pure delight. Meeting his friend Rocky’s, or Rockmeteller Todd’s, supposedly invalid aunt, Bertie sees a woman who:

looked less like an invalid than any one I’ve ever seen, except my Aunt Agatha. She had a good deal of Aunt Agatha about her, as a matter of fact. She looked as if she might be deucedly dangerous if put upon; and something seemed to tell me that she would certainly regard herself as put upon if she ever found out the game which poor old Rocky had been pulling on her.

Later in the story, we encounter the aunt in a nightclub in New York. She is:

sitting bolt upright, as usual. It certainly did seem as if she had lost a bit of the zest with which she had started out to explore Broadway. She looked as if she had been thinking a good deal about rather unpleasant things.

“You’ve met Bertie Wooster, Aunt Isabel?” said Rocky.

“I have.”

There was something in her eye that seemed to say: “Out of a city of six million people, why did you pick on me?”

“Take a seat, Bertie. What’ll you have?” said Rocky.

And so the merry party began. It was one of those jolly, happy, bread-crumbling parties where you cough twice before you speak, and then decide not to say it after all.

Fortunately, Bertie is not forced to endure the struggles of life alone. His valet Jeeves is his stalwart help and one of the true wonders of the world. When Bertie first meets Jeeves, he has just found out that his previous man was:

…sneaking my silk socks, a thing no bloke of spirit could stick at any price. It transpiring, moreover, that he had looted a lot of other things here and there about the place, I was reluctantly compelled to hand the blighter the mitten and go to London to ask the registry office to dig up another specimen for my approval. They sent me Jeeves….

“I was sent by the agency, sir,” he said. “I was given to understand that you required a valet.”

I’d have preferred an undertaker, but I told him to stagger in, and he floated noiselessly through the doorway like a healing zephyr. That impressed me from the start. Meadowes [the sock thief] had had flat feet and used to clump. This fellow didn’t seem to have any feet at all. He just streamed in. He had a grave, sympathetic face, as if he, too, knew what it was to sup with the lads.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said gently.

Then he seemed to flicker, and wasn’t there any longer. I heard him moving about in the kitchen, and presently he came back with a glass on a tray.

“If you would drink this, sir,” he said, with a kind of bedside manner, rather like the royal doctor shooting the bracer into the sick prince. “It is a little preparation of my own invention. It is the Worcester Sauce that gives it its colour. The raw egg makes it nutritious. The red pepper gives it its bite. Gentlemen have told me they have found it extremely invigorating after a late evening.”

I would have clutched at anything that looked like a life-line that morning. I swallowed the stuff. For a moment I felt as if somebody had touched off a bomb inside the old bean and was strolling down my throat with a lighted torch, and then everything seemed to get all right. The sun shone in the window; birds twittered in the tree-tops; and, generally speaking, hope dawned once more.

“You’re engaged!” I said, as soon as I could say anything.

Fortunately for humanity, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, after initially deciding against acting in the BBC’s 1990s series adaptation of the Jeeves and Wooster stories, realized they had an obligation to do the show since they knew they were the right players for the roles. God bless them for it.

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  1. Randy Webster Member

    I’ve never read any Wodehouse, but I’ve listened to all the Bertie Wooster books multiple times. It never grows old.

    • #1
    • August 18, 2018, at 4:37 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I love the golf stories, “The Clicking of Cuthbert” is the collection my sister gave me.

    The narrator is extremely gifted. His Vladimir Bruselov is so funny. “The oldest member” of a community in which the Cultured and the Golfers clash and mashie-niblicks may or may not be used as murder weapons. 

    In fact, I am about to drive about 5 or 6 hours today, and plan to listen to them all again.

    Cheers!

    • #2
    • August 18, 2018, at 5:12 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. RightAngles Member

    I love Wodehouse so much! I can remember reading everything he ever wrote when I was in my 20s in Chicago, and I’d be laughing out loud on the subway right in front of everyone. I loved it when he called Aunt Agatha “ancient ancestor.” And who can forget Rupert Psmith! “The P is silent” hahaha!

    My sister and I quoted him and gave him a footnote in one of our books. I still say this one all the time, when I have any kind of sudden insight into something:

    “Ah! Expensive classical education bears belated fruit!”

    • #3
    • August 18, 2018, at 6:49 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  4. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The only thing I know about Wodehouse’s work (shamefully) is what I’ve read of it on R>. Where to begin? He was so prolific!! Would you do audio books, books, or the TV series or some combination? Help!!

    We’re planning a trip to the UK next month. It sounds like we should make a stop at the British Library which now houses his collection. (we’re kind of making it a literature tour — we’ll be in Bath for the first full day of the Jane Austen festival). Anywhere else?

    • #4
    • August 18, 2018, at 7:09 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  5. RightAngles Member

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    The only thing I know about Wodehouse’s work (shamefully) is what I’ve read of it on R>. Where to begin? He was so prolific!! Would you do audio books, books, or the TV series or some combination? Help!!

    We’re planning a trip to the UK next month. It sounds like we should make a stop at the British Library which now houses his collection. (we’re kind of making it a literature tour — we’ll be in Bath for the first full day of the Jane Austen festival). Anywhere else?

    You can start with the Jeeves and Wooster books. Right Ho, Jeeves was one, but I forget what the first one was. To me, they’re so much more hilarious when you read the written words on the page. It’s just hysterical. Maybe audio after you’ve read a few, but really reading the words is the funniest.

    The books about Blandings Castle are also hilarious. The place names haha! Bumpleigh Hall! The Drones Club! Totleigh Towers haha! (See? You wouldn’t get those spellings from an audio) Anyway Blandings Castle is the ancestral home of Lord Emsworth of the Threepwood family. He’s always described as a bumbling, airheaded old aristocrat.

     

    • #5
    • August 18, 2018, at 7:25 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  6. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    My Man Jeeves collection on its way from Amazon. Thanks RA!

    • #6
    • August 18, 2018, at 7:33 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  7. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive

    Whenever I read, I hear Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie…They still crack me up. :-D

    • #7
    • August 18, 2018, at 9:51 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  8. RightAngles Member

    Nanda Pajama-Tantrum (View Comment):

    Whenever I read, I hear Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie…They still crack me up. :-D

    It’s funny, but when I read the books (before seeing them on TV), I pictured Jeeves as more of a slender, fussy little man, but now I see only Fry. Hugh Laurie was exactly how I pictured Bertie, though.

    • #8
    • August 18, 2018, at 9:55 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  9. Randy Webster Member

    I always think of Jeeves as sort of a French from Family Affair.

    • #9
    • August 18, 2018, at 10:08 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  10. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thanks so much for reminding me of one of my favorite authors. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about his work (I think I’ve read all of his novels) is that he seems to enjoy the writing, you can envision him smiling as he sets down the words.

    As others have said, Fry and Laurie were perfectly cast in the series.

    • #10
    • August 18, 2018, at 10:40 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  11. RightAngles Member

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Thanks so much for reminding me of one of my favorite authors. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about his work (I think I’ve read all of his novels) is that he seems to enjoy the writing, you can envision him smiling as he sets down the words.

    As others have said, Fry and Laurie were perfectly cast in the series.

    Another thing I like is the affectionate, tolerant-of-their-wackiness way he talks of the aristocracy. Not a trace of the usual class envy or resentment. Of course Wodehouse himself wasn’t exactly a prole.

    • #11
    • August 18, 2018, at 10:47 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  12. The Cynthonian Member

    I read a good bit of Wodehouse back in my 20s, too. Have seen some of the Laurie & Fry performances. They were perfectly cast, as others have attested. Watching that clip makes me want to watch more of them. Wonder if they’re on Netflix or Amazon Prime?

    • #12
    • August 18, 2018, at 10:52 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. RightAngles Member

    The Cynthonian (View Comment):

    I read a good bit of Wodehouse back in my 20s, too. Have seen some of the Laurie & Fry performances. They were perfectly cast, as others have attested. Watching that clip makes me want to watch more of them. Wonder if they’re on Netflix or Amazon Prime?

    I just did a Roku search and found nothing except “Wodehouse in Exile,” the story of how he faced treason charges in WWII. I can’t believe nobody has it, not even PBS.

    • #13
    • August 18, 2018, at 11:11 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. The Cynthonian Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    The Cynthonian (View Comment):

    I read a good bit of Wodehouse back in my 20s, too. Have seen some of the Laurie & Fry performances. They were perfectly cast, as others have attested. Watching that clip makes me want to watch more of them. Wonder if they’re on Netflix or Amazon Prime?

    I just did a Roku search and found nothing except “Wodehouse in Exile,” the story of how he faced treason charges in WWII. I can’t believe nobody has it, not even PBS.

    Nuts! Market opportunity…..

    ETA: I just did a search directly on the Amazon site and found 4 “series” available for streaming. I added ’em to my Amazon watchlist. Now to see if they show up when I access the Roku…..

    • #14
    • August 18, 2018, at 11:13 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    All the episodes are on Youtube. Not that I encourage you to violate any copyrights or anything.

    Here’s season 1, episode 1:

    Also check the library?

    • #15
    • August 18, 2018, at 11:14 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. RightAngles Member

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    All the episodes are on Youtube. Not that I encourage you to violate any copyrights or anything.

    Here’s season 1, episode 1:

    Also check the library?

    I can’t believe I didn’t think of that! Thank you! I recently binged 7 or so seasons of Tales From the Crypt on there, because you still have to pay on all the streaming channels. I guess I’m a pirate now. AARRGH

    • #16
    • August 18, 2018, at 11:17 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Newts.

    • #17
    • August 18, 2018, at 4:33 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  18. Clavius Thatcher

    I was once on a plane reading Psmith, Journalist (I think) and the scene was the Efficient Baxter having been locked out and he was chucking plants through the window to wake the Lord Emsworth of Blandings Castle. The Lord was a deep sleeper and deep sleep, Wodehouse explains, is inversely proportional to intelligence. The pot hit the Lord and once he woke, he thought, “its never done that before.”

    I was laughing until I cried. The others on the plane must have thought I was crazy.

    And the Fry/Laurie Jeeves and Wooster is magnificent.

    Thank you for reminding me of this wonderful writer!

    Note on Psmith. The “p” is silent as in pneumonia and ptarmigan.

    • #18
    • August 18, 2018, at 4:55 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  19. barbara lydick Coolidge

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    I love the golf stories, “The Clicking of Cuthbert” is the collection my sister gave me.

    If you love the golf stories, you must look up The Coming of Gowf. (I’m certain you can find it, but if not, let me know and I’ll email it to you. Typed it out awhile back to send to a good friend so it’s in my computer files.) It’s one of my favorites, in addition to every Bertie and Jeeves story. Have them all and most everything else Wodehouse wrote. Can’t get enough of him. 

     

    • #19
    • August 18, 2018, at 5:00 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  20. Nerina Bellinger Member

    Just the post I needed to read after all the depressing news this week. Thanks, Mama Toad!

    • #20
    • August 18, 2018, at 5:54 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  21. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Nerina Bellinger (View Comment):

    Just the post I needed to read after all the depressing news this week. Thanks, Mama Toad!

    Truly.

    I ain’t never read any Wodehouse, but after reading this post and the comments I’m searching to where to begin.

    • #21
    • August 18, 2018, at 6:46 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  22. RightAngles Member

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    Nerina Bellinger (View Comment):

    Just the post I needed to read after all the depressing news this week. Thanks, Mama Toad!

    Truly.

    I ain’t never read any Wodehouse, but after reading this post and the comments I’m searching to where to begin.

    Oh you simply must, Old Bean.

    • #22
    • August 18, 2018, at 6:48 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  23. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    “Women like her, who consider the day ill spent if they have not churned out five thousand words of superfatted fiction, are apt even at the best times to yearn a trifle. The ink gets into their heads. I mean to say, I shouldn’t wonder if right from the start Mrs. Bingo hasn’t had a sort of sneaking regret that Bingo isn’t one of those strong, curt, Empire-building kind of Englishmen she puts into her books, with sad, unfathomable eyes, lean sensitive hands, and riding boots.”

    It sounds like “lean, sensitive hands” were already a romantic cliche when Wodehouse was writing, but I always get a chuckle out of this description of the ideal romantic Englishman.

    • #23
    • August 18, 2018, at 9:09 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  24. I Shot The Serif Member

    I love Wodehouse!! After I started becoming crazy and religious and couldn’t do all the activities with my mother that used to be ‘our thing,’ I started reading Jeeves novels out loud to her in the car. They really appealed to both of our senses of humor.

    • #24
    • August 18, 2018, at 9:26 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  25. Ontheleftcoast Member

    Jeeves is in a class by himself, but Dorothy Sayers’ Mervyn Bunter is also wonderful.

    • #25
    • August 18, 2018, at 10:51 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  26. Marythefifth Member
    Marythefifth Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I was surprised and delighted to discover his short story, the mixer, on audible.com, the life of a mongrel pup in London, as told by the pup.

    • #26
    • August 19, 2018, at 5:24 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  27. Layla Member
    Layla Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The highest praise I can give Wodehouse: when I was in my third trimester, he was all I could tolerate reading. :D

    He’s not just the *master* of English comic writing; he also wrote the single funniest scene I have ever read: the Market Snodsbury Grammar School prize-giving scene in Right Ho, Jeeves is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Just SUBLIMELY funny. 

    • #27
    • August 19, 2018, at 2:57 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  28. Layla Member
    Layla Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    One more thing and then I will stop Wodehouse-ing. I use the opening sentence of The Luck of the Bodkins in a writing class I teach:

    Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.

    It’s a funny enough sentence, but the use of “talk” instead of “speak”? Pure GENIUS.

    • #28
    • August 19, 2018, at 3:05 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  29. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    The only thing I know about Wodehouse’s work (shamefully) is what I’ve read of it on R>. Where to begin? He was so prolific!! Would you do audio books, books, or the TV series or some combination? Help!!

    We’re planning a trip to the UK next month. It sounds like we should make a stop at the British Library which now houses his collection. (we’re kind of making it a literature tour — we’ll be in Bath for the first full day of the Jane Austen festival). Anywhere else?

    You can start with the Jeeves and Wooster books. Right Ho, Jeeves was one, but I forget what the first one was. To me, they’re so much more hilarious when you read the written words on the page. It’s just hysterical. Maybe audio after you’ve read a few, but really reading the words is the funniest.

    The books about Blandings Castle are also hilarious. The place names haha! Bumpleigh Hall! The Drones Club! Totleigh Towers haha! (See? You wouldn’t get those spellings from an audio) Anyway Blandings Castle is the ancestral home of Lord Emsworth of the Threepwood family. He’s always described as a bumbling, airheaded old aristocrat.

    I second this. Unless it has already been seconded. At any rate, the motion has evidently carried. 

    • #29
    • August 19, 2018, at 3:39 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  30. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Thanks so much for reminding me of one of my favorite authors. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about his work (I think I’ve read all of his novels) is that he seems to enjoy the writing, you can envision him smiling as he sets down the words.

    As others have said, Fry and Laurie were perfectly cast in the series.

    Another thing I like is the affectionate, tolerant-of-their-wackiness way he talks of the aristocracy. Not a trace of the usual class envy or resentment. Of course Wodehouse himself wasn’t exactly a prole.

    That is an interesting point. Wilde was (whose work I also love) comes off as contemptuous. 

    • #30
    • August 19, 2018, at 3:46 PM PDT
    • 4 likes

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