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the ideal escape

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Nov 19, 2009

Over on The Catholic Thing, Father Jim Schall announces:

Nine months of the Obama administration have prompted me to flee, not to New Zealand or Argentina, but rather to Blandings Castle.

A very sensible way to beat a strategic retreat from a careworn world. Father Schall devotes his column to the joys of discovering P.G. Wodehouse, who was-- I will not allow any debate on this point-- the greatest English prose stylist of the 20th century. 

It isn't the plot construction that makes Wodehouse such a pleasure to read. As soon as the scene is set, the experienced reader knows how the action will end. Bertie Wooster will remain a happy bachelor. Lord Emsworth will return to the Empress, Gussie to his newts. But before reaching that utterly predictable denouement, the reader will work his way through sentence after delightful sentence of original metaphors and imaginative twists. 

One of my most vivid memories of my parents is from a time when we were living in Washington, and Mom & Dad came to visit for a few days. Leila and I went out to do some errands, and when we returned home Dad was reading to Mom. Or rather I should say, Dad was trying to read to Mom, but too convulsed by laughter to get through a paragraph. When we arrived on the scene his face was beginning to turn purple, his breath coming in gasps as he tried manfully to choke out the words. Mom was doubled over, tears rolling down her cheeks. I knew immediately what Dad was reading: the scene of Fink-Nottle's speech to the boys of Market Snodsbury. Nothing else in my library could have had that effect. 

At the end of a Wodehouse novel, one feels that things have been put right-- not just at Blandings Castle, where a pastoral calm has returned despite the machinations of the Efficient Baxter, but in one's own psyche. It is only a temporary reprieve from the cares of everyday life. Those cares will return, because Wodehouse wrote a finite number of books and because we live in a fallen world. But a reprieve it certainly is. As Father Schall puts it:

The only lasting city we have here is the one that Wodehouse left us.


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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Pseudodionysius - Nov. 22, 2009 8:00 AM ET USA

    Does this mean the P in Phil is silent as there are too many Phils? Sincerely, Ralston McTodd

  • Posted by: Chestertonian - Nov. 20, 2009 6:39 PM ET USA

    When my older son was in high school, and I had introduced him to the joys of PG, I took to calling him--fondly, mind you--'young blot on the family escutcheon.' I shall now toddle off to have a gander at one of my favorite tales of the Mulliners, or perhaps Psmith. Oojah come spiff!

  • Posted by: RobandKristin - Nov. 20, 2009 8:12 AM ET USA

    Phil, I was inspired by your story and read a Wodehouse story to my wife last night! It was most enjoyable. Thank you for the idea.

  • Posted by: mae - Nov. 19, 2009 5:43 PM ET USA

    So true...One of my favourite lines is where Bertie explains that "you could have flung bricks by the hour in England's most densely populated districts without endangering the safety of a single girl capable of becoming Mrs. Augustus Fink-Nottle without an anaesthetic."

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