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September 01, 2007

Comments

Dawn Eden

That's the best defense of Wodehouse I've seen -- thank you.

What are the other books to share? Other than Waugh and Saki.

Basil Seal

My Dear Dawn, thank you very much...Please, whenever you have the time, send me an email and we can share some "book talk" together...It's always so difficult to do anything justice in a comment box. I definitely look forward to hearing from you, and will start polishing up a list in anticipation...Thanks again.

BillBo

Fantasy - you have the noted the exact reason that I love "The Plot That Thickened." Utterly unbelievable, and he even warns you in to the title that he was headed over the top. Yet, he carries you there so deftly that you care not.

Dawn Eden

Basil, I got through "Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest,." Like many of the other stories, it was very enjoyable while I read it, but left me feeling depressed. Then it finally hit me why I had such a viscerally unpleasant -- and, on the surface, mystifying -- reaction to the tales.

You say they're fantasy -- the idea is that one allows one's self to enter the Jeeves-and-Wooster world and enjoy the ride.

The problem for me is that. in every one of the stories. the humor is based upon Wooster's lying in order to get money. As the reader, we are supposed to feel some sort of pleasure when he wins, because he and Jeeves are the heroes. So, we're rooting for a hero to get away with committing two mortal sins -- lying and avarice.

Yes, I know, it's all good fun. But I believe there's a danger that encouraging one's self to identify with unrepentant sinners repeatedly-- even if done just for laughs -- can, over time, make one more likely to excuse sin.

I know you would want your gift to have a more appreciative home, so I brought it to the Dominican House of Studies, where I had the pleasure of having lunch with Brother Hugh Vincent and his fellow Brothers after Holy Mass. I told Brother Hugh of my reservations about "Enter Jeeves" and asked him if he had a Brother who was a Wodehouse fan. He did: Brother Pius, a former lawyer.

Brother Hugh went down the hall to give the book to Brother Pius. When he came back, he told me that he had told his Brother, "Dawn Eden doesn't want this because she says it's founded on lies. Being a lawyer, that probably won't concern you ..."

Fr. M.

Dawn,
First, an apology; I only wanted to please you and share with you one of the happy little pieces of liturature which I sometimes enjoy. My intention was never to give you anything that you not only wouldn't like but that you would consider a possible source of sin. It never crossed my mind that you would be offended; in my 12 years as a priest no one has ever even insinuated that any book I gave them was a possible occasion of sin. I guess it might be construed that way in the sense that giving someone a box of chocolates is sinful because it might lead to an addiction to sweets which might lead to rampages caused by a sugar frenzy-- hence the recent "Twinkie Defence" in the American legal system.

I can tell you that there is nothing sinful in reading Wodehouse nor even "the likely excuse to sin." In fact, it is among the most innocent reading in which one could possibly indulge. You read some of the early stories and it is actually rare for Bertie Wooster to try and get money; occasionally people try and get it out of him. Usually the plot is about pleasing his aunts or fiancees and the trouble he gets into, innocently, to assist other people and how Jeeves usually smoothes everthing over. To me, if anything, Bertie Wooster seems the picture of charity as he consistantly places others before himself.

Some of the great Catholics of our time have found great enjoyment in Wodehouse and I as a far lesser mortal am happy to have the rare and joyful diversion of a Wodehouse story.

In 1968 the Engish author Graham Greene (if you think Wodehouse is a near occasion of sin don't go into the same bookstore as a Greene novel) was in Rome and to his great surprise he received an invitation by Paul VI to the Apostolic Palace. The Holy Father told him that the "Power and the Glory" was one of his favorite books. ("The Power and the Glory" is about a priest in Mexico at the time of anti-Catholicism who falls into several serious sins and finds redemption right before he faces the firing squad.) Graham Greene said to him, "But Your Holiness, it is on the index of forbidden books!" That was the end of the index.

As the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church found goodness in Graham Greene's work then we can certainly join in with Waugh and Belloc and see goodness in the writings of Wodehouse.

Again, I am sorry; my intention was to celebrate your birthday with something I thought you would enjoy. It was not my intention to give offense.

Dawn Eden

No offense taken, Father M., and I apologize for being so serious.

Basil had mentioned earlier that Wodehouse was "funnier" than Lewis Carroll. Maybe my problem is that I'm a literalist like Alice, who has alwas been my favorite fictional character. She's faced with the glorious whimsy of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and all she wants to know is which road leads out of the wood.

After Tweedledee recites to her "The Walrus and the Carpenter" (which I memorized as a child, Alice volunteers that she "liked the Walrus best ... because you see he was a little sorry for the poor oysters."

That's me -- reading morality into a nonsensical diversion.

Carroll writes:

>>`He ate more than the Carpenter, though,' said Tweedledee. `You see he held his handkerchief in front, so that the Carpenter couldn't count how many he took: contrariwise.'

`That was mean!' Alice said indignantly. `Then I like the Carpenter best -- if he didn't eat so many as the Walrus.'

`But he ate as many as he could get,' said Tweedledum.

This was a puzzler. After a pause, Alice began, `Well! They were both very unpleasant characters -- ' <<

And that's the best I can do when faced with something like the Jeeves and Wooster tales -- "They were both very unpleasant characters." Yet, I love the Alice books, precisely because there's a serious character in them -- Alice -- who strives to keep a genuine moral sense in the midst of all the nonsense.

Christine

I've read far too much Greene than is good for me--and most of it before I was Catholic. One doesn't necessarily feel inspired to be a saint after reading one of his novels. Fr. Robert Hugh Benson, on the other hand...

I do agree there are a handful of episodes of Jeeves and Wooster that involve some mendacity, and one shouldn't take pleasure in seeing others lie. But, as Fr. M noted, for the most part it is Wooster who innocently gets involved in a mess and his faithful friend Jeeves who disentangles him. There is something touching and wonderful about Jeeves's loyalty, and about Wooster's affable befuddlement. I wouldn't give up on Wodehouse just yet; but if those few stories trouble the conscience, then it's probably best to take a break.

Christine

Sir Basil,
While I was polishing my double action, semi-automatic, 84mm pistol, the realization came to me (and not without a certain amount of shame) that I have never read a single word of Saki or Beerbohm. You might consider sending this poor soul a care package--or, at the very least, recommending some of their best work. In the meantime, I shall continue to enjoy Wodehouse, because his stories are, after all, founded on lies, and I am, after all, a lawyer...

twm

Christine (and anyone, really),

Allow me to recommend an introduction to Saki: the short story Tobermory.

Hilarious.

TWM

Christine

My thanks, TWM. And Sir Basil, my gratitude for your detailed suggestions sent via e-mail...

Mr. Peperium

Just two things.

First, Madeline Bassett gets it right when, in "Right Ho, Jeeves" she calls Bertie, 'One of the only truly chivalrous men I know".

Wodehouse has helped me through some of the worst periods in my life and given me some of my most pleasant interludes in what Bertie calls, "life's battle". I believe it is Wodehouse's way of making tempests in teapots (a pair of purple socks, those Old Etonian spats) into dire emergencies that has helped me keep my perspective on life. That and prayer.

Second, and I mean no offense here, but without sin we would have no literature. Hamlet wouldn't have to avenge his father's murder. The Red Cross Knight would have no one to fight. Lord Peter Whimsey would just go on collecting old books.

No, on second thought, he wouldn't because there would be no sin so there would have been no Fall so nothing would get old and books would never have been written because sin is the mainspring of literature.

Ok. I feel better now.

Mr. Peperium

As usual, Basil, with your balance and good sense you have won through. Sometimes stating the obvious sounds so refreshing because no one ever thinks of the obvious: people have different tastes. Wodehouse is, as you say, an innocent, simple pleasure. Or as Jeeves describes the novels of Rosie M. Banks, "they make very light, attractive reading". Wodehouse's own words come to mind as well. He called his work, "a musical comedy without music". (After all, we want the Music Man to get the girl, no matter how dishonest he is, right?)

The Master has been a boon to me. he may not be a boon to others. But as Father M points out, some of the greatest Catholics of our time have enjoyed him no end--though Wodehouse himself was, as best as I can make out--a rock-ribbed agnostic.

A word to anyone who wants to avoid sin in Wodehouse: stay away from his favorite character, Ukeridge. Every story is about Stanley F. Ukeridge cutting corners, bending rules, pawning his Aunt's clocks and jewelry, taking the Easy Way. Though I could argue that his uniform lack of success speaks volumes for an alternative way of going about life. Also, though Wodehouse is no satyrist, I do believe the Ukeridge stories work the same way satire does: because we the reader know full well there is a standard Ukeridge is falling lamentably short of.

Christine

Mr. P,
One of my favorite lines of Madeleine's is her reference to the look of "dumb suffering" on the face of the supposedly lovelorn Bertie Wooster.

Lorraine

Mr. P.,

In defense of Miss Eden, I don't think she objected to the depiction of sin per se, but to the depiction of sin in a way that inspires sympathy for the sinner and his sin.

At the risk of imposing rigorous distinctions upon a light-hearted conversation, I must also add that, while the Fall may have created a greater need for literature by dimming man's intellect, the exaltation or illumination of beauty and truth and goodness are the proper inspiration and purpose of literature. Men vary in intellectual capacity and human knowledge also depends upon individual experiences. Even if the Fall never occurred, literature might have existed as a means of sharing insights.

Lorraine

By the by, I do not suffer from Miss Eden's scruples when I read P.G. Wodehouse, but other commonly praised movies and books bother me for the same reason. Like Braveheart for instance - it makes revenge seem glorious.

Christine

So I suppose the real question remains, does Wodehouse's depiction of Wooster inspire sympathy for the sinner and his sin?

Mrs. Peperium

When I have a chance, I want to say something. I think it will be a post and we will look at it from the opposite end.

Dawn Eden

Lorraine writes: "In defense of Miss Eden, I don't think she objected to the depiction of sin per se, but to the depiction of sin in a way that inspires sympathy for the sinner and his sin."

Thank you for pointing that out. That is exactly what I meant.

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