I like the novels of P.G. Woodhouse, especially the ones about Jeeves and Wooster.
They are light, slightly ridiculous, and genuinely funny stories, poking gentle fun at the rather stupid ‘idle rich’ variety of English gentlefolk. They were written in the early twentieth century but you could be forgiven for thinking they might be set rather earlier than that.
These novels are usually narrated by Bertie Wilberforce Wooster, an amiable chap who is wealthy enough to never have to work or worry about money. However, he is extremely dependent on his butler Jeeves, who is much smarter than Wooster and can usually get him out of the slightly daft scrapes that he manages to get himself into.
I think my favourite of these novels is The Code of the Woosters so I thought I’d share a bit with you from that, which nicely illustrates both the ridiculousness and the humour. First, a bit of background.
Wooster gets on with his Aunt Dahlia quite well. At the start of the novel she asks him, as a favour to her, to go to a particular antique shop and sneer at a particular silver eighteenth-century cow creamer to drive down the price for his Uncle Tom. I told you it was daft, right? Well, through a decidedly underhanded trick, the silver eighteenth-century cow creamer is acquired by Sir Watkyn instead of Uncle Tom and Aunt Dahlia is livid.
“Bertie,” she said, “I wish to begin by saying a few words about Sir Watkyn Bassett, C.B.E. May greenfly attack his roses. May his cook get tight on the night of the big dinner party. May all his hens get the staggers.”
“Does he keep hens?” I said, putting a point.
“May his cistern start leaking, and may white ants, if there are any in England, gnaw away the foundations of Totleigh Towers. And when he walks up the aisle with his daughter Madeline, to give her away to that ass Spink-Bottle, may he get a sneezing fit and find that he has come out without a pocket-handkerchief.”
Ooh, nasty. As you can see, she’s jolly cross but she doesn’t wish him any physical harm, just social embarrassment and a little inconvenience. I know they’re very much novels about a particular period of history, a particular part of the world, and a very particular social class, but if only the worst thing we ever wished on our enemies was that their roses got greenfly.