How does P.G. Wodehouse make Lord Emsworth a comic character, one who elicits our mirth more than our symphathy in "The Custody of the Pumpkin"?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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When putting together the character traits of Lord Emsworth, P.G. Wodehouse ultimately aimed to create a caricature of a typical post WWI English aristocrat. There is an implication in doing this; at that point in history, English society was shifting from the old class separation that completely favored the upper classes, into a new system where the aristocrats began to lose power. Meanwhile the other social strata no longer held the respect that they used to render the aristocrats, to a degree. 

As a result, the readers of Wodehouse's day would have found themselves wondering whether they could sympathize with those same upperclassmen and women whose idleness and lack of intelligence defined the British class system. For this very same reason, Wodehouse opted to be more of a social cartoonist than a typical writer.

Although Wodehouse intended to mock the upper class, he still left some humanitarian traits that could have inspired sympathy in Lord Emsworth. These traits include the fact that this old man has a good-for-nothing son, that his sisters harass him, that he just wants to be left alone to be himself,  that without his fortune he probably would have never made it in life (since everybody else did everything for him), and that in reality, Lord Emsworth is actually just a simpleton born into a family of fortune.

However, as a good observer of social dynamics, Wodehouse spiced up Lord Elmorwth's character by accenting his traits with comical and curious specifications. The most salient are

  • a) a long, sophisticated, and historical family name and rank.
  • b) very little intelligence juxtaposed to an immense amount of possessions.
  • c) quirks; the obsession with his pumpkin "The Hope of the Blandings". He also has a fascination with his huge prize-winning pig.
  • d) very little ability to do anything for himself.
  • e) an empty accomplishment: he is said to be a great sleeper
  • f) a thing against dressing properly and visiting London on sunny days (London is a rather rainy city)
  • g) an obvious, overall dissonance with the world around him.

In not so many words, it is quite easy to sympathize briefly with Lord Emsworth but his quirks and eccentricities combined with his total disconnect from his element completely elicit our mirth more than our sympathy.

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