What is the role of comic situation in the novels of P. G. Wodehouse?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Wodehouse built all his novels around a central comic situation the role of which was to develop the plot and characters, though his earliest "school" books may center more prominently around athletic situations. The Blandings series serves as a illustration of the central role of comic situations. At Blandings Manor, in a day before pet pigs were in vogue, Lord Emsworth is devoted to his prize winning pet pig. In each new novel in the series, the pig, named the Empress of Blandings, undergoes the inciting action that precipitates the story plot and the adventures or misadventures that follow. That alone is justification for saying comic situations are central to Wodehouse novels: who goes off on escapade adventures at the behest of a pig? Well, not too many folks do. Another illustration of this central role is in the Jeeves and Wooster series. In each novel, Jeeves helps Wooster out of comic escapes in which Wooster is trying to stay out marriage traps. Amorous, adventuresome and conniving upper-class women heighten the comic situations Wooster gets into and Jeeves extricates him from.

Wodehouse wrote formulaically: each novel of a series had essentially all the same elements, such as comic situations with central roles, as the other novels in that series. Wodehouse also wrote without introducing unhappiness and viciousness, so another role of comic situations is to keep happiness afloat. His stories were happy and about people who had valued virtues. His villainous characters were not so villainous that punishments had to be severe or that other characters lost a significant degree of happiness, which partly depends upon the role of comic situations. His principle was to have one "big" character, as he put it, and to have one organizing or motivating character, like Galahad in the Blandings books and Wooster (Jeeves is the "big" character) in the Jeeves and Wooster books. His characterizations are built around the principle that some people are silly and some people, especially those graduating from Oxford and Cambridge, are idiots (in Wodehouse's view) who never learned anything. Comic situations have a central role in bringing these character traits to the fore.

Ashe [was named] after a wealthy uncle who subsequently double-crossed them by leaving his money to charities, in due course proceeded to Oxford to read for the Church. So far as can be ascertained from contemporary records, he did not read a great deal for the Church, but he did succeed in running the mile in four and a half minutes and the half-mile at a correspondingly rapid speed ... [winning] him the respect of all. (Wodehouse, Something Fresh, a Blandings book)

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