Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A frequent criticism of Wodehouse’s post-World War II fiction is that he continues to write about characters and situations from the 1920’s. Other critics say that this objection is incorrect, that even in the 1920’s Wodehouse was re-creating an anachronistic milieu: Since he did not live in England after 1914, he was always drawing on the Great Britain of his childhood. Even this interpretation is wrong, since the universe of indolent Bertie Wooster probably never existed anywhere but in Wodehouse’s imagination.

The triumph of the Jeeves stories and novels is Wodehouse’s ability to maintain a self-contained fantasy world. Wodehouse co-wrote several successful musical comedies, and it is this theatrical environment which dominates his fiction. In the writer’s own words, he is “making the thing a sort of musical comedy without music, and ignoring real life altogether.” When Bertie says, “you would recognize the tune if I hummed it,” the reader senses how appropriate it would be for the narrator suddenly to burst into song. The charm of Wodehouse’s fiction is that it has so little to do with real life.

The main factor in making this musical-comedy universe without music come alive is Wodehouse’s distinctive use of language. His combination of unusual metaphors, unexpected images, and twisted cliches results in a style of comedy unlike that of any other writer. The following exchange between Bertie and Jeeves epitomizes...

(The entire section is 414 words.)