Wow, a… what would you call it, a quadrofecta? Today’s the birthday of P. G. Wodehouse, Italo Calvino, Virgil, and Friedrich Nietzsche.
The first two are two of my favorite writers. Wodehouse was called The Master, and there’s a reason why. His sure-footed prose is devatasting, and his masterpiece is Bertie Wooster, the idiot younger-son narrator of all the Jeeves stories. Those of you who know Hugh Laurie only from the TV series “House” would be astonished at his goggle-eyed portrayal of Wooster in the BBC series.
There’s something extremely comforting about Wodehouse’s work. It takes place almost exclusively in the rarefied aristocratic stratosphere of 1920s England, and every story is a delicious little farce. Existentially, all the problems are caused by the characters trying to do something, to cause something to happen that they think they desire. In Wooster’s case, it’s usually a woman who wants to marry him. (It’s never explained why any sane female would think Bertie is a good catch.) Anything Wooster does to counteract the plot makes things even worse, until the last minute when Jeeves, who has been rearranging the pieces on the board while no one was looking, resolves things to our (and his) satisfaction.
Wodehouse worked by putting his typescript pages on the wall and making sure that there was at least one huge laugh on every page. In this he is completely successful. I’m having to resist the urge to go get my Wodehouse omnibus volume even as I type this. His work is completely irresistible.
As for Calvino, just wow. His work is the exact opposite of Wodehouse’s: cool, cerebral, dispassionate. The baron in the trees, If on a winter’s night a traveler, Cosmicomics, Invisible cities, and my favorite, Mr. Palomar.
Of course, that one is my favorite because I pulled three of the pieces to perform in several of the theatre’s annual Gala. What a fun character to inhabit, and what a challenge to convey the author’s layers of literary intent.
Both Wodehouse and Calvino are joys to read because they are authors who juggle: language and ideas in Calvino’s case, plot and characters in Wodehouse’s. I like authors who can juggle.