Happy birthday!

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.

17 thoughts on “Happy birthday!

  1. What of Virgil and Nietzsche? Dig deep. The encomia are there, I’m sure.

    (Coincidentally, I am attempting to use Molly’s crush on Laurie to lure her into reading Wodehouse.)

  2. I was introduced to Wodehouse and Calvino by you, both now two of my favorites. While I love the Wooster stories, my favorite of Wodehouse’s is Uncle Dynamite.
    And If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is probably my favorite book of all time.
    And fans of Laurie should also check out the recently released “Best Of” DVDs from the sketch show A Bit of Fry and Laurie, costarring Stephen Fry, who also played Jeeves on the Wooster TV show…
    And he was in Gosford Park with Maggie Smith, who was in Hook with Dustin Hoffman, who was in Sleepers with KEVIN BACON!!
    There, I did it.

  3. Perhaps the most significant thing about these gentlemen is that they had the good grace to pave the way for one yet to come on the Ides of October.

    You may be asking yourself…

    “Self, who could possibly follow in the footsteps of these?”

    The answer is obvious.

    Me, of course.

    Shame they didn’t have my roguish good looks.

  4. Dale Lyles in (take your pick) with S. Lamar Payne, in Resting Place with John Lithgow, in Footloose with Kevin Bacon.
    And I give up. I can’t think of a shorter way to Fry/Bacon. (for you marc)

  5. Dale Lyles in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (at UGA) with Wayne Knight in JFK with Kevin Bacon

    or, in a less orthodox manner,

    Dale Lyles friends with Rebecca Rakoczy who interviewed Kevin Bacon.

  6. And technically, I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a play with S. Lamar Payne. Oh wait, I was Oberon to his Demetrius. Never mind. But that’s it, I’m thinking.

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