Alex Massie

A Wodehouse Reader

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A correspondent has a confession and a question: "I have, shamefully, never read Wodehouse and want to read all the Bertie and Jeeves stories. But where does one start?"

There is no shame in this. Indeed there's a sense in which one might (almost) envy the Wodehouse novice; how splendid to be able to cast off the concerns of the modern world and slip into this altogether finer place for the very first time. My friend has a summer of plenty ahead of him. (Mind you, there's something to be said for reading Wodehouse in the depths of hellish winter too. Perhaps this accounts for his enormous popularity in Russia.)

Yet he is wise to proceed cautiously. Any fool can be chucked a Shakespeare anthology with the confidence that it will contain some nifty material and much the same can be said of a Wodehouse syllabus, no matter how clumsily it may be set. Yet while, as with Shakespeare, the lesser works can give pleasure to the aficionado they can have an unfortunate effect upon young, impressionable minds if they are pressed upon readers too soon, or in the wrong order.

Wodehouse published his first book, The Pothunters, in 1902 and did not stop producing "the stuff" as he called it, until Aunt's Aren't Gentlemen appeared in 1974. Even then he wasn't quite done, leaving an unfinished manuscript, appropriately entitled Sunset at Blandings, on his death, on Valentine's Day no less, in 1975. In nearly three-quarters of a century of toil he produced more than 90 books; no wonder newcomers might be unsure where to start.

Even the most devoted Wodehousian must admit that the work is uneven. I am not a completist and can't claim to have read, let alone possess, every Wodehouse book, but I suspect I must have finished about half of them and have read just about everything in the Wooster and Blandings series, as well as the lesser, but still excellent, schools of Psmith, Uncle Fred and the public school and golf stories. My knowledge of Ukridge and Mr Mulliner is more limited but still respectable. Beyond that there remain many gaps in my reading. That all being so, and with all due caveats acknowledged, I recommend this Wodehouse reading list (to which readers may and indeed are encouraged to add their own favourite volumes).

Faced with a banquet of such proportions, it is wise to begin gently...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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