On Valentine’s Day, 1975, the Sublunary’s lease on Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was up, the Empyrean wanted its pound of flesh, and we have been paying dearly for it ever since.
As Mirth has now been proscribed across the United States and Laughter recently legislated punishable by firing squad, Wodehouse might have thought today’s awoken zeitgeist a trifle tired and unmatey. And I am inclined to agree.
Plum’s lighthearted books certainly have their leitmotifs. Love and limerence were never too far in the offing. And it would not be an altogether uncommon experience, when casting a glance over the Wodehouse canon, to witness a few lines about an engagement in jeopardy, a bobby’s helmet purloined, or an aunt disgruntled. Moreover, there are but few, if any, true villains in Wodehouse’s works. But one has always been a close contender for the crown: The Artist.
Wodehouse is rather notorious for his lovingly mild critiques of poets, painters, and sententious pains in the posterior of all kinds. In his 1917 novel Piccadilly Jim, during Mr. Chester’s attending of a party inhabited by artists, this predilection for putting down his fellow “breed” is wisely unleashed.
Although the standard recipe for a vacuous, unmatey human has remained fairly consistent going on several millennia, we may, as needed, adjust the forthcoming recipe of fashions, ethical and otherwise, to fit our time’s newly enlightened contrarian orthodoxy: a dash of blue-hair-infinity-effect selfie and so forth.
Wodehouse begins by batting around a few ameliorative depictions of those peace-loving wearers of berets we all know and love. Would it not be without some justifiably “strong objections,” that the Wit’s gentle philistine soul enter a room quarantined by “the hoarse cries of futurist painters, esoteric Buddhists, vers libre poets, interior decorators and stage reformers…men with new religions…(and) women with new hats?” Can we not already envision, amongst this “jamboree” of the enlightened avant-garde, “Ernest Wisden, the playwright… Lora Delance Porter, the feminist writer…Clara What’s-Her-Name, the sculptor, with the bobbed hair?” Is it not also common knowledge that, if one of mildly shrewd means were to attend a party with “that mental broadening process already alluded to,” that he should expect to be “pounced on by a woman who talked to him for an hour about the morality of finance and [who] seem(s) to think that millionaires (are) the scum of the earth?” Forsooth, it is empirically sound to conclude that, when in the “environs” of such genius, great swathes of sheep-grazed pasture will inevitably be “dominated…by an angular woman who (is) saying loud and penetrating things about suffrage.”
Tableaus of such evils are enough. Imagine, then, the traumatic experience of actually having to traverse such a beastly throng. It is not too much to posit this extreme mental exercise as being equally reminiscent to “plung(ing) into a pack of coyotes” only to be “torn to pieces by wild poets.” Therefore, in the simple interest of self-preservation, it is best for one to find a way around incurring such savage acts of mayhem and the subsequent bodily harm pursuant thereto. One certain way to preclude the aforementioned carnage would be to interpose upon the scene the spirited cries of a child being pummeled to crabmeat by a former professional boxer. Wodehouse decides to employ in his narrative just that certainty, whereupon all “twelve highly intellectual topics” meet their instantaneous demise: “futurist painters stared pallidly at vers libre poets, speech smitten from their lips, and stage reformers looked at esoteric Buddhists with wild surmise.” Yet, no good, mismatched street fight is complete without a decent exploration to the conquered’s abdominals with the steel toe of the victor’s size-fifteen boot. And, it is with a rather lively kick that Wodehouse describes of the abovementioned get-together as a “feast of reason and flow of soul.”
It is lonely at the top, and the head where lies the crown reigns heavy indeed, but such is the cross that good wit must bear. The pates of entire communities must be indiscriminately cleaved from shoulders, and spears must bring forth the water of endless sides, and the first in line are those who are full of it: the artists.