Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wodehouse Is Papa of the Boychik

P. G. Wodehouse, author of the Jeeves and Wooster stories,
and a whole lot more. (Image from The Guardian)

Right Ho, Jeeves should be a mandatory course of remedial study for modern fratirists, as well as would-be authors of boychik lit or any male-centered comic fiction.

I hereby enter the name of P. G. (Pelham Grenville) Wodehouse into nomination for Papa of boychik lit, the humor genre about young men with more chutzpah than brains. Bertie Wooster, protagonist of the wacky Right Ho, Jeeves and other stories, most certainly fits that bill.

Notice I'm not proposing that Wodehouse is somehow the godfather of fratire. The genre of fraternity satire, as columnist Warren St. John first defined it, centers on college-age bad boys who are preoccupied almost totally with scoring, or sexual conquests numerically touted. Its most notorious practitioner has been Tucker Max. My point, if you can find one in this thoughtful essay, is that Wodehouse has what fratirists lack and what boychik authors should emulate - namely, a hipper sensibility. Class. What Bertie Wooster would call "the real Tabasco."

The "Papa" of twentieth-century literature, of course, was Ernest Hemingway. His biographer Carlos Baker says the nickname had something to do with his wanting to be regarded as an authority. And indeed Papa H was the high priest of clean, modernist writing style, the fabricator of sentences that slip out as effortlessly as a good bowel movement. As I've said in other posts and rants, his was an estimable contribution as to nonfiction, and particularly journalism. But to the extent that he killed style in narrative fiction, the ghosts of Peter Benchley and Heywood Hale Broun are still reviling him at some great Round Table in the etheric realms.

Also at that table, and possibly chairing it, would be Wodehouse, cackling as he explains how prose should come in other flavors besides vanilla. Note to Ben and Jerry: How about "Boychik's Banana"?

My comic novels about boychik Rollo Hemphill have attempted a world view inspired by the Wooster ethos: Avoid responsibility, romantic entanglements, and financial conundrums. Fear marriage and anyone in uniform. Pursue amusement, particularly if a practical joke will end in a "good wheeze." Fraternize with like-minded adult males who, despite their social standing, aspire to remain boys. Encourage food fights, but only with dinner rolls so as not to create a mess for which responsibility would have to be assumed. Coordinate rugby scrums in the clubroom, but only if fragile crockery has first been cleared. Solving real-world problems (such as romantic entanglements) by way of practical jokes and stratagems might not work but it's always worth a try.