“She looked like a tomato struggling for self-expression”

From Brad Leithauser’s appreciation of Wodehouse’s Bertie and Jeeves (the “sort of bonding that springs from romantic love”):

The Bertie and Jeeves partnership gets better as it goes along, in part because Wodehouse learned to trust that his reader was in on the joke. Just as he gradually realized that we didn’t need to see money exchanged to understand that Jeeves finds ample rewards in caring for Bertie, Wodehouse discovered that Bertie needn’t be an absolute numbskull to make Jeeves’s braininess funny. In the last of the Jeeves novels, Bertie actually quotes poetry to Jeeves, and, though the poet in question is Ogden Nash (Jeeves responds with Herrick), the quotation itself is aptly chosen. This is a funnier Bertie than the one who isn’t sure what “plausible” or “etched” means, and who doesn’t seem to know who wrote “Macbeth.” Wodehouse came to see that Bertie could show a modicum of dash and savvy and still be a complete idiot. Even if, with a flâneur’s absorbency, Bertie has picked up a few stylish French bon mots, like preux chevalier and espièglerie, there is still plenty of room for stupidity.

I take Leithauser’s point about the indolent manner in which many of the B&J novels are constructed, the repetitions, the occasional belabored metaphors, but where would you start, and how dare you improve them?

Among British comic novelists the Evelyn Waugh of Decline and Fall and Scoop and The Loved One reigns unmatched, second only to Muriel Spark (whom I wouldn’t call a comic novelist so much as a novelist who shapes drama so that the jokes sparkle), with Kingsley Amis several steps behind and Anthony Powell even further. I’ve read about nine Wodehouse novels and confuse them. I’ve started Right Ho, Jeeves twice before realizing I’ve read it already. This is a plus.

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