Explaining literary and cultural references in the works of PG Wodehouse

"Bill", I said, I'll tell you something about your home surroundings. In the summer the river is at the bottom of your garden, and in the winter your garden is at the bottom of the river."

Ring for Jeeves, ch 2

"And I have it from her ladyship's own maid, who happened to overhear a conversation between her ladyship and one of the gentlemen staying here . . . that it was her intention to start you almost immediately upon Nietzsche. You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound."

"Jeeves Takes Charge"

The radio had now given up all thoughts of gentlemanly restraint. It was as though on honeydew it had fed and drunk the milk of Paradise.

Ring for Jeeves, ch 21

I felt as if I had stepped on the place where the last stair ought to have been, but wasn't. I felt defiant, if you know what I mean, and there didn't seem anything to defy.

"Jeeves Takes Charge"

"That waste-paper basket over there has been in my office only four days, and already it knows more about the export and import business than you would learn if you stayed here fifty years."

Sam the Sudden, ch 1

It couldn't be done. Damn it all, a feller had his code. "Meh nee pan kong bahn rotfai" about summed it up.

Ring for Jeeves, ch 1

It was one of those still evenings you get in the summer, when you can hear a snail clear its throat a mile away.

"Jeeves Takes Charge"

P G Wodehouse is widely regarded as the master of the English comic novel. Many writers — among them, Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell, Hilaire Belloc, V S Pritchett, Tom Sharpe, Douglas Adams and Joe Keenan — have rated him as one of the finest English prose writers of the twentieth century.

quote 1I’ve been an admirer of Wodehouse’s work for over 30 years and in these pages I hope to share some of my enthusiasm for his work.

quote 5Wodehouse’s stories can be enjoyed just as they are, and many fans prefer it that way. But one of the characteristics of Wodehouse’s style is the way in which he uses quotations — from the Bible, Shakespeare, the English classics, popular fiction, even from popular songs of his day — often mangling them in a manner that is uniquely his own.quote 2 Only those who can recognise the very many allusions and quotations with which his work is packed can fully appreciate his comic talent.

For the modern reader, this presents a problem. Even readers who have had an English education are unlikely to share his cultural background. quote 4 And for Wodehouse’s many admirers in other countries, the difficulties must be even greater. This is a pity, because it means much of his humour passes unnoticed. With this in mind, a few years ago, some members of the Blandings  group began a project to annotate the books,quote 3 our aim being to identify and trace the sources of the many quotations and to explain some of the historical and other references; to date, about 20 books have been annotated.

While much of this work is only accessible to members of the Blandings group, I have created this site to give wider circulation to the annotations for which I have been responsible. I also plan to broaden the scope of my work to include plot synopses, lists of characters, and profiles of the major characters.

What’s available

The Parrot

In 1903, Wodehouse contributed 19 poems to a series which is collectively known as “The Parrot”. The full text of all 48 poems has been available for some time at Madame Eulalie’s Rare Plums, a site which all Wodehouse fans should have among their bookmarks. Not realising what I was letting myself in for, I agreed to provide annotations for these poems, which, as satires on political events of their day, contain many cryptic references to personalities and events that have long since been consigned to the history books.

As my annotations progressed, the project rapidly took on a life of its own, and when it reached the stage that the poems were no longer the primary focus I decided the best place for most of the material would be in a separate section here. A condensed version of the annotations is available at Madame Eulalie, where they will, I hope, add to readers’ enjoyment of the poems without taking too much attention from the texts. The annotations here are much more extensive and include, for example, copious extracts from the speeches and press reports that are alluded to in the poems.

In addition, I have provided far more background information than would have been appropriate at Madame Eulalie’s Rare Plums, together with a great deal of related material—newspaper cartoons, press reports, and other parodies of the same political events. The new section can be found by clicking on the parrot in the sidebar menu.

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