R: Amazing Spider-Man #427 (October 1997), art by Steve Skroce and Bud LaRosa (?)
(Click picture to octi-size)
...as an autobiographer I am rather badly handicapped.The book was originally inspired by American journalist J. P. Winkler (who doesn't even have his own Wikipedia page; so much for his legacy), who presented a series of essays in newspapers and radio by septuagenarians on their lives and how the world has changed in their span. Wodehouse went above and beyond the call by producing the many-chaptered book I hold in my eager little hooves tonight. Ostensibly therefore it's an autobio, but it's really just a grand occasion for Wodehouse to spin a lot of tall tales and wonderful yarns and tell a few jokes, and without needing to stick to a chronological fictional narrative, he has the luxury to just have a great deal of fun throughout. As such there's more laughs and whimsy per chapter than any of the Wodehouse books I've read this far, and if it's light on characters and motivation it's one of the best Wodehouses (Wodehice?) for picking up when you've only got time to read a chapter or two, or when your little bean-filled brain is a wee bit feverish. Aw, heck, let's let his writing speak for itself here, as when he talks about his genesis as an author:
On several occasions it has been suggested to me that I might take a pop at reading my reminiscences. 'Yours has been a long life,' people say. 'You look about a hundred and four. You should make a book of it and cash in.'
From my earliest years I had always wanted to be a writer. I started turning out the stuff at the age of five. (What I was doing before that, I don't remember. Just loafing, I suppose.)...explaining how civil and even-tempered New York City residents are (hah!):
A man I know was driving in his car the other day and stalled his engine at a street intersection. The lights changed from yellow to green, from green to reed, from red to yellow and from yellow to green, but his car remained rooted to the spot. A policeman sauntered up....relating his conversations with the quintessential New York wisecracking cabby:
'What's the matter, son?' he asked sympathetically. 'Haven't we got any colours you like?'
It is difficult to see how he could have been nicer.
He is quite different from his opposite number in London, partly because of his name, as stated on the card on the windscreen, is always something like Rostopchin or Prschebiszewsky but principally owing to his habit of bringing with his quips and cranks and wreathed smiles like the nymphs in 'L'Allegro'. Except for an occasional gruff grunter, all New York taxi-drivers are rapid-fire comedians, and they are given unlimited scope for their bob Hopefulness by that fact that in American cabs there is no glass shutter separating them from the customer.For decades Alistair Cooke did a series of BBC radio commentaries entitled Letters from America. I think that Wodehouse could have done just as well and probably more entertaining job, if only the last time he had broadcast on radio hadn't been for Nazi Germany.
'I want to go to the Cunard White Star pier," you say.
'Okay. Don't be long," he ripostes, quick as a flash.
'You know the way there, I suppose?'
'Garsh, yes, it ain't no secret.'
Then he settles down to it. A few gay observations on the weather and he is ready for the big yoks.
'Your name ain't Crime by any chance, is it?'
'Oh, Crime? No. Why?'
'Just thinking of a feller I had in my crate the other day. We got talking and he said his name was George Crime.'
'What I thought. Well, sir, we got to where he wants to be took and he hops out and starts walking away. "Hi, brother," I say, "ain't you forgettin' something?" "Such as?" he says. "You ain't paid for your ride." "Why would I?" he says. "Haven't you ever heard that crime doesn't pay?" Hey, hey, hey.'
You laugh politely, but inwardly you are saying, 'Not so good, Prschebiszewsky.' The build-up a little too obvious and elaborate, you feel.
...our own manufacturers are turning out good and powerful stuff today, so let us avail ourselves of it. Smoke up, my hearties. Never mind Tolstoy. Ignore G. Swanson. Think what it would means if for want of our support the tobacco firms had to go out of business. There would be no more of those photographs of authors smoking pipes, and if authors were not photographed smoking pipes, how would we be able to know that they are manly and in the robust tradition of English literature?So, don't come into Over Seventy expecting to get a traditional autobiography. Bring on the Girls and Performing Flea, Wodehouse's two other autobiographical works, which I'll get around to reviewing one of these years, are similarly entertaining but a little more straightforward in their format. If you want traditional biographies, of course, there's always the Frances Donaldsonand the Robert McCrumbios (truth in disclosure: the McCrum is published by W. W. Norton, where I toil away the workdays). But none of these feature, as does Over Seventy, this wonderful glimpse of one of Wodehouse's most beloved characters, the pig-loving Lord Emsworth, in the afterlife:
...I like to think that this separation of butler and butler-aficionado will not endure for ever. I tell myself that when Clarence, ninth Earl of Emsworth, finally hands in his dinner pail after his long and pleasant life, the first thing he will hear as he settles himself on his cloud will be the fruity voice of Beach, the faithful butler, saying, 'Nectar or ambrosia, m'lord?'
'Eh? Oh, hullo, beach. I say, Beach, what's this dashed thing they handed me as I came in?'
'A harp, m'lord. Your lordship is supposed to play on it.'
'Eh? Play on it? Like Harpo Marx, you mean?'
'Most extraordinary. Is everybody doing it?'
'My sister Constance? My brother Galahad? Sir Gregory Parsloe? Baxter? Everybody?'
'Well, it all sounds very odd to me. Still, if you say so. Give me your A, Beach.'
'Certainly, m'lord. Coming right up.'