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Category Archives: Literary Thoughts

Eternal Sunshine of the Well-Breakfasted Author – How P.G. Wodehouse Opens a Novel

Despite the title, there isn't a whole lot of heavy weather going on in any of his books, let alone this one

Despite the title, there isn’t a whole lot of heavy weather going on in any of his books, let alone this one

I read somewhere – actually in several places – that you should never start a novel with weather, but that’s all that P.G. Wodehouse seems to do. Occasionally, he varies it up with reflections on somebody’s garden, but mostly he sticks to the weather. I’ve been reading a lot of his novels and short stories and he’s done it so many times that I thought I might collect a few of his opening sentences to prove it.

“The sunshine of a fair Spring morning fell graciously upon London town.” Something Fresh

“Blandings Castle slept in sunshine.” Summer Lightning 

“Sunshine pierced the haze that enveloped London.” Heavy Weather

He really likes the sunshine, whether in London or in the country.

And in the short story “The Custody of the Pumpkin,” he tries a variation on a familiar theme: “The morning sunshine descended like an amber shower-bath on Blandings Castle.”

Also, from “Lord Emsworth And the Girl Friend:” “The day was so warm, so fair, so magically a thing of sunshine and blue skies and bird-songs that anyone acquainted with Clarence, ninth Earl of Emsworth, and aware of his liking for fine weather, would have pictured him going about the place on this summer morning with a beaming smile and an uplifted heart.”

Perhaps his obsession with weather is more of a Blandings Castle obsession. All the above quotes are from his Blandings Castle series and I don’t recall Bertie Wooster opening his novels with remarks on the weather to Jeeves. But Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle series seems to be perpetually bathed in sunshine.

P.G. Wodehouse is also capable of a breakfast obsession.

“Freddie Rooke gazed coldly at the breakfast-table.” Jill The Reckless

Another book cover featuring weather...though no sunshine

Another book cover featuring weather…though no sunshine

“‘A gentleman called to see you when you were out last night, sir,’ said Mrs. Medley, my landlady, removing the last of the breakfast things.” Love Among the Chickens 

“Jeeves placed the sizzling eggs and b. on the breakfast table, and Reginald (“Kipper”) Herring and I, licking our lips, squared our elbows and got down to it.” How Right You Are, Jeeves

“I marmaladed a slice of toast with something of a flourish, and I don’t suppose I have ever come much closer to saying “Tra-la-la” as I did the lathering, for I was feeling in mid-season form this morning.” Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves

This highlights another feature of Wodehouse’s openings: morning. Both the sunshine and the breakfast tend to come in the morning.

Clearly, there is something to all this sunshine and good weather and fine mornings and breakfasts. There isn’t much originality to his opening sentences, but he seems to use it as both a backdrop and a segue. Especially the sunshine. The sunshine is almost always used to segue into the constrastingly troubled brow of Lord Emsworth or some other hapless character.

But the sunshine and breakfast also serve to show that no matter the difficultly, all is still right with the world and always will be right with the world, as soon as the difficultly is inevitably resolved. The day can always begin fresh again, with warmth and bacon. It’s so utterly, positively optimistic, I can’t help grinning my whole way through Wodehouse’s books.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2015 in Fiction, Literary Thoughts

 

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Jo March – The Universal Woman

I’ve been having something of a Little Women-fest on this blog for the past week and a half, but before I allow the book to rest, there is one more thing that has been teasing me that I wanted to explore. As I canvassed the internet and read the differing opinions of fans, I was struck by the intensity and implacability of opinion regarding who Jo March should have married and I began to wonder why that was. I am always intrigued when opinion is evenly split. It can mean that both sides have a good case, but neither has an overwhelming one. Does that mean there is a fault in how Louisa May Alcott set up her story? It could be, but I wonder if there is another reason, too.

When we read novels, we find characters we feel inherently in sympathy with, characters we understand or want to be like or especially feel invested in. When that happens, we say that we “identify” with that character and nowhere have I found a character more identified with than Josephine March (though with heady competition from Elizabeth Bennett). I have read it, heard it, and met many people who have told me that they grew up reading the book feeling a special kinship with Jo.

When I first read Little Women, though, I did not identify with her. I was a child and couldn’t see past some of Jo’s more glaring personality traits, like her temper, her impetuosity, her quirky and stubborn moods; traits I did not share. But when I read it again, I could see the common ground. Her childhood dreams of writing, the childhood dream that anything is possible and that money and fame are just waiting for you, her love of life and disinclination for and awkwardness in society, her desire to travel, her reading habits, her tom-boyishness, her warm love of her sisters, her fear of losing her sisters, her discovery that childhood dreams are not always to be, or even what we want as we grow and change – I could understand these things. She’s a dreamer and a bit of a social misfit and a writer. And she’s not considered conventionally attractive (we women can be insecure about our own appearance and I have not heard nearly as many women identifying with overtly beautiful female characters). Jo’s very modern, then, in her personality, but she has been loved in every generation since her creation in 1868.

In Jo March, Louisa May Alcott seems to have created the universal woman; we can all see something of ourselves in her. She’s complex and doesn’t stay the same, which also means we can see ourselves in different stages of her life. Perhaps we are more like she was when she was fifteen, or perhaps more like her when she is twenty-five.

My theory is that because we can project ourselves on Jo, it makes it very personal who Jo marries. It is no longer a question of who we think Jo should marry, but who we would rather marry. If you can’t imagine marrying a stuffy old professor, then you would hate it if Jo married him. But if, instead, you cannot imagine marrying an immature boy, then you would be appalled if Jo were to have accepted Laurie (I am, admittedly, being unfair in my descriptions of both Laurie and Professor Bhaer for dramatic affect). Her journey, her dreams, are the journey and dreams of so many women; it’s difficult not to take her ultimate destination personally.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2015 in Fiction, Literary Thoughts

 

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Love, But Not As We Know It

Love, But Not As We Know It

Andrea Lundgren and I have come to the end of our blog debate and I want to thank her for participating! I had a wonderful time writing and reading and found her thoughts extremely thought provoking. In closing the debate, she has written a post summing up her conclusions, both on Jo’s choice of husband and on the nature of marriage and love.

Andrea Lundgren

I’ve been thinking about Little Women and Jo March’s romance all weekend, and I think the difference of reader opinion about who she should’ve married–Laurie Laurence or Professor Bhaer–is rooted in our own perspectives on love and marriage. The two men represent very different kinds of relationships, and our response to them is largely determined, I think, by which sort of marriage we like, want, or have.

Laurie’s Kind of Marriage

Being married to a person like Laurie would be an adventure. He’d want you along for all his schemes, helping him get in and out of trouble. You’d be his best friend, and, for it to work well, he’d have to be yours. He’d share everything with you: his worries, frustrations, struggles, successes, striving for your approval, looking to you for comfort. You would be everything to him, and for the marriage to work, he’d have to be everything…

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Posted by on January 19, 2015 in Fiction, Literary Thoughts

 

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