A Taste for Plum

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Dear Maud,

Some things are perfect. The De Havilland Mosquito, for one, and the early albums of Elvis Costello.

Then there is Wodehouse.

Yes, Maud, I know: some poor lost souls have no taste for Plum; they think his books fatuous and false, which some undeniably are – though not The Girl on the Boat, which soars like a bird.

How can it not, Maud, when it is written with such cleverness and charm?

The story is standard Wodehouse fare; in other words, it features an imperious aunt, her callow nephew, a ditzy girl (and her dog, Pinky-Boodles), and a horde of laughable extras. What happens? Who knows or cares. For the magic of the book lies not in the tale, but its telling.

Nothing is more curious than the myriad ways in which reaction from an unfortunate love-affair manifests itself in various men. No two males behave in the same way under the spur of female fickleness. Archilochum, for instance, according to the Roman writer, proprio rabies armavit iambo. It is no good pretending out of politeness that you know what that means, so I will translate. Rabies – his grouch – armavit – armed – Archilochum – Archilochus – iambo – with the iambic – proprio – his own invention. In other words, when the poet Archilochus was handed his hat by the lady of his affections, he consoled himself by going off and writing satirical verse about her in a new metre which he had thought up immediately after leaving the house. That was the way the thing affected him.

A snippet, no more. And yet… perfection.

That, Maud, is the way it affects me!

Yours etc.