The Role of the Writer

In titling the post as such, I am not talking about the writer’s responsibility to society, et cetera, as I have done before.  Rather, I’m talking about the character of the writer in various works of fiction and media.  It might be someone like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, Paul Varjak in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Harriet in the children’s classic Harriet the Spy, W. Somerset Maugham himself in The Razor’s Edge, and even Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, who is a painter, but like the other writers, a cool observer of a class other than his own. Purists might scoff at the mention of another fictional writer in the recent past on a globally popular TV series, Sex and the City, but the role of Carrie Bradshaw is completely in the same vein.

This writer figure is usually classless or middle-class, inevitably neutral, unassuming, a friend to everyone and yet somewhat cynical about human nature, and a boundary-crosser who mixes with many different people who are not of his or her kind.  The neutrality of the writer lends him or her much credibility, for the reader is willing to trust in this figure who has introduced the audience into a particular or private world.  The writer belongs everywhere, and yet nowhere.  S/he is invited to all the dazzling parties and events and often enjoys being there, while regarding the others with a degree of amusement, cynicism, or even contempt:  Nick Carraway is stunned by the lavishness of Gatsby’s fetes, but is horrified by the shallowness all the same. S/he is rather a non-entity, the sponge to absorb the follies and actions of the more strong characters. Paul Varjak observes the New York social scene while silently in love with the social-climbing Holly Golightly. Charles in Brideshead Revisited is surrounded by the staunch Catholic Marchmain clan and his fallen Catholic best friend, Sebastian Marchmain, and it is precisely his in-between position that causes such tension and draws the reader into the story. Some might even call the writer figure dull.  This may well be the case, but one must remember the author’s intentions of using the writer as the device for showcasing the more savory characters.

The writer character has more emotional depth, and wants to process things more deeply than the other characters in the story.  S/he must inevitably belong to the social circles about which s/he writes.  But what is seen at face value is not enough—-there has to be greater meaning within.  Carrie Bradshaw has to go home to her computer, if not a warm bed with a handsome man in it, to crank out her observations and homespun wisdom about the Battle of the Sexes.  Given that writing = reflection and depth, it is not surprising that a number of religious works are “told” to the audience or reader by a particular storyteller or narrator.  It is not enough for us to hear or read holy words; rather, they need to be handed down to us by someone more knowledgeable.

As long as human beings live on this planet, we must have fiction.  We need writers.  Our existence as human beings requires them, as much as we need to eat, sleep, breathe.  We need people who observe and then tell us the truth.  We need people who are willing to be in society, and yet able to observe it from without.  We need someone to put into words that which we see, hear, think, and feel.  Because nothing holds as much power over us as a story.


Mandela, Mythical Men and Women: The Great Statesman

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Today it seems natural to address The Great Statesman, in honoring the death of Nelson Mandela. Naturally, one must use a more general term, such as Statesperson or the feminine form Stateswoman, but as of now, the majority of great leaders sadly still have been men. The Great Statesman is not always the political leader of the country, but s/he holds great iconic significance to his or her people. Very often, this figure has united his or her people to face the opposition, which is sometimes internal as well as external in a country. For example, Mandela united South Africans against an internal enemy: the system of apartheid instituted by white supremacists. Mahatma Gandhi, spiritually the founder of modern India, had his enemy outside: the British. And it was the wife of a politician in Argentina who reached mythic heights with her popularity, a woman named Eva Perón, in a country that has struggled with various factions—-labor, military, leftist, right wing—-trying to claim power.

The Great Statesman is always a most charismatic figure, inspiring legions of followers and remaining in the collective consciousness of his or her citizens for generations or even centuries. But very often, this individual has come from extremely humble backgrounds or has embraced a wide variety of professions. The “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher was the daughter of a grocer. Vaclav Havel worked for a time in a brewery, despite his bourgeois family origins. Anwar Sadat was one of 13 children born to a poor family. And most all of them have faced severe obstacles in their lives, such as imprisonment for decades (think Mandela), that have made their heroic status even stronger.

Sometimes the legacy is not necessarily so much about politics as it is about culture. Catherine the great is considered a symbol of the Age of Enlightenment in Russia and one of her predecessors, Peter the Great, both expanded Russia’s power and “Europeanized” his country, adopting a number of practices found in Western Europe. Just look at Mandela’s influence on popular culture outside of his country: both Bono and Peter Gabriel have been largely influenced by him, spreading political awareness in their music, and the 1980′s groundbreaking American sitcom The Cosby Show featured Cliff Huxtable’s grandchildren named Winnie and Nelson. Cities, streets, children, and organizations are named in honor of these great individuals, and sometimes even the oddest items, such as sunglasses from Thailand of the brand Evita Peroni! Thus, it is important to remember that it is not enough for The Great Statesman to have been politically savvy, recognized by his or her fellow world leaders, Nobel prize committees, politicians, etcetera. The Great Statesman must have had a special quality that appealed to the simplest and humblest of people. S/he must have had an ability to connect with peoples’ hearts and feelings, to be that father figure, mother figure, saint, friend, teacher in a way that garners tremendous respect and love. Sadly, it is that very quality that allows the most crooked and cunning of politicians to manipulate the masses for their own benefit, the quality that often allows terrorists and despots to rise to power. If I feed you rice, if I provide for your daily needs with a smile on my face, I know you’ll vote for me. It is something that happens every day, all over the world.

But Mandela, or Madiba, as he was known by his clan name, touched not only the poorest of the poor and blackest of the Black and South Africa, but millions if not billions of people all over the world. He has rightly received extensive news coverage upon his death, and received the honor of the presence of numerous world leaders at his funeral services. It will be interesting to see his legacy in the future, and how it continues to impact politics and culture for centuries. We on earth were lucky to have had him for almost a century, as he died at the age of 95.

What Makes for “Good” Opera?

Today I will address something more specific than what the title indicates: that is, what makes a piece of operatic music well written and easy to sing? For the layperson—-even for me, pre-opera studies—-opera seems to be a magical art form in which the music flows and the words convey. That is true, when opera is at its best! But there are certainly plenty of works that are not well written and a nightmare to sing. For now, let’s take a closer look: consider this the Layperson’s Guide to Opera.

Asking which is more important, the words or the music, is rather like asking which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Richard Strauss addresses this dilemma quite cleverly in his symbolic opera Capriccio, in which the heroine Madeleine is torn between her two lovers, a composer and a poet. Very often, a libretto was written on commission or by a particular writer, often based on a famous work of literature, and the composer set the music to it. In the case of liturgical music, such as Mozart’s Requiem (a work so beautiful it’s enough to make anyone want to convert to Catholicism upon death), the text has already existed in Latin and each composer takes his or her stab at it. From the singer’s point of view, it’s a sort of buy one, get a dozen free situation, for you learn just one text and then learn the music particular to each piece! But in all seriousness, liturgical music has shaped the foundations of Western classical music, though it no longer remains at the forefront of how we perceive music in the West. There were indeed composers who wrote the music first and had a librettist add words to the melodies. And finally, there were the rare few who wrote both the words and the libretto, such as Richard Wagner or Hector Berlioz, a feat of considerable genius.

But let us look a little more deeply at the words and music. Very often, the words are written in rhyme or a particular rhythmic scheme. Rhyme dates back from our earliest cultures as a way of helping people remember long passages of words, our inheritance from our oral traditions. Advanced Italian classes teach the students how to examine the rhyme and count syllables and word stresses in a verse or poem—-in other words, in an aria. The prosody or rhythm of the words varies from language to language. For example, French tends to lean heavily on the 2nd or last syllable, whereas English leans heavily on the 1st syllable. Italian’s double consonants and musical inflections make for sonorous waves and pauses in the language. The precision of the German language is shown through its word stresses and nuanced vowels. A good composer will respect these unique features of the languages. Are the long notes appropriately placed on the longer syllables? Is a high pitch to be sung on an easier or open vowel such as “ah” rather than an umlauted o?

As for the music, there is more variance here, for different voices are able to handle different vocal demands. For example, my voice is a lyric soprano, and I am best able to handle long, smooth vocal lines that move up one step at a time, rather than by leaps. However, there are other voices that can handle leaps and staccato, even shrieks, for whom the long smooth vocal lines would be torture. But I would argue that the best-loved arias are the ones that tend to be written with smoother lines and with memorable melodies—-something “hummable” that has a simple melody, often repeats itself, and perhaps features a few embellishments here or there or a cadenza (a solo, unaccompanied moment, sort of like what one hears in a jazz combo when each musician takes his/her turn to show off). Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” for soprano would be one good example of this, or “Nessun dorma” (made famous by Pavarotti during his tenure with The 3 Tenors). A good composer builds momentum and a climax into the piece, engaging the listener and making him or her want to keep listening to hear what’s coming. Beautiful melodies are often found in opera choruses as well: those who know the unofficial Italian anthem of Verdi’s “Va, pensiero” might very well tell you it is one of the most gorgeous melodies ever written. A beautiful operatic melody will permeate your heart and soul, until it must come out of your mouth at random moments, such as while washing dishes or driving in the car.

But even when the words and music match beautifully, when the melody respects the natural inflections and rhythms of the words, there is yet another layer of nuance that only the best vocal composers can create. It is a layer of subtlety in which each character’s part is completely unique and suited to that character alone. We might think of the dark vocal lines and erupting passions of Carmen, contrasted with the pure, long lines of Micaela, her counterpart. There is the chatty nature of Leporello contrasted with Don Giovanni’s bombastic boasts; and within Don Giovanni himself, one hears a wide range of emotions: the caressing seduction of “Deh vieni alla finestra” to his dismissive recitatives to Donna Elvira to his unwieldy defiance of the Commendatore up till his last earthly moments. There is Musetta’s coquettish waltz, with its pauses and giggles as she revels in her good looks and ability to charm men. The best composers, like Mozart, have this skill and genius for reflecting a character’s moods through his or her vocal lines.

This is nothing new and it still continues today in the best modern operas as well as in popular music. Why did millions of fans want to hear Robert Plant in his Zeppelin days? He brought a moaning, aching sound to blues-inspired hard rock songs that made you feel what he was feeling. The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, infused his hits with a sense of energy that pulsated from his dance steps and erupted into his voice. Even today, singer-songwriter Bjork brings primal howls to her songs that are very often related to nature or romantic passion.

So it is not just a brilliant composer who integrates words and music, but also a talented performer who can interpret those compositions and bring them to life for the listener.

Lilly Ledbetter, Mika Brzezinski, and American Astronauts: True American Feminists

This week’s post is more of a reflection on a general theme that seems to have arisen in my mind in the past couple of weeks—-I have been reflecting on the strength of and challenges faced by American women.  A number of things have led me to reflect on this:  hearing Lilly Ledbetter give a talk on her remarkable courage in fighting for the equal pay she deserved from Goodyear, reading Mika Brzezinski’s book Knowing Your Value (perhaps a precursor to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, which I have yet to read), seeing Alfonso Cuaron’s brilliant film “Gravity,” and reading about women astronauts.  What struck me as a common thread among these seemingly disparate women and fictitious versus non-fictitious settings was that these women were, in a sense, ordinary.  Now, before the reader begins to raise a fuss, let me define “ordinary” as I perceive it.  These women are not radical, radical feminists, man haters, overly politicized, child haters, or even, perhaps, willing to label themselves as feminists.  They have accomplished their goals by being who they are and facing the same challenges that women face across all socioeconomic statuses and value systems.  They were trying to find their own way to achieve their goals in a culture that did not necessarily support them.  But in doing so, they have as role models for all of us.

Take the example of Lilly Ledbetter.  Her graceful tenacity and belief in doing what was right—-fighting for equal pay—-is an inspiration to everyone, women AND men.  A working wife and mother who was tipped off anonymously by a colleague that she was making less than her male counterparts, she began a fight that lasted over many years in order to get what was her due.  She had to fight a corporation (Goodyear), and even a legal system that was supposed to support but then denied her case.  What struck me as central to Ledbetter’s fight was simply her desire to help her family and to retire comfortably, and to be treated fairly as a woman.  Certainly, Ledbetter was well aware of the challenges that women and minorities face (she hails from rural Alabama), and knows the data.  But her goals were both so personal yet universal, and for this reason, I find that she was truly a success and an inspiration.  President Obama did right by naming the fair pay act after her.

Mika Brzezinski represents another type of role model for women.  Highly educated, savvy, and moving in elite circles, she has faced a set of challenges that highly ambitious, career driven women often encounter from men and the norms of American corporate culture.  America.  But what is perhaps more extraordinary is Mika’s courage and willingness to share her own mistakes as a woman in navigating the workplace and trying to get ahead.  In Knowing Your Value, she reflects on these mistakes and discusses them with other women such as Suze Orman, Sheryl Sandberg, and Tina Brown as well as a few men like Donald Trump, and Donny Deutsch.  She shares her struggles as a working wife and mother, as a woman in the media for whom appearance is important, and as a journalist.  Brzezinski discusses gender differences and how they affect one’s negotiating style.  Also of note is her acknowledgment of the men that have helped her with her career, and the women who have not; this is often a very sensitive issue for career women, but again, Brzezinski launches into a discussion about the complexities of this. Despite her arguably elite position in society and career, she still faces the same dilemmas as any working wife and mother faces—-how to juggle it all and to get ahead in a man’s world. Again, this is another example of a woman touching on universals that affect women everywhere.

America has long held the top position in space exploration, and a number of women have been part of that.  One must, of course, praise the contributions of women astronauts from other countries, such as Russia/the former Soviet Union (who sent the first woman into space), South Korea, and France.  But the list of American women who have gone into outer space, often risking their lives, is extraordinary.  The loss of the pioneering Dr. Judith Resnik in the 1986 Challenger disaster was tragic, but this tragedy is tempered when one sees what a passion she had for both science and for her own womanhood (she let her abundant hair flow when she wasn’t wearing her helmet and proudly carried a picture of TV star Tom Selleck on board!)  Sally Ride, the first American woman in space was actively involved in her later years in encouraging women in the sciences and running science programs for young people while remaining quietly lesbian in her personal life.  Mae Jemison was another pioneer, as she was the first African-American woman in space.  She was also quite a pioneer, in that she was a female engineering student at Stanford University, and an African-American female engineering student at that. The multi-talented Jamison has also had a lifelong interest in dance, both in performing and choreographing it, as well as acting.  Most importantly, she is a humanitarian who became a doctor and served in the Peace Corps.  Who could be a better role model for young women and men?

As human beings, we must have concrete role models, but we also have an innate yearning for hero stories.  The film “Gravity” is one such example.  It taps into our primal need for a hero, and we are given one in Dr. Ryan Stone.  She is estranged from (presumably) her husband, her late daughter, and her fellow astronauts with whom she embarked on this space mission.  It is her intelligence and courage that sustain her as she is cut off from her spacecraft and the others, but in the end, it is her emotions that guide her to rekindle her desire to live, her heart that guides her to do what is right in choosing life over her brooding misery over her daughter’s death.  Dr. Stone meets one misfortune after the other throughout the course of the movie, and is determined to untangle herself from every difficult situation.  Cuaron’s choice of a female scientist as heroine is a very interesting and necessary one, especially in an age of trashy tramps and Miley Cyrus and Kardashian Kulture.  His rendering of a female character as a strong heroine, and yet also a woman, is shown beautifully as Dr. Stone’s lithe figure floats through the spacecraft—-a tribute to the female form.  Dr. Ryan Stone is that rare film character who is intelligent, strong, successful in a typically male field, maternal, and embracing of her femininity.

We still have a long way to go in American culture in allowing women to feel that they can be complete and multifaceted, that they can embrace traditional roles (such as motherhood and marriage), the miracles of their bodies, their intelligence, and their ambition.  Ladies, don’t give up!

The Picture of Dorian Gray: Wilde’s Form over Function

In architecture and design, there is a principle that compares the form and function of a structure or object. That is, the aesthetic nature and qualities of an object versus its utility. Given that the wondrous Oscar Wilde was one of the great writers of the Aestheticism movement, it is only natural that his sole novel focuses more heavily on his ideas, luxurious prose, and numerous allusions to great works of art and literature. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a unique book—-no other author could’ve written it. There is a sense of richness, opulence, beauty, and pleasure throughout the novel, but it is also tempered by a sense of the sinister. The central theme of the book is aesthetics, and how they relate to life and death: the contrast of Beauty and Death/Evil.

The hallmarks of Wilde are certainly present throughout the book. It is full of his famous witty dialogue and aphorisms: “A man can be happy with any woman, as long as he does not love her”, “… his work was that curious mixture of bad painting and good intentions that always entitles a man to be called a representative British artist”, and (my favorite) “Life has been your art. You have set yourself to music. Your days are your sonnets.” There are long descriptive passages of sheer detail and beauty, right from the opening of the book and all throughout it: “Talking to him was like playing upon an exquisite violin. He answered to every touch and thrill of the bow…” or “Delhi muslins, finely wrought with gold-thread palmates, and stitched over with iridescent beetles’ wings; the Dacca gauzes, but from their transparency are known in the East as ‘woven air,’ ” to quote but a few passages.

While on the surface everything seems beautiful, lurking underneath are dark forces that drive Dorian to murder and madness. Once we scratch the surface of stunning beauty, we find horror underneath. We first see this in the death of Sybil Vane. In short, the love struck actress’s artistry is no longer compelling enough for Dorian to love her. Spurned, she takes her life. Her love for him is not enough; he wants her dramatic power and creativity that seduced him. He murders the artist Basil Hallward, who immortalized Dorian in paint, for the portrait has caused him great anguish in his life. Dorian Gray himself dies an aesthetic death: despite his eternally youthful looks, his undiscovered sins, and his wealth, the portrait has caused him too much misery in his life, and so he must destroy a work of art in order to free his soul. Thus we see a trajectory of murders: first for the death of artistic love, next the death of the actual artist, and finally, the death of a work of art (which is really Dorian himself). Art is the driving impulse behind Dorian’s life; art is the motive behind all of his dark actions. This is so uniquely Wilde, an idea no other author could have ever expressed. Its very existence was novel and scandalous (as were the homoerotic dynamics between Dorian and other men).

Countless allusions pepper the book, from Shakespeare to French writers to Marco Polo to Catholicism to Chopin and beyond. It is perhaps a dazzling display of Wilde’s knowledge and love of high culture. Wilde is an aesthete’s aesthete: no stone is left unturned when it comes to great works of art. A sense of voluptuousness pervades The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is reflected by the rich language. Wilde was no mere emotional lover of the beautiful; he was incredibly well read and traveled.

But Wilde, by nature, is not a novelist. He is best known as a playwright, and perhaps the novel reflects why. The pacing is often irregular, and the way in which events unfold is not always entirely smooth. Long passages are devoted to describing things that do not necessarily move the story forward. Transitions are sometimes a bit awkward and clumsy. Naturally, the dialogue is strong, given Wilde’s strengths in writing for the theater. But sometimes the dialogue runs over into extended soliloquies that sound unnatural (even if we factor out our modern linguistic sensibilities). Yes, we understand that Basil and Lord Henry wish to sing the praises of the beautiful Dorian, but the author sometimes loses the reader in endless odes to the title character. Long passages often serve as moral essays on human nature and character, and these also can become tedious to the reader from time to time. The novel does not always stay true to its purpose and its form; rather, it lapses into essays and plays.

Wilde’s descriptions of *things* are very developed, but his descriptions of characters’ inner lives or their motives are sometimes lacking. As a result, the characters can sometimes seem a bit flat. Again, I suggest that this is due to Wilde’s strengths as a playwright, as a play relies on the actors to bring the story alive and to show the audience a more rounded portrayal of what is on the page. While to an extent the reader has to use his or her imagination to conjure up the characters, Wilde expects a bit too much from him or her. There is a flatness to the novel that is a little disappointing, given Wilde’s keen understanding of human dynamics. These, perhaps, come out best in his comic lines, but in a dark, even tragic novel such as this, the reader feels that there are more layers that the author needs to explore. One could argue that Wilde lets tragedy shine best through comedy, rather than through straight-on, pure tragedy itself. The novel is sufficiently, abundantly dark in its subject matter, in the manner of a gothic tale, and yet Wilde does not manage to go deeper than the divertissement of a parlor novel.

As I mentioned above at the beginning of this essay, Wilde stresses form over function. But would we have it any other way? Would we not forgive Wilde of his sins of slightly sloppy, erratic structuring, knowing that he has taken us on an artistic ride in a way that no one else could have done? Can we not forgive him his endless descriptions of furnishings, knowing that these are the things that he holds dear? The Picture of Dorian Gray is, say, that beautiful vase we have on our table that does not quite hold the flowers properly, and yet it is so visually and emotionally appealing that we can’t bear not to display it. That beautiful vase that is one-of-a-kind, made by a potter who normally makes bowls. And would we not forgive Oscar Wilde all of his literary sins throughout the book when he gives us that (pardon the pun) picture-perfect ending where Dorian stabs the painting, and thereby stabs himself? That metaphor alone is worth the whole book.

Thank You, Wodehouse: The Comic Genius of Jeeves and Wooster

I just recently finished reading Thank You, Jeeves by the English writer P.G. Wodehouse, and I must confess, it was my first Wodehouse novel. For some reason, in my experience as an American, Wodehouse is not so widely read or popular or well known. Perhaps it is because he is not considered one of the heavyweights of English literature whom we read, such as Dickens, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, or even the modern master, Ian McEwan. However, I found it an extremely enjoyable experience, and would like to offer some praise for Wodehouse. Let me first add the disclaimer, though, that the whole blackface incident in the novel is by current American standards very backward, offensive, and racist. No modern American—-or even British—-writer would dare to do such a thing today. Let me also mention, to those highbrow literary types, that yes, I do find there is a certain flat, cartoony quality to the characters in the book. The characters are there to serve a purpose in Bertie’s story, and we do not know their inner workings or inner lives. We scarcely see anything of Jeeves, except that which is shown to us through dialogue.

But let us evaluate Thank You, Jeeves for qualities other than bad racial stereotypes and popularity, and we shall see that he is quite a brilliant writer; there is a reason his novels are still read today around the globe. First of all, the novel is funny. In a world where novels are often grim, dealing with terrorism, family dysfunction, mental illness, or trauma, here, there is a lighthearted sense of humor that pervades. Once the reader gets into the particular rhythm of Wodehouse’s language, s/he might find her/himself actually laughing out loud: when was the last time you actually laughed out loud when reading a novel? Writing comedy is not an easy task, as numerous comedians, script-, and screenwriters will tell you. Wodehouse’s output is extremely large, as he was a prolific writer up to the end of his life. He had even written screenplays, and so the structure of his book follows very traditional plot lines. Just when one episode or character arc seems to be resolved, some sort of crisis arises that creates more tension in the story. The fact that Thank You, Jeeves was serialized meant that it had to keep the readers entertained for each episode, and then leave them waiting for the next. This understanding of how to write structure is an extremely important skill for any fiction writer to have.

The prose is clear and it flows smoothly; I read the novel over 3 or 4 days. Wodehouse’s dialogue is also a marvel, seemingly representative of its era. Naturally, there is a rather mannered nature to his language that seems quaint or a bit stilted today, just as the language in films from the 1930s and 40s. But Wodehouse has mastery of language; he uses it with great skill to generate humor through convoluted descriptions of things or people. We know that Bertie finds Master Seabury (even this name is quite comic, given the character’s youth) to be a repulsive brat with ears that stick out through his verbose descriptions of the little boy: “He continued to regard me with that supercilious gaze which had got him so disliked among the right-minded. He was a smallish, freckled kid with aeroplane ears… In my Rogues’ Gallery of repulsive small boys I suppose he would come about third…” With a description like that, who can’t laugh?

But if we take it for what it is, and are aware of the time period in which it was written, we must admire its merit. It’s like watching a good old-fashioned 1930s or 40s screwball comedy (or perhaps an Ealing Comedy?) full of slapstick, errors, mixups that fortunately get resolved in the end. And therefore, we have to keep in mind the tradition of the English Comedy of Errors, from the time of Shakespeare through to modern era. I would even argue that Thank You, Jeeves also follows in the vein of earlier English novels such as Fielding’s Tom Jones or Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey, with clever narrators and comic mishaps. Bertie Wooster also plays the role of the bumbling fool that we see featured in English popular culture with such personages as Mr. Bean, Charles in Four Weddings and a Funeral, or even the awkward Jim Dixon in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim. And if we were to step outside of the English tradition, we might relate Bertie and Wooster to none other than Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as they go through a series of scrapes together, the latter ever loyal to the former. Panza helps the Don through all of his mishaps, just as Jeeves always comes to the rescue with a better idea for Bertram Wooster.

Naturally, there is always the issue of class differences, which are so prevalent in British society. Though Jeeves is quite intelligent and appears well read, he is still in the subservient position of the butler. Wooster, in order to escape, has to pretend he is one of the black minstrels who are entertaining the aristocrats’ party. Master Seabury seems to be a sort of urchin that the Dowager Lady Chuffnell has picked up somewhere and is not therefore positioned to be the heir to a title or fortune. And certainly, the central financial problem of the book is Lord “Chuffy” Chuffnell’s inability to maintain his ancestral home, and the need for the American Stoker to purchase it and thereby relieve him of his monetary woes. Wodehouse had lived in America for much of his life, and so he was able to render the differences between the cultures to humorous effect.

True, Thank You, Jeeves is not a work of literature that will change one’s life or leave a profound impact upon the reader. But one must give due credit to the craft of writing in the book, and also admire Wodehouse’s great wit. It is not a serious work à la One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, but sometimes a cheery tonic in the form of a comic novel is exactly what we need.