Sunday, 6 September 2009

Bibliotherapy: what to read when in need of cheering up

This week's bibliotherapy: v. good for convalescence, as well as Sundays:



From time to time, on a Sunday evening, I feel a certain glumness descend, a gloomy foreboding about Monday morning, and all the responsibilities it entails. As tonight is a very Sunday-ish evening – the end of summer, the return to routine – a little light reading is in order. Most cheering of all in the circumstances is P.G. Wodehouse’s ‘Psmith in the City’, first published in 1910, but still consoling for anyone who would rather be somewhere else tomorrow.

Wodehouse himself understood the predicament of his central character, Mike Jackson, who yearns to be playing cricket at Cambridge University, but has been sent to London to earn his living as a clerk for the New Asiatic Bank, due to a collapse in the family finances. The young Wodehouse was dispatched in similar circumstances to the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in the City, where he endured an equally monotonous start to his career, before making his escape as a writer. In this early novel, Wodehouse introduced an instant antidote to boredom, in the form of Rupert Psmith, an expelled Old Etonian incarcerated in the City, but with the wit to find his way out. Psmith (the ‘P’ is silent, ‘as in phthisis, psychic, and ptarmigan’) is an advocate of what he describes as ‘practical socialism’, making comrades of his colleagues, and undermining their odious boss, Mr Bickersdyke, thereby coming close to scuppering Bickersdyke’s political ambitions.

‘Psmith in the City’ is very funny, very subversive, and not at all what one might expect from a writer accused of being a Nazi sympathiser after his broadcasts from Berlin during the Second World War. In hindsight, the general consensus seems to be that Wodehouse was foolish, rather than fascist (George Orwell rejected the claim that Wodehouse had ‘consciously aided the Nazi propaganda machine’ as ‘untenable and even ridiculous’). Yet despite his political naivety, Wodehouse’s vision of the City as oppressive and incomprehensible – ‘the whole system of banking was a horrid mystery’ – now seems refreshingly honest. Unfortunately, we don’t all have Psmith as a comrade against the challenges of boredom or confusion, nor as an ally against the Bickersdyke-type. But Wodehouse remains reassuring; for as Mike discovers at the close of play, ‘He examined the future, and found it good’.

10 comments:

enid said...

It is Sunday night and I too have the Sunday blues and unfortunately No Wodehouse book to read. I saw Coco last night and I am afraid to say found it boring and full of cinematic cliches. I was so irritated by it but when we returned home the moon was breathtakingly beautiful and surrounded by wisps of candy floss like threads of light. In afrikaans candy floss is spookasem - ghosts breath !!!

Knitting Out Loud said...

Wodehouse is a favorite here. My daughter and I are reading Hot Water aloud. Loved Psmith in the City. We saw the Chanel movie with Shirley McClain last night. Mostly awful. Love the moon with ghost's breath!

Justine Picardie said...

Spookasem is such a good word, and the perfect description for ghosts breath.How do you pronounce it?
Who features in Hot Water? Should I read it next?

Karen, Surrey said...

Oh I know that Sunday evening feeling however today the children are both back at school, the house is being decorated and a sense of routine is slowly descending. And I am going into town to buy my copy of Jane Eyre.

Roddy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Knitting Out Loud said...

Hot Water has no stock characters. Hard to read out loud for laughing. Psmith gets his girl in Leave it to Psmith.

anna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blue Floppy Hat said...

I once got kicked out of a library while reading Leave it to Psmith, for 'unruly behaviour'- namely, laughing hysterically (in my defence, it couldn't be helped- Psmith and Blandings together are a bit of a lethal combination, I'm only surprised I never choked).

It's not really much of a surprise that many of my best friends (newly-qualified lawyers) are very fond of Psmith.

kevinhil123 said...

i find Sunday to be the most boring day in the whole week.

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