‘Turbot, sir,’ said the waiter

E.S. Turner

  • After Hours with P.G. Wodehouse by Richard Usborne
    Hutchinson, 201 pp, £15.99, February 1991, ISBN 0 09 174712 0

When Bishop Berkeley wrote his philosophical treatise linking tar-water, that sovereign cure-all, with the sublimest mysteries of the Christian religion, a lay critic said it reminded him of the man who began by talking about Alexander’s battles and ended up by describing an Armenian wheelbarrow. That is how it was in the bar parlour of Wodehouse’s Angler’s Rest: ‘In our little circle I have known an argument on the Final Destination of the Soul to change inside forty seconds into one concerning the best method of preserving bacon fat.’ There is more than a touch of this creative restlessness in After Hours with P.G. Wodehouse. Readers of this journal may recall a Diary by Richard Usborne (LRB, 4 October 1984) in which a determined investigation into the origins of Wodehouse’s use of ‘exquisite Tanagra figurine’ led to an evocation of the days when cut-price Boeotian coroplasts cluttered the shops of St Tropez. That Diary is reproduced in this devotional work: an assembly of writings and addresses (at home and abroad) on Wodehouse, with the transcript of a seance thrown in. Devotional, did one say? Yes, but witty, sagacious and an example to the dons and soldiers tilling the same vineyard.

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