[On writing Jeeves and Wooster stories]: You tell yourself that you can take Jeeves stories or leave them alone, that one more can't possibly hurt you, because you know you can pull up whenever you feel like it, but it is merely wish-full thinking. The craving has gripped you and there is no resisting it. You have passed the point of no return.
I spent the afternoon musing on Life. If you come to think of it, what a queer thing Life is! So unlike anything else, don't you know, if you see what I mean. At any moment you may be strolling peacefully along, and all the time Life's waiting around the corner to fetch you one. You can't tell when you may be going to get it. It's all dashed puzzling. Here was poor old George, as well-meaning a fellow as every stepped, getting swatted all over the ring by the hand of Fate. Why? That's what I asked myself. Just Life, don't you know. That's all there was about it.
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There was something sort of bleak about her tone, rather as if she had swallowed an east wind. This I took to be due to the fact that she probably hadn't breakfasted. It's only after a bit of breakfast that I'm able to regard the world with that sunny cheeriness which makes a fellow the universal favourite. I'm never much of a lad till I've engulfed an egg or two and a beaker of coffee. "I suppose you haven't breakfasted?" "I have not yet breakfasted." "Won't you have an egg or something? Or a sausage or something? Or something?" "No, thank you." She spoke as if she belonged to an anti-sausage league or a league for the suppression of eggs. There was a bit of silence.
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At a time when she was engaged to Stilton Cheesewright, I remember recording in the archives that she was tall and willowy with a terrific profile and luxuriant platinum blond-hair, the sort of girl who might, as far as looks were concerned, have been the star unit of the harem of one of the better-class sultans.
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As a rule, from what I've observed, the American captain of industry doesn't do anything out of business hours. When he has put the cat out and locked up the office for the night, he just relapses into a state of coma from which he emerges only to start being a captain of industry again.
I flung open the door. I got a momentary flash of about a hundred and fifteen cats of all sizes and colours scrapping in the middle of the room, and then they all shot past me with a rush and out of the front door; and all that was left of the mobscene was the head of a whacking big fish, lying on the carpet and staring up at me in a rather austere sort of way, as if it wanted a written explanation and apology.
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I suppose the fundamental distinction between Shakespeare and myself is one of treatment. We get our effects differently. Take the familiar farcical situation of someone who suddenly discovers that something unpleasant is standing behind them. Here is how Shakespeare handles it in "The Winter's Tale, " Act 3, Scene 3: ANTIGONUS: Farewell! A lullaby too rough. I never saw the heavens so dim by day. A savage clamour! Well may I get aboard! This is the chase: I am gone for ever. And then comes literature's most famous stage direction, "Exit pursued by a bear." All well and good, but here's the way I would handle it: BERTIE: Touch of indigestion, Jeeves? JEEVES: No, Sir. BERTIE: Then why is your tummy rumbling? JEEVES: Pardon me, Sir, the noise to which you allude does not emanate from my interior but from that of that animal that has just joined us. BERTIE: Animal? What animal? JEEVES: A bear, Sir. If you will turn your head, you will observe that a bear is standing in your immediate rear inspecting you in a somewhat menacing manner. BERTIE (as narrator): I pivoted the loaf. The honest fellow was perfectly correct. It was a bear. And not a small bear, either. One of the large economy size. Its eye was bleak and it gnashed a tooth or two, and I could see at a g. that it was going to be difficult for me to find a formula. "Advise me, Jeeves, " I yipped. "What do I do for the best?" JEEVES: I fancy it might be judicious if you were to make an exit, Sir. BERTIE (narrator): No sooner s. than d. I streaked for the horizon, closely followed across country by the dumb chum. And that, boys and girls, is how your grandfather clipped six seconds off Roger Bannister's mile. Who can say which method is superior?" (As reproduced in Plum, Shakespeare and the Cat Chap )
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There is, of course, this to be said for the Omnibus Book in general and this one in particular. When you buy it, you have got something. The bulk of this volume makes it almost the ideal paper-weight. The number of its pages assures its posessor of plenty of shaving paper on his vacation. Place upon the waistline and jerked up and down each morning, it will reduce embonpoint and strengthen the abdominal muscles. And those still at their public school will find that between, say, Caesar's Commentaries in limp cloth and this Jeeves book there is no comparison as a missile in an inter-study brawl.
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Have you ever seen a man, woman, or child who wasn't eating an egg or just going to eat an egg or just coming away from eating an egg? I tell you, the good old egg is the foundation of daily life. Stop the first man you meet in the street and ask him which he'd sooner lose, his egg or his wife, and see what he says!
A certain critic - for such men, I regret to say, do exist - made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained 'all the old Wodehouse characters under different names.' He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have out-generalled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.
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I read the paragraph again. A peculiar feeling it gave me. I don't know if you have ever experienced the sensation of seeing the announcement of the engagement of a pal of yours to a girl whom you were only saved from marrying yourself by the skin of your teeth. It induces a sort of - well, it's difficult to describe it exactly; but I should imagine a fellow would feel much the same if he happened to be strolling through the jungle with a boyhood chum and met a tigress or a jaguar, or what not, and managed to shin up a tree and looked down and saw the friend of his youth vanishing into the undergrowth in the animal's slavering jaws. A sort of profound, prayerful relief, if you know what I mean, blended at the same time with a pang of pity. What I'm driving at is that, thankful as I was that I hadn't had to marry Honoria myself, I was sorry to see a real good chap like old Biffy copping it. I sucked down a spot of tea and began brooding over the business.
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From my earliest years I had always wanted to be a writer. It was not that I had any particular message for humanity. I am still plugging away and not the ghost of one so far, so it begins to look as though, unless I suddenly hit mid-season form in my eighties, humanity will remain a message short.
How anybody can compose a story by word of mouth face to face with a bored-looking secretary with a notebook is more than I can imagine. Yet many authors think nothing of saying, 'Ready, Miss Spelvin? Take dictation. Quote no comma Sir Jasper Murgatroyd comma close quotes comma said no better make it hissed Evangeline comma quote I would not marry you if you were the last person on earth period close quotes Quote well comma I'm not so the point does not arise comma close quotes replied Sir Jasper twirling his moustache cynically period And so the long day wore on period End of chapter.' If I had to do that sort of thing I should be feeling all the time that the girl was saying to herself as she took it down, 'Well comma this beats me period How comma with homes for the feebleminded touting for custom on every side comma has a man like this succeeded in remaining at large mark of interrogation.
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My Aunt Dahlia, who runs a woman's paper called Milady's Boudoir, had recently backed me into a corner and made me promise to write her a few words for her "Husbands and Brothers" page on "What the Well-Dressed Man is Wearing". I believe in encouraging aunts, when deserving; and, as there are many worse eggs than her knocking about the metrop, I had consented blithely. But I give you my honest word that if I had had the foggiest notion of what I was letting myself in for, not even a nephew's devotion would have kept me from giving her the raspberry. A deuce of a job it had been, taxing the physique to the utmost. I don't wonder now that all these author blokes have bald heads and faces like birds who have suffered.
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The principle I always go on in writing a novel is to think of the characters in terms of actors in a play. I say to myself, if a big name were playing this part, and if he found that after a strong first act he had practically nothing to do in the second act, he would walk out. Now, then, can I twist the story so as to give him plenty to do all the way through? I believe the only way a writer can keep himself up to the mark is by examining each story quite coldly before he starts writing it and asking himself it is all right as a story. I mean, once you go saying to yourself, "This is a pretty weak plot as it stands, but if I'm such a hell of a writer that my magic touch will make it okay, " you're sunk. If they aren't in interesting situations, characters can't be major characters, not even if you have the rest of the troop talk their heads off about them." (Interview, The Paris Review, Issue 64, Winter 1975)
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I'm not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it's Shakespeare - or, if not, it's some equally brainy lad - who says that it's always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping.
One of the Georges, " said Psmith, "I forget which, once said that a certain number of hours' sleep a day-I cannot recall for the moment how many-made a man something, which for the time being has slipped my memory. However, there you are. I've given you the main idea of the thing; and a German doctor says that early rising causes insanity.
Man's inability to get out of bed in the morning is a curious thing. One may reason with oneself clearly and forcibly without the slightest effect. One knows that delay means inconvenience. Perhaps it may spoil one's whole day. And one also knows that a single resolute heave will do the trick. But logic is of no use. One simply lies there.
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You probably think that being a guest in your aunt's house I would hesitate to butter you all over the front lawn and dance on the fragments in hobnailed boots, but you are mistaken. It would be a genuine pleasure. By an odd coincidence I brought a pair of hobnailed boots with me!' So saying, and recognising a good exit line when he saw one, he strode out, and after an interval of tense meditation I followed him. (Spode to Wooster)
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It would take more than long-stemmed roses to change my view that you're a despicable cowardy custard and a disgrace to a proud family. Your ancestors fought in the Crusades and were often mentioned in despatches, and you cringe like a salted snail at the thought of appearing as Santa Claus before an audience of charming children who wouldn't hurt a fly. It's enough to make an aunt turn her face to the wall and give up the struggle.
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I could still see that Pauline was one of the most beautiful girls I had ever met, but of the ancient fire which had caused me to bung my heart at her feet that night at the Plaza there remained not a trace. Analysing this, if analyzing is the word I want, I came to the conclusion that this changed outlook was due to the fact that she was so dashed dynamic. Unquestionably an eyeful, Pauline Stoker had the grave defect of being one of those girls who want you to come and swim a mile before breakfast and rout you out when you are trying to snatch a wink of sleep after lunch for a merry five sets of tennis.
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