Tuesday, June 19, 2007

chandler, heyer, wodehouse, and hurting hands

“What are you doing here? What have you come for?”

“Work,” said Psmith, with simple dignity. “I am now a member of the staff of this bank. Its interests are my interests. Psmith, the individual, ceases to exist, and there springs into being Psmith, the cog in the wheel of the New Asiatic Bank; Psmith, the link in the bank’s chain; Psmith, the Worker. I shall not spare myself,” he proceeded earnestly. “I shall toil with all the accumulated energy of one who, up until now, has only known what work is like from hearsay. Whose is that form sitting on the steps of the bank in the morning, waiting eagerly for the place to open? It is the form of Psmith, the Worker. Whose is that haggard, drawn face which bends over a ledger long after the other toilers have sped blithely westwards to dine at Lyons’ Popular Café? It is the face of Psmith, the Worker.”

At last, a Wodehouse I can appreciate; nay, verily adore. It is the face and form of Psmith that accompanied me on my recent visit to Kerala, so full of green growing things, temples and the kindness of relatives, and unlike with previous attempts at knowing and loving Wodehouse [Jeeves and Wooster – sadly flat unless enacted by the great Fry and Laurie; Blandings – largely falling well short of the standard set by the terrific, pitch-perfect “Lord Emsworth & The Girlfriend”] and did not disappoint in the least.

Psmith is the sort of character who can keep you company day in and day out as you ride your daily commute to your prestigious clerical job – and what job isn’t, these days, unless you’re the sort of person who gets paid to create something other than code? – and wonder at the comfort and stability of an undocumented life. Psmith is there to help you grow older without realising it. Like all good comedy, I fancy. Psmith is what the Rajesh Khanna character in Bawarchi would be if he lost the annoying three-fourth trousers and sanctimonious manner. After all, none of us really know what the hell we are talking about.

My waking hours have been filled with mid twentieth-century literature [and honest toil, which would not take very long to blog about] of the despicable, cheap-thrill sort. I’ve resigned myself to the nightmares and taken Raymond Chandler up wholeheartedly again. I read The High Window and The Lady in the Lake and The Little Sister and have grown fonder and fonder of That Man, Philip Marlowe, with his gigantic soft spot for humanity and his constant struggle to keep laughing at himself. I don’t understand why mainstream literature courses still undervalue Chandler. Studying Salinger over Chandler should be made illegal. I don’t understand how [or if] people go through modern American literature classes without studying Chandler’s California. It is said that Quentin Crisp introduced Armistead Maupin to a friend as, “This is Armistead Maupin, he invented San Francisco,” and if there is any invented Los Angeles that deserves to stay alive in imagination it is Chandler’s LA.

I’ve also been reading some Georgette Heyer. ‘The Grand Sophy’ was ludicrously enjoyable until about three-quarters in, when our Regency heroine, a young woman of singular talent and competence, walks into the mouth of hell [or what they called regular London back then] to recover a debt for a young cousin and encounters the – usurer, I suppose, is the right word. What follows is a chapter of the most poisonous anti-Semitism I have ever read in my life – beaky noses, greasy palms, and other less pleasant stereotypes. The book’s first edition? 1950. I suppose this is what Jane Austen called a meanness of understanding. The rest of the book was ruined for me, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to pick it up again.

And all this because my wrists are beginning to warn ominously of the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome, which means sitting back and typing only as much as required to earn my honest wage. Thankfully football season is over, so the compulsion to blog does not war with medical necessity [and the talented little Azzurrini went the way of every talented Italian side ever and crashed out of their Baby Euro championship or whatever. And RM won La Liga. Can we say ‘bollocks’ please.] I could have celebrated my return to the blogosphere with the story of my harrowing wait for medical attention at Hyderabad’s most prestigious hospital, but if you’re at all familiar with this blog it should be fairly evident that I try to exercise discernment in matters of reality.

Ouch. Now to bed. What have you been reading?


  1. you were ill? Had to be hospitalised?

  2. and here we thought you were busy shifting houses.
    a.m.smith, incidentally - quite in love with the sedate ramblings of a law professor.

  3. Sorry to intrude. I came here because of the subject and liked your comment on Wodehouse and Heyer very much.

    What causes me to speak up, however, is your mention of carpal tunnel syndrome. I've had it too, and it's gone. Did you ever try to counteract it by taking large doses of Vitamin B6? I don't know if that helps in every case -- in mine it helped tremendously. And no, I'm not one of those spammers.

    Good luck, and thanks for that very entertaining review (I'm reading Maria Edgeworth's "Castle Rackrent", for the time present).

  4. mithun: no, no. :)

    punct: what brilliant piece of legislation has you a-flutter, then?

    georged: hi and welcome! and thank you so much for the tip. i do have some pills i'm supposed to be taking but regular exercise seems to be helping it so i think i'm staving the cts off for the next little while at least. but i shall keep your advice in mind. castle rackrent is an absolutely delicious-sounding read :)

  5. no legislation - just smith's newer dalhousie series. i think its more because its set in Edinburgh - such a pretty city.

  6. anonymouse11:39 pm

    Not all jobs involving code are clerical.

    And if you are getting carpal tunnel, the best recommendation is to adjust your posture, use the mouse less and get a better keyboard.

    Exercises help a bit, but nothing like being able to type continuously on a keyboard withuot breaking for a mouse.

  7. Heyer?? Why????

    Are you feeling better now??

    Reading - just finished "Thousand Splendid Suns".....did you read "The Kite Runner"?? (so many questions).

  8. 'At last, a Wodehouse you can appreciate'? Fuck! Where have you been? Psmith is just about the best, though.

    Fry was good, Laurie was a stupid mistiming prick. The best TV adaptation was 'Wodehouse Playhouse'.

  9. Where have you been

    Obviously not on whatever's got you all worked-up. I just don't like Wodehouse all that much.