If P. G. Wodehouse were immortal – or had just looked after himself exceedingly well – he would have turned 139 today. Of course, like all great literary figures, he did achieve a sort of immortality, making a fool of Father Time with the ageless stories he wrote.
England's godfather of gentle society comedy, he was a writer who had that deathless ability – to pinch the famous Clive James quip – to turn a phrase until it caught the light.
But more than that, it's hard to think of any author in history who feels more of their time, and yet so enduringly funny. In Wodehouse's case, bumbling Bertie Wooster and his bacon-saving butler Jeeves have become synonymous with that shrinking gene pool of upper-class Edwardian England, where wars were won on tea and croquet and lunch could last a lifetime. Not to mention his many other stories as well.
So, in celebration of the man who gave us Jeeves and Wooster, here are 15 of his best quotes to bring a smile to your face or, as Jeeves might put it, make you “say tra-la-la and feel in mid-season form.”
“I marmaladed a slice of toast with something of a flourish, and I don’t suppose I have ever come much closer to saying ‘Tra-la-la’ as I did the lathering, for I was feeling in mid-season form this morning."
“I hadn't the heart to touch my breakfast. I told Jeeves to drink it himself.”
“A melancholy-looking man, he had the appearance of one who has searched for the leak in life's gas-pipe with a lighted candle.”
“The Right Hon. was a tubby little chap who looked like he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say 'When.'”
"It was one of those cases where you approve the broad, general principle of an idea but can't help being in a bit of a twitter at the prospect of putting it into practical effect. I explained this to Jeeves, and he said much the same thing had bothered Hamlet.”
“The voice of love seemed to call to me, but it was a wrong number.”
“I pressed down the mental accelerator. The old lemon throbbed fiercely. I got an idea.”
“Honoria, you see, is one of those robust, dynamic girls with the muscles of a welter-weight and a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging over a tin bridge. A beastly thing to have to face over the breakfast table. Brainy, moreover."
“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, 'Do trousers matter?'"
"The mood will pass, sir.”
“At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies.”
“'What ho!' I said.
'What ho!' said Motty.
'What ho! What ho!'
'What ho! What ho! What ho!'
After that it seemed rather difficult to go on with the conversation.”
‘It was one of those still evenings you get in the summer, when you can hear a snail clear its throat a mile away.’
“That’s the way to get on in the world – by grabbing your opportunities. Why, what’s Big Ben but a wrist-watch that saw its chance and made good?”
“She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season.”
“Intoxicated? The word did not express it by a mile. He was oiled, boiled, fried, plastered, whiffled, sozzled, and blotto.”
Image: Penguin/Alicia Fernandes
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Image: Penguin/Alicia Fernandes