June 9, 2020

Book Briefs #3- Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse

“It is true of course, that I have a will of iron, but it can be switched off if the circumstances seem to demand it.”

Overview

A witty narration, a delicately put-up comedy of errors, with slapstick but hilarious characters- that is Joy in the Morning (by PG Wodehouse) for me.

The story revolves around the visit of Bertie Wooster and his butler, Jeeves to a rural neighbourhood, getting involved in an interesting love triangle, a secretive trade deal, a problematic matrimony and what not!

While for most novels, humour is only a means of making the narrative more interesting, Joy in the Morning is one of the few novels (and probably one of the best) which has humour at its very core.

What makes the Novel Humorous?

Unlike movies wherein visuals and audio are exploited to evolve humour, a written text enjoys limited creative faculties, namely storyline, writing style and characters, to convey the comedy. Wodehouse has exploited each of these creative instruments to create a rib-tickling novel.

The storyline, is made up of a delicately thought-out ‘concatenation of events.’ These events, however, seem absurd and stupid, when seen in isolation (for example, a school boy burning a house or a fiancĂ© repeatedly changing her to-be husbands after her engagement).

Similarly, the characters although hilarious, are unreal. Instead of building believable, deep characters, the novel relies on the oft-used technique of slapstick comedy- overly pronouncing a particular character trait of every character, so as to make them seem stupid and hence, funny. However, in doing this, the author has ended up making one-dimensional character with little depth.

That said, the witty narration more than compensates for the slapstick characters and absurd storyline. Unusual phrases, strange words and exotic literary quotes (and misquotes) have been employed to describe events, so as to make the narrative amusing and witty.

For example, consider this extract from the novel, which talks about the narrator’s visit to a bar-

“The appointment to which I had alluded was with the barman at the Bollinger. Seldom, if ever, had I felt in such sore need of a restorative. I headed for my destination like a hart streaking towards cooling streams, when heated in the chase, and was speedily in conference with the dispenser of life savers.”

The witty narrative, slapstick characters and farcical storyline- put together, make an amusing laugh riot!

History of the Novel and its Reflections in the Text

Most of the novel was written by Wodehouse in France, during the Phoney war. However, he was interrupted by the German occupation of France, in 1940, imprisoned for being a British national. He left the unfinished manuscript of the novel with his wife.

PG Wodehouse
(Source: Encyclopedia Britannica)
When he was released in 1943, he made a set of comic broadcasts from German radio, which prompted controversy in Britain and a threat of persecution. As a result, he never returned to Britain, where Joy in the Morning is based.

He completed the unfinished manuscript in Germany and finally published it in 1946. Wodehouse wondered about how Joy in the Morning would be received, given its delayed publication. In a letter from 1946, he wrote, “my stuff has been out of date since 1914, and nobody has seemed to mind.”

In view of the circumstances under which Joy in the Morning was written, Wodehouse’s biography calls it a ‘brilliant example of Wodehouse's literary escapism.’

Nevertheless, it is interesting to note how circumstances in which a novel has been written reflects in the novel itself. For example, Wodehouse refers to a fire in a house as a ‘holocaust’ and talks appreciatively of Napolean.

“Well, everybody enjoys a good fire, of course, and for a while it was in a purely detached and appreciative spirit that I stood eyeing the holocaust”

“Well, there it is. That’s Jeeves. Where others merely smite the brow and clutch the hair, he acts. Napoleon was the same.”

Why read it?

If you are looking for a fun-to-read, refreshing and amusing 300 pages, this is the book for you. I suggest you to read Joy in the Morning to appreciate the use of superior forms of language to evolve humour and succinctly describe emotions and realisations.

“There was a sound in the background like a distant sheep coughing gently on a mountainside. Jeeves sailing into action.” 

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