The Bertie conversions
Today’s confession — I tell you, gentle reader, things I really ought to keep to myself — is that I have never read P. G. Wodehouse. I am surrounded by people who have, so that I sometimes feel as if I were the only person in a large room of jollies who does not get the joke. Have never read him at all. And this although there are among these Wodehouseans some with proselytizing zeal. At least one has called me a “classic” Wodehouse character, then added, “Not Jeeves, but Bertie Wooster.” Now another adds, “A Bertie lacking a Jeeves.” Verily, from his further explanation I learn that I may have been Woostering, these last sixty years — a Hamlet without a solid Horatio; a Don Quixote without a Sancho Panza. Arjuna without Krishna.
I mention all this from a peculiar coincidence. In email, over the last few days, in three, now four unrelated screeds, the name of this British comic author has come up, in each case without the slightest tip from me. And in each case, Wodehouse was mentioned in connexion with the Catholic religion, and even with conversion. It is a dark mystery.
The more when I reflect upon the little I know of the personal history of a Swedish friend: a refined, almost dandyish, pipe-smoking intellectual. Oddly, he is a Catholic. Very Old-Mass, too. With a beautiful Swedish wife, also very Catholic, and innumerable perfectly behaved, Swedish-looking children, whom she carries about, three or four at a time.
Converts! … No, no, far weirder than that. … Swedish converts! … I had to ask him what led to his conversion: what had he been reading? what thinking? who inspired him? what could possibly turn a harmless Scandihoovian, soap-loving, post-Lutheran secularist boy into a red-meat mediaevalizing Papist?
To which he smoothly replied, “P. G. Wodehouse.”
“Um, I don’t think of Wodehouse as especially Catholic.”
“True, but while I was reading him, I discovered what is meant by ‘a sense of humour’. Being Swedish, I had no idea such a thing was possible. But when that penny dropped, it all made sense. Everything fit together: I must go to Rome.”
Let me add that I am still assimilating this information. I have met many Chesterton converts, and C. S. Lewis converts. I have even met an Evelyn Waugh convert, which I can understand. I should like to put myself down as a Hilaire Belloc convert. That would be a lie, but I think, a good one.
There are days when I wish that I still had a Comments thread. This, for the purpose of eliciting reader suggestions on “how this could be so.” For we have Wodehouse converts, who aren’t even Swedish. (I am thinking of four Bangladeshi brothers just now, who, as all Bengalis, were born laughing at the ludicrous nature of life on this Earth.) So curious, that I am toying with the exercise of reading this P. G. Wodehouse myself.
For it would be just like God, to use a low-brow, popular farcical humourist as the means to accomplish profoundly serious, heavenly ends.