I wonder if anyone reads P.G. Wodehouse any longer? Apart from weirdos like me, that is. And was he ever respectable, in academic terms? I rather doubt it.I used to wonder the same thing. I discovered Wodehouse when I was a 20-year-old student of English literature. I'm not sure what exactly attracted me to him initially (though I suspect that I was probably just trying to cultivate some pretentious undergrad eccentricities, along with 90 percent of my classmates), but I was quickly and genuinely sucked into the Wodehouseian universe, as complete a literary universe as you'll find in any genre.
Fortunately, I lured my good friend Schimpky into this universe with me, so I had someone off of whom to bounce reference points. For example, if a classmate said something dippy during a seminar, I could mutter, "Don't you think that the stars are God's daisy chain?" or "Every time a wee fairy blows its nose, a baby is born," and Schimpky would chuckle appreciatively. (I never said I wasn't a snotty undergrad. So were you, so don't you judge me.)
I remember finding some incredibly convoluted way to mention Wodehouse to one of my most intimidating profs (who, by virtue of being intimidating, was therefore the most alluring and challenging bait to a professional suck-up like me) during a student/professor mixer. (In retrospect, I can only begin to imagine how much our professors must have dreaded these events.) After telling her that I'd spent the summer addicted to P.G. Wodehouse, she efficiently deflated me by replying, "But after you've read one of his books, haven't you read them all?"
To this day, I still have a lot of respect for that woman.
Notwithstanding the fact that P.G. Wodehouse novels are kind of the early 20th-century equivalent of Sweet Valley High books, I love them and continue to use them as comfort reading. I stopped adding new books to my collection (I have 20 or so of them, but Wodehouse wrote more than 90) when I was standing in a used book store leafing through one and realized that I couldn't even tell if I'd read it already.
But I still have my favourites. I love Bertie and Jeeves, of course, especially The Code of the Woosters (in my opinion, Wodehouse's crowning achievement, and possibly one of the finest comic novels of all time). And you can't go wrong with the Psmith novels (the "P" is silent, as in "ptarmigan" or "psychologist"), particularly Psmith, Journalist.
I think Wodehouse's timelessness can best be summed up with this quote by Evelyn Waugh, which appears on the back of most of Wodehouse's paperbacks:
Mr Wodehouse's idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.
I bet Waugh wasn't even trying to kiss a professor's ass when he wrote that.
(It's never too late to hop on the fan train. Get started with this Bloomsbury piece, which lists notable Wodehouse sites.)