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Zoe Patrick


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Using Humour to Tackle the Class System: PG Wodehouse

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zoepatrick99
18 days ago
18 days ago
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Pelham Grenville Wodehouse better known as PG Wodehouse was a British author who was a famous humourist in the 20th century. You can count on him to tickle your funny bone with his refined sense of humour. His novels are one of the many few that readers can laugh out loud with, quite literally. Humorous though his books might be, the author sparks a discussion in the readers mind about larger topics.

Source- AP, 1947

A majority of his novels are satirical in nature, making a commentary on the period of the time. The class system of the Edwardian Era seemed to be the central theme in most of his books such as the Jeeves and Wooster series and the novels on life at the Blandings Castle.

The Jeeves and Wooster series feature a young aristocrat by the name of Bertram Wooster and his butler Jeeves. The relationship between the two of them is what brings out the humour in the plot lines. Through the character of Bertie, he talks about the kind of life the upper-class lived during the Edwardian Era. Having a butler employed was quite common during this time. Wodehouse uses the relationship of Bertie and a character like Jeeves to show the role butlers play in the lives of these aristocrats.

Bertie Wooster, often in the novels, is a bit of a daft individual who appears to have all the answers to all the problems. Yet, when in execution his solutions only end up causing more trouble than help. This is when Jeeves comes in. With his cleverness and wit, Jeeves always devices a plan behind the scenes and in the end, his solution prevails.

Bertie, along with other upper-class people, attended the Eton school. This was a prestigious institution at the time that raised young boys into learned gentleman. Unlike Bertie, Jeeves didn’t have a formal education. Yet, contrary to popular belief, Jeeves was smarter than his well-educated employer. P.G. Wodehouse is commenting on the fact that men didn’t need a formal and expensive education to prove his intelligence.

P.G. Wodehouse also discussed the difference of people with old money versus people from the working class. Families like that of Bertie Wooster have their earnings entirely from inheritance and therefore have no need to go and work. This is unlike characters like Jeeves who earns as a butler and is looked down for his profession.

The theme of class is also brought to light through the romances within the plot lines. Quite a few of his characters fall in love with people either below or above their class. They have to come up with an elaborate scheme to get permission from their elders to marry whom they want. In the novel Summer Lightning, there are two couples who seek the approval of their elders to marry for love. Ronnie is the nephew of Lord Emsworth, the Earl of Blandings. He comes up with a plan to gain Sue Brown, a chorus girl’s hand in marriage. He knows he will not be able to marry the girl of his dreams because Sue is of a lower class. So, Ronnie tries to steal Lord Emsworth’s pet pig Empress to later return it back and get the reward for the money so that he might gain his uncle’s favour and marry Sue.

This plot line itself shows how Wodehouse is poking fun at the fact that class seems to succeed over matters of the heart. Lady Constance, sister of Lord Emsworth, is a character always worried about what other people might think when a family member marries someone of a lower class. Characters like Ronnie who pay no attention to these class differences have to fight for or suppress their desires in order to appease their elders.

P.G. Wodehouse is well-liked for his ability to comment on social issues such as class without overtly laying out his opinions on the subject. He uses humour as a weapon against authoritative ideas which affected the social system of that time. He seeks to open up a dialogue with his readers, making them question their existing beliefs on matters like the class system in Britain. 

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