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November 9th, 2004

Regarding Wodehouse and Slash

I've been given grief in the past for my adamant stance against Jeeves & Wooster slash, or for reading gay subtext into J & W. I think the following quote may shed some light onto my reasoning, or at least I hope it will...

The Honorable Schoolboy (A Review of Wodehouse: A Life)

In a great and noble defense of Wodehouse against the wartime calumny that was spread about him, Orwell observed that the complete omission of the sex joke was an astonishing sacrifice for a comic writer to make. But for Wodehouse it seems to have been no sacrifice at all. His marriage to Ethel, though it led to a great stepfatherly love for her daughter, was a business arrangement, with pets -- preferably Pekes -- standing in for offspring. The nearest approach to even an innuendo comes in Thank You, Jeeves, when Bertie finds his former fiancée, the American Pauline Stoker, in his bed, wearing his "heliotrope pyjamas with the old gold stripe." He phrases it thus: "The attitude of fellows towards finding girls in their bedroom shortly after midnight varies. Some like it. Some don't. I didn't."

One gasps at Wodehouse for going even as far as that. And given that he mentioned his "clap" only to his much more seasoned friend Guy Bolton, and late in life too, I prefer to believe that he was just trying to keep up, to appear to be one of the boys. He never found this easy, however. One of his editors, Christopher Maclehose, told me that he had once been to visit "Plum" on Long Island, and had found him shyly reading a copy of Alec Waugh's novel
A Spy in the Family. This little effort was an extremely mild essay in erotic comedy, but Wodehouse found it profoundly shocking and asked Maclehose if everything in England had become so filthy in his absence. If not disgruntled, as Bertie Wooster once put it in another connection, he wasn't exactly gruntled either...

This is what drives me so nuts about the idea of Jeeves & Wooster slash ... it turns the creator's work into something he would not appreciate, and certainly not approve of. Not in the sense that Wodehouse was homophobic, because he wasn't, but in the sense that it sexualizes something that isn't (and shouldn't be) about sex.

In the case of looking for "subtext" especially, I get particularly annoyed. Subtext is something the author wants you to read between the lines -- condemnation of the socialism thinly disguised as a parable of barnyard animals -- that's subtext. Deciding that Bertie and Jeeves must be a pair of closeted queens because Bertie stays a bachelor and Jeeves takes care of him like a doting wife might, is not. Jeeves also takes care of Bertie the way a doting father might -- does that mean it makes sense to write stories in which Jeeves is secretly Bertie's long-lost dad?

Most of the time, this kind of thing doesn't bug me; I tend to find slash and the like more silly than anything else. In the case of Jeeves and Wooster, tho, what bugs me about it is that I take great comfort in the chummy innocence of that Drones' Club milieu. Life today is too lurid by half; the world of movies, television, and literature has become one giant bathroom joke. Having the mental escape hatch of being able to visit Jeeves & Wooster, where a well-turned phrase is much more valuable than a well-turned leg, helps keep me sane. And seeing people attempt to splatter it with postmodern muck, drives me crazy.

-The Gneech

Fictionlet

As Brigid stepped out onto the porch, she saw something that made her raise her eyebrows. Greg was lying face-down in the grass, arms and legs splayed out, looking vaguely like Wile E. Coyote after a particularly long fall off of an impossibly high cliff.

"Erm," she said, walking over to him. "Are you all right?"

"Mmph," he said into the dirt.

"What?"

He looked up. "Yes, yes, I'm fine, thank you, fine."

"What are you doing?"

"What does it look like?" he said, sounding vaguely miffed. "I'm ... er ... I'm giving the world a hug!" He wiggled awkwardly, as if trying to squeeze the planet. "I love you, world! MWAH!"

She broke into giggles. "You tripped, didn't you?"

He rose to lean on an elbow. "Well, yes, if you want to force it out of me. But it would have been much more gallant for you to pretend to believe my cover story."

"You are a complete nutcase," Brigid informed him, still grinning. "You know that, don't you?"

"Well, yes, I do, if you want to force that out, too. But loveable!"

"Well I don't hear the world complaining, that's for sure. But I think it would be in better taste if you and the planet got a room."

-The Gneech

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