P G Wodehouse and the Ukulele

From a reading of Wodehouse on the topic of romance, one might believe that the ukulele player has an unfair advantage — but that would only be in the year 1919, when A Damsel in Distress first appeared.

Consider his [George’s] position, you faint-hearted and self-pitying young men who think you have a tough row to hoe just because, when you pay your evening visit with the pound box of candy under your arm, you see the handsome sophomore from Yale sitting beside her on the porch, playing the ukulele. If ever the world has turned black to you in such a situation and the moon gone in behind a cloud, think of George Bevan and what he was up against. You are at least on the spot. You can at least put up a fight. If there are ukuleles in the world, there are also guitars, and tomorrow it may be you and not he who sits on the moonlit porch; it may be he and not you who arrives late. Who knows? Tomorrow he may not show up till you have finished the Bedouin’s Love Song and are annoying the local birds, roosting in the trees, with Poor Butterfly.

But if you read Thank you, Jeeves (1934), written by the same author, a different attitude to the ukulele (or its cousin, the Banjolele) might be detected.

Those who know Bertram Wooster best are aware that he is a man of sudden, strong enthusiasms and that, when in the grip of one of these, he becomes a remorseless machine — tense, absorbed, single-minded. It was so in the matter of this banjolele-playing of mine. Since that night at the Alhambra when the supreme virtuosity of Ben Bloom and his Sixteen Baltimore Buddies had fired me to take up the study of the instrument, not a day had passed without its couple of hours assiduous practice. And I was twanging the strings like one inspired when the door opened and Jeeves shovelled in the foul strait-waistcoat specialist… [Sir Roderick, who said:]

‘You’re a public menace. For weeks, it appears, you have been making life a hell for all your neighbours with some hideous musical instrument. I see you have it now. How dare you play that thing in a respectable block of flats? Infernal din!’

Some people have no heart.

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Published in: on November 13, 2009 at 5:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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