Back in 2016 I spent some delightful months carpentering an anthology of Wodehouse's best stuff on booze. On publication the thing seemed to slip down well enough. 'Splendid,' said the Times. 'Enjoyable,' said the TLS, and it ought to know. Two happy years later, this tonic-like volume is now in paperback, £8.99, and I call that a gift.
A common problem with authors who wrote well about alcohol – Scott Fitzgerald, say, or Charles Bukowski – is that often they were alcoholics, with all the misery that entails. Wodehouse, though, flies breezily free of such gloom. One of the great tonics of his famous comic writing is its sense that happiness may be reliably found through the ‘life-restoring fluid’ contained in ‘the magic bottle.’ Here are three of my favourite such moments:
Gregory Parsloe (in Pigs Have Wings) suffers romantic rejection yet is consoled by a tankard of beer that appears before him in the manner of an old pal: ‘A woman is only a woman, he seemed to be saying, but a frothing pint is a drink.’
Stanley Ukridge (in Nothing Serious), reduced to rummaging the drinks cupboard in dire need, finds only a crusty port; yet consoles himself with the thought that, often, ‘a good go in at the port at a critical moment has made all the difference to me as a thinking force.’
Motty (in Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest), having gotten disgracefully drunk while lodging with a friend, is offered by his host the chance to plead food poisoning as the cause, but defiantly refuses: ‘‘No!’ he replied firmly. ‘I didn’t do anything of the kind. I drank too much! Much too much. Lots and lots too much! And, what’s more, I’m going to do it again!’