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“Oh, I pity the abstainer!”

A glass of wine with the Elk.

Today, Elizabeth II surpasses George III to become the U.K.’s second-longest reigning monarch, with only Victoria left to beat.  The Beeb reflects on these three, and I can’t help sensing a certain wistfulness in its tone:

Victoria’s reign witnessed Britain’s rise to become the then-global superpower. There were industrial, cultural and scientific changes on an unprecedented scale and by the time of her death the British Empire encircled the globe.

George III’s reign was also a period of great change for Britain. The American colonies may have been lost during his time on the throne, but the military ambitions of France were decisively defeated at the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo.

George III was also, incidentally, the first king of the entity known as “the United Kingdom” after the union of the crowns of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801.

 But neither reign can surely quite match the sheer scope of the changes that have occurred during the reign of the present Queen.

She came to the throne less than seven years after the end of World War II. Britain was victorious but essentially bankrupt. Sir Winston Churchill was prime minister and food was still rationed.

In the years that have followed Britain has shed its empire and seen changes to virtually every significant aspect of national life that could scarcely have been imagined on that February day in 1952 when she was so suddenly propelled onto the throne by the death of her father, George VI.


You can, like Mrs. P, call the House of Windsor a pack of German trailer-trash and get no real protest out of me for the most part.  However, I will say a) that I am very fond of HM and b) that the poor woman deserves much, much better than what has befallen her (and her people) over this wretched past half-century.

Kevin Williamson debones a new defense of Marxism by Terry Eagleton:

Marx and Lenin imagined a scientific system oriented toward the common good but created a system in which less knowledge is available to economic decision-makers and the narrow self-interest of the ruling class is elevated to commanding heights. And so, the “scientific system” will always lose. Nonetheless, it appears that there will always be those true believers, like Terry Eagleton, who will argue that socialism will work if  given one more chance. But the continuing, willful ignorance of Eagleton and his fellow socialists argues that they have not earned a second chance. Giving them a first chance was a grave error, one that inflicted upon the world murder and misery unprecedented in scale and unequalled since.

Read the rest.  I am routinely appalled when I come across more proof that Marxism continues to walk the earth like the Undead.   I am also reminded again of Peej O’Rourke’s statement that communists worship Satan, socialists believe perdition is a good system run by bad people, and liberals think we should all go to hell because it’s warm there in the winter.

The new theatre round the corner from the Port-Swiller residence is putting on a production in a few weeks of “By Jeeves.”  Last evening, Mrs. Robbo asked if I would like to go, and of course I said yes.  After all, it’s an evening out and it is live theatre.  However, I don’t mind telling you that I have some serious doubts about what’s in store.

First of all, this is Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Andrew Lloyd Bluidy Webber, the reigning King o’ Shlock.  I have never heard a piece of Andrew Lloyd Tinkerbell Webber that did not make me feel I was being force-fed aural twinkies.  Years ago, I was dragged down the Kennedy Center to see a production of “Phantom.”  Half way through the first act, I was already scrabbling for a sharp instrument with which to puncture my ear-drums.  So far as I can tell, Andrew Lloyd Twinkle-Toes Webber has one button and one button only, and that button is labeled “Sap.”  I pray that somewhere, somehow, somebody persuaded him to change his tune in dealing with Wodehouse, but it remains to be seen (and heard).

Of course, far better artists than Andrew Lloyd Sweet-Cheeks Webber have come a nasty smeller trying to build on Bertie and Jeeves.  Indeed, Wodehouse himself once wrote one of the short stories from Jeeves’ point of view, admitting in private correspondence afterward that it was a stinker.  C. Northcote Parkinson, who wrote good naval history and tolerable good historickal fiction, once wrote a novel about Jeeves’ life and times, and it was, as Plum was wont to say, like taking a spade to a soufflé.  And regular port-swillers will already know that although I admire the acting talents of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, their teevee series gives me the twitch.

I think there are two reasons for this pattern of egg-laying.

The first is a general misunderstanding of Jeeves, that supreme gentleman’s personal gentleman.  Alexander Cockburn got it right in his introduction to one edition of The Code of the Woosters:  Jeeves isn’t really a character, he’s more of a walking prop.  He’s a kind of deus ex butler’s pantry, good for laughs when displaying his encyclopedic knowledge or rescuing the young master from the soup, but beyond that nothing much more than paint and plywood.  And while Wodehouse uses him as a prop with the perfect timing of a professional juggler, he wisely never goes beyond that because it would change the whole balance of the act, making it quite unmanageable.  Anyone who tries to probe any deeper, to make Jeeves more “human,”  to add “context” to his relationship with Bertie, simply winds up tripping over his own feet and tumbling into the orchestra pit.

The second, as I have argued many times before, is that the true comic genius of the Bertie and Jeeves stories is in their telling.  Remember, these are all first-person narratives.  Yes, it’s funny when Jeeves throws a raincoat over an angry swan or omits to pack the white mess jacket with the brass buttons or slips gin into Gussie Fink-Nottle’s orange juice, but frankly, anyone could write something like that.  What makes Plum’s work stand out is the way he has Bertie recount these things – his language, his timing, his genial cluelessness as events sweep over and around him.  That’s the real comic gold (gold, Jerry!), and [Laying Down The Law Function/on] it is absolutely untranslatable into any form other than the written word. [Laying Down The Law Function/off]  This is why attempts to cast it into the form of a screenplay, a stage play, a musickal or something else are doomed from the start.

Sorry to be like this, but I am so intensely fond of Wodehouse’s work that I get rayther Mother Hen-ish about it.  Nonetheless, with all these admitted misgivings I will still try to enter into the spirit of the thing and give the show a fair hearing.  And, of course, I’ll let you know what I think afterward.


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May 2011