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Saturday, March 11, 2006
Greatest Comic Novels

If Roger Kimball's got enough smarts to put Leave it to Psmith at the top of this list, then I've got to read the rest of the books he mentions.

1. "Leave It to Psmith" by P.G. Wodehouse (Doran, 1924).

May I begin a survey of superb comic novels by offering the collected works of P.G. Wodehouse--100 volumes, give or take? No? Well, how about "Leave It to Psmith"? Everyone knows about Bertie and Jeeves. Allow me to introduce Rupert Psmith. The "P" is silent, he explains, "as in phthisis, psychic, and ptarmigan." But the comedy is uproarious in this tale of an impecunious though impeccably turned out dandy who impersonates the modern poet Ralston McTodd--a scaly specimen--in order to cadge an invitation to Blandings Castle so that he can pursue the beautiful Eve Halliday. The plot is stuffed with improbable twists, farcical turns, breath-stopping complications and one of the greatest predawn flowerpot-throwing scenes in literature.

The Psmith novel is the linchpin in the Blandings saga and the flowerpot scene is its climactic moment. Wodehouse is, in my opinion, the greatest writer of the 20th century. This is as good a time as any to suggest a visit to the Wodehouse quote generator.

In the late 1980s, the Atlanta Braves had a pitcher named Pete Smith, and of course the back of his uniform read PSMITH, which immediately made him my favorite player. He was pretty much a journeyman player, not as good as the teams he played on.

BTW, several Psmith novels are now in the public domain as are some others and can be read at Project Gutenberg. Unfortunately, Leave it to Psmith is not one of those; if I recall correctly, it's a 1928 copyright, which means it's getting swept up with the Disney rat. However, you can read Something New there, which is the very first Blandings Castle novel.
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