Who Let Roderick Spode Edit Jeeves? - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Who Let Roderick Spode Edit Jeeves?
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Will publishers next lop off the silent “P” in “Psmith” for fear of otherwise offending the pterodactyls?

Penguin Random House most recently insensitively sicced its censors, which it euphemistically calls “sensitivity readers,” upon P.G. Wodehouse. This strange species undoubtedly hatched into the wider world from a university campus, a place that never trained Wodehouse and hardly so much as deigned interest in his fiction, which is devoured everywhere else.

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The word police took offense, nine decades after the fact, at Right Ho, Jeeves and Thank You, Jeeves. Wodehouse used the N-word in a colloquial manner to refer to minstrel shows performed by whites in blackface — spoiler alert: Bertie Wooster ends up in blackface — in Thank You, Jeeves. That offensive phrase, which begins with an N and ends with minstrel, appears (appeared?) once in Right Ho, Jeeves.  

The publisher, conjuring another N-word that rhymes with Yahtzee, does not list its rewrites to the heretofore sacrosanct modern classics. So, readers not keen on undertaking a line-by-line comparison of editions can only go by what others discovered long after the word purge occurred. Given that the same publisher did not merely bowdlerize but butchered Roald Dahl — bizarrely inserting, for instance, There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that,” into a description of the hairless harpies in The Witches — one cannot assume that Penguin Random House stopped with one ugly word with Wodehouse.

Presumptuous does not quite capture mediocre millennials rewriting Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming, and other talents to protect the eyes of people who so do not share their bridle that they buy enormous numbers of copies of what the publisher pretends is repulsive.

Rewriting these works quietly confesses guilt loudly. The argument that the owners of an artistic work possess the right to do with it as they wish ignores responsibility. If France voted to cut the Mona Lisa into sixty-eight million pieces so that each Frenchman could possess a part of what he or she owns, would, “Hey, it’s their painting,” really cut it as a response? We owe a basic duty to art not to take a sledgehammer to it.

“If your Wodehouse journey begins now,” Stephen Fry, who famously played Jeeves, said in 2012, “you are the luckiest person in the world.” For such innocents of Wodehouse, one of the most entertaining writers and possibly the funniest in the history of the English l., the idea of ridding his prose of a few “outdated” words may seem trivial.

The response to the current censorship similarly demands a Wodehousian combination of the practical and whimsical.

Outdated defines Jeeves and Wooster. Though the perspicuous valet and aimable gentleman of pointless leisure first appeared before American entry into the First World War and last appeared in a novel published after the resignation of Richard Nixon, they basically inhabited a cellophaned, freeze-dried sliver of time that never quite lapsed into the age of televisions, astronauts, and the Beatles. Jeeves and Wooster comfortably cohabitated with gramophones, rumble seats, and art deco. People in the earlier era spoke without a hint of exposure to campus sensitivity training, speech codes, and safe spaces.  

Given how enthusiasts of campus sensitivity training, speech codes, and safe spaces emphasize the moral inferiority of all previous eras in human history, erasure of all evidence besmirching our forebears would seem to undermine their project. Gussie Fink-Nottle does not at once obsess over newts and wish to eradicate all signs of their past existence, does he? 

The Black Shorts again come for Mr. Fink-Nottle and for Boko Fittleworth, Stilton Cheesewright, and Aunt Agatha, too. And it’s certainly not the first time Nazis abducted P.G. Wodehouse.

After spending time effectively under house arrest and then in a prison, Wodehouse wound up in a camp in central Europe, where he, in Woosterian fashion, said: “If this is Upper Silesia, what on earth must Lower Silesia be like?” While interned, he evaded Nazi censors by cleverly writing his literary agent and asking him to send money from his account to various Canadian families — a Jeevesian breadcrumb signaling the existence and location of their captive kin.   

The response to the current censorship similarly demands a Wodehousian combination of the practical and whimsical. The secondhand market, appealing to the same antiquarian impulse that Jeeves and Wooster provoke, naturally beckons. Wodehouse preservationists might otherwise beat the book Black Shorts with one word: Eulalie.

Daniel J. Flynn
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Daniel J. Flynn, a senior editor of The American Spectator, is the author of Cult City: Harvey Milk, Jim Jones, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco (ISI Books, 2018), The War on Football (Regnery, 2013), Blue Collar Intellectuals (ISI Books, 2011), A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, New York Post, City Journal, National Review, and his own website, www.flynnfiles.com.   
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