Pacing issues then and now

Check out this paragraph, the opening paragraph of a novel. When do you suppose this book was published? Anybody recognize the style?

“In as much as the scene of this story is that historic pile, Belpher Castle, in the countyof Hampshire, it would be an agreeable task to open it with a leisurely description of the place, followed by some notes on the history of the Earls of Marshmoreton, who have owned it since the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, in these days of rush and hurry, a novelist works at a disadvantage. He must leap into the middle of his tale with as little delay as he would employ in boarding a moving tramcar. He must get off the mark with the smooth swiftness of a jack-rabbit surprised while lunching. Otherwise, people throw him aside and go out to picture palaces.”

Anybody recognize PG Wodehouse? This one is A Damsel In Distress, which was originally published in 1919. Almost 100 years ago!

My mother got a bunch of reissued Wodehouse novels for Christmas. It’s been a while since I read any Wodehouse, so since she’s pressing them into my hands as she finishes them, I’m slowly reading them. I like ’em if the main characters aren’t total jackasses. (I mean, Bertie Wooster IS kind of a total jackass.) And what a fabulous writer! Not that I’m going to devote myself from now on to romantic comedies of manners, but still. Listen to this:

“There was a tense silence. What [the young] Albert was thinking one cannot say. The thoughts of Youth are long, long thoughts. What George was thinking was that the late King Herod had been unjustly blamed for a policy which had been both statesmanlike and in the interests of the public. He was blaming the mawkish sentimentality of the modern legal system which ranks the evisceration and secret burial of small boys as a crime.

“It’s all right, mister. I’m yer friend.”

“You are, are you? Well, don’t let it about. I’ve got a reputation to keep up.”

“I’m yer friend, I tell you. I can help yer. I WANT to help yer!”

George’s views on infanticide underwent a slight modification.

And so forth. It’s wonderful writing. It’s also PERFECTLY CORRECT English, which gives me yet another writer to recommend to people who want to raise their ACT (or whatever) scores. You can (and should, I guess) study grammar, but really there’s nothing like just reading a lot of really correct beautifully written prose to develop a feel for the language.

Anyway, this one is maybe my favorite so far. My other favorite so far is Jill The Reckless. Anybody read that one?

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4 thoughts on “Pacing issues then and now”

  1. Couldn’t guess the writer, but did peg the era, I think, to early 20th century. I’ve read some Wodehouse, but not a lot, as he’s the sort of writer I can only take in smallish doses. The libraries around here didn’t have a lot of his work, which didn’t help. I gather he’s considered a master of plotting, which I can see. While I can enjoy a book or story for plots I do better with both plots and character. Maybe if I read enough of one series I’d see the characters grow, but i didn’t, and the plotting wore on me.

    I really ought to dig him out again, though, and see what I think nowadays. (looks at the books waiting patiently for attention…..adds another few.)

  2. I don’t know if you have an ereader, but project gutenberg has several of his works.

    Did you see the series with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie? They were pretty good.

  3. Thanks, Michelle, I did eventually break down and buy one of the el cheapo kindles, so I could get some Wodehouse off Gutenberg. It can keep company with Bits of Gossip by R. Harding Davis. I don’t always think of Gutenberg’s site, even for really old works.

    No, I haven’t seen the series. Our TV died some years ago when we were in rather tight financial circumstances so we didn’t replace it and never developed the habit of watching stuff on line. It leaves more time to read books, after all. .

  4. I usually am very much a character reader, but character depth is not at all Wodehouse’s thing. I think if you read his longer series, you find the characters exactly the same in the last book as the first. Usually plot alone wouldn’t do it for me at all, but what I found I’ve really enjoyed is the style. So I guess for comedies of manners, for me, sheer style can substitute for depth.

    Plus, I’ve been reading the Wodehouse books while actually working on a new WIP, and light frothy comedic romances where everything works out are just about perfect when I can’t read anything too absorbing. I may go borrow some more.

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