The Wodehouse Conservative
From the Winter 2004 issue of Doublethink magazine: A sociology of wardrobe-obsessed conservatives.
11:00 PM, Feb 16, 2004 • By DAVID SKINNER
The affection for Wodehouse is non-ideological, but for ideological reasons, one can see how conservatives might find it easier to warm to a world full of servants and rich people and various stock characters, all cast in some idyllic time and place that is mostly of Wodehouse's giddy invention. If social realism has an opposite, this is clearly it. Yet, Wodehouse has his fans on the left, like Alexander Cockburn (and countless other English writers), who penned a lovely introductory essay for the paperback edition of The Code of the Woosters. And when the apolitical Wodehouse was accused of treason for doing a series of radio spots on Berlin radio under Nazi occupation (they turned out to be wholly innocuous), his defenders Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell, Malcolm Muggeridge represented many a political stripe.
If Wodehouse appeals more prominently to conservatives, here in America anyway, then it is to their little-mentioned eccentric side, their occasional embrace of a festive mood and farcical manner. The nattiness and pizzazz I've described are intentionally amusing. The Wodehouse conservative is unfailingly self-aware. Wodehouse's characters, too, seem to know what characters they are, only they never say so. Psmith, Jeeves, the Oldest Member of the golf comedies, each grins like the Cheshire cat. Nor do the Washington dandies ever lower themselves to letting on that their show is a wee something of a joke. Here again they follow in Wodehouse's steps. As Kimball puts it so well: "Wodehouse's real genius lay in his ability to endow patently absurd situations with momentary conviction."
Wodehouse is the conservative's Oscar Wilde--the key example of a most sweet frivolity, a landmark, a fixed point by which we navigate our way back and forth to the happy club where we join our friends for a drink and take in the pleasure of being alive.
David Skinner is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard and editor of Doublethink, the magazine of the America's Future Foundation. This article appears in the winter 2004 issue of Doublethink.