Literary daybook, Oct. 15

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors

Published October 15, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On Oct. 15, 1954, the Benis family is evacuated as Hurricane Hazel strikes Toronto.
-- "Fugitive Pieces" (1997)
by Anne Michaels

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in literary history
On this day in 1881, P.G. Wodehouse -- Pelham Grenville, but known as "Plum," his fans as "Plumheads" -- was born, in Surrey, England. Although he had Barons, the sister of Anne Boleyn, and noblemen who attended upon Edward the Confessor in his ancestry, Wodehouse's biographers say he liked to avoid the topic. This is not surprising for one who spent a lifetime exploring, as George Orwell put it, "the comic possibilities of the English aristocracy." The biographers also regard as a defining moment the decision by Wodehouse's parents to send him, at age 2, back to England from Hong Kong, where Wodehouse's father was a magistrate. Until age 15, Wodehouse rarely saw his parents, spending his years with a series of nannies, relatives and schools; this, the theory goes, laid the groundwork for the detached style in which Wodehouse would poke fun at a world of uppity posing and fumbling. Wodehouse said he could not remember a time when he didn't want to be a writer, or want anything more than to be left alone to do it.

The indefatigable Jeeves is supervalet in 23 books, though not in this classic scene from "The Luck of the Bodkins":

"Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the hotel at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French. One of the things which Gertrude Butterwick had impressed upon Monty Bodkin when he left for his holiday on the Riviera was that he must be sure to practise his French, and Gertrude's word was law. So now, though he knew that it was going to make his nose tickle, he said:
'Er, garcon.'
'Er, garcon, esker-vous avez un spot de l'encre et une piece de papier -- note-papier, vous savez -- et une envelope et une plume.'
The strain was too great. Monty relapsed into his native tongue.
'I want to write a letter,' he said. And having, like all lovers, rather a tendency to share his romance with the world, he would probably have added 'to the sweetest girl on earth' had not the waiter already bounded off like a retriever, to return a few moments later with the fixings.
'V'la, sir! Zere you are, sir,' said the waiter. He was engaged to a girl in Paris who had told him that when on the Riviera he must be sure to practise his English. 'Eenk -- pin -- pipper -- enveloppe -- and a liddle bit of bloddin-pipper.'
'Oh, merci,' said Monty, well pleased at this efficiency. 'Thanks. Right-ho.'
'Right-ho, m'sieur,' said the waiter."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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