The man goes to a lot of trouble to swindle honestly – like you.
Günter Grass, Local Anaesthetic
On the toilet they were not allow to remain longer than three minutes; the paper was cut from journals and the Novices were very precise in the removal of pages that contained advertisements for underwear or soldiers’ jokes.
[Auf die Klosett sollten sie nicht länger verweilen als drei Minuten; das Papier wurde aus Zeitungen ausgeschnitten, wobei die Novizinnen streng darauf achteten, dass die Blätter keine Frivolitäten enthielten, weder Reklamen für Unterwäsche noch Soldatenwitze.]
Thomas Hürlimann, Vierzig Rosen
When you think you’ve read everything some author has written – megalomania mostly, in this case though a sincere conviction – it is a special experience to suddenly find a book which, yet, contains new material. That is, new for me. After all, the stories by P.G. Wodehouse collected in The Swoop! are the oldest he ever wrote.
They were edited by David A. Jasen and honoured by an introduction from Malcolm Muggeridge – or to be precise: his Appreciation. The book came to me from all over the ocean, ordered from Amazon and advertised as ‘in reasonable condition’. This is certainly true for the quality of the pages that do not seem to have been read at all. The cover, however, bears a number not to be deleted, inside a red stamp reads DISCARD. One is now sure that it was part of a library.
In 1979 The Seabury Press in New York published this volume as a ‘Continuum Book’. It was part of the collection of the library of the Evansville Christian Schools, 4400 Lincoln Ave. P.O. BOX 5353 in Indiana.
Mind you, Wodehouse’s writing can only be considered innocent and humorous, a genre which would not even scare an Islamite school today. Yet, inserted inside this book we find a nauseating, hypocritical, authoritarian and, in the case of these Wodehouse stories, most ridiculous little text which probably enlivens any book in this library:
Evans Christian School does not necessarily endorse all of the contents of this book or any book in the Evansville Christian School Library. It is understood that to meet the academic standards and to provide books of various fields of research and contents, Evansville Christian School must of necessity have many books of different types. The position of Evansville Christian School is well understood to be in strict adherence to the doctrines and principles taught in the Holy Scripture.
Like a lawyer has done his work. Christ, to have the precious minds of one’s children raped by such educators!
On page 43 of Wodehouse’s story The Swoop! it becomes truly comical, although not on purpose:
Mr. Hubert Wales had just published a novel so fruity in theme and treatment that it had been publicly denounced from the pulpit by no less a person than the Rev. Canon Edgar Sheppard, D.D. Sub-Dean of His Majesty’s Chapels Royal, Deputy Clerk of the Closet and Sub-Almoner to the King. A morning paper had started the question, “Should there be a Censor of Fiction?”
But now, let’s become serious. To the point!
My dad, an old resistance fighter and long gone, taught me to always keep an author’s political notions apart from his writings. The German philosopher Gehlen was a ‘fascist’, yet somewhere on top of my dad’s bookcases you would find this man’s books, read and annotated. Thanks to my father, I may read without any prejudice the poet Pound and sometimes admire him, or visit the buildings of Le Corbusier and value them.
Because of that intro by Muggeridge this edition of Wodehouse is especially interesting. As a young man Muggeridge was well and good of the Left, a fellow traveller, later he became a catholic renegade – but all together an honest man. All the more interesting, to read how he exonerates his friend Wodehouse and demolishes the myth that this American Englishman has been collaborating with the Nazi’s. Precisely that is what people always said and thought about Wodehouse – and still do.
During World War II Muggeridge was in Paris, a liaison officer to the French Sécurité Militaire. Here it was he met Wodehouse and his wife, this after the humorist had already read his by then infamous text in fascist Berlin – on the radio. It touched upon the manner in which he had been imprisoned by the Germans in western France and was then transported to Poland. That radio reading was considered as total treason to the cause of the Brits.
The judgement of Muggeridge:
The account (of his journey from French Le Touquet to Polish Tost) was of a mildly acerbic flippancy… I was able to observe and admire his extraordinary detachment, both about his own personal situation, and all the turmoil and tragedy going on around him. It was not, I realised, callousness or indifference, but just that he was not on the wave-length of the twentieth century.
Wodehouse, then, was no hypocrite. He was simply a political innocent. He did never do anything ‘wrong’.
Understandably then, I was completely wrong-footed when – after I told an English friend of my pleasure Wodehouse wise – she reacted with ‘That fascist!?’ It took some time to sink the Muggeridge account into her. And I am unsure whether in her literary judgement of the writer this political misconstruction is not still at work. Prejudice digs deep.
‘Now for something completely different’: Reading Günter Grass’ novel Örtlich Betäubt, more exactly the American translation with the title Local Anaesthetic. Like my Wodehouse copy this also came all the way from the United States. However, this time I bought the book myself, in 1972 and on Berkeley’s Telegraph Street. The translation dates from 1970, so obviously the idea was to read it after buying. I did not.
Thrice it was on the little pile ‘to read’. According to the notes I always make up front in a book, the first time then in 1972, then again on 15.4.74 – that is after I came back to the Netherlands – and once more in February 2016. No idea why I never started the actual reading of it. Perhaps better things to do, although what would have been the criterion of choice? Perhaps the ugly yellow colour of the hard cover did not suit me. Now, September 2016, we’re finally there.
How different my reading would have been if done in America, or for that matter already in ’74, in Amsterdam. At the time, Grass was known as an ‘antifascist’, a well bred lefty. Now, in 2016, I have all the fore-knowledge of his lying, while the subject of Local Anaesthetic is the generation that turned 17 at the end of that World War.
It is now impossible not to read the book as a kind of confession, however neatly covered up. Grass – so much I clear now – has been describing himself as he then actually was – a boy who was ‘wrong’ and was bad. However, he presents this Self in the persona of a woman teacher, the colleague of the novel’s protagonist who may have been a doubter, but always was ‘good’. In 1974 I would have certainly identified Grass with that protagonist, not with the woman, because then for sure reading the book as an objective treatise on the theme of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the War.
No two doubts about it. Even after his defence by Muggeridge, Wodehouse has been falsely accused of collaboration, suffering from this, though laconically. The German Günter Grass, on the other hand, was for decades the celebrated author of left wing Germany. Posing as such, only then to ‘confess’ at a very late stage of life what really happened, that he volunteered on a Nazi U-Boot – like someone who suddenly thinks about ‘getting to heaven before they close the door’. By the way and ironically so, the same thing that Muggeridge did.
This is hypocrisy, Grass’ late confession that is. Not Muggeridge’s conversion to Catholicism, which may have been merely the result of a failure of nerve.
And by the way, a pretty good novel it is, Local Anaesthetic.
Sierksma, La Roche 15.9/2016