Read Wodehouse and Read the Bible

Wodehouse, the product of a more biblically-versed era and, admittedly, a brilliant writer, was constantly making biblical allusions.

One reason to read Wodehouse is to admire his use of the Bible. I don’t think he had much of a faith commitment, but his biblical literacy is astounding. For example, take this from the opening pages of The Code of the Woosters, where Bertie is complaining about his rough sleep the night before: “I had been dreaming that some bounder was driving spikes through my head–not just ordinary spikes, as used by Jael the wife of Heber, but red-hot ones.” When’s the last time you’ve hear Jael referenced in a sermon, let alone a novel?

 

P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) is hands down one of the best writers in the English language, ever. He isn’t profound. He isn’t penetrating. His books may not be dissected in lit classes. But his command of vocabulary and syntax is amazing and his humor is, unlikely other humorists, actually very, very funny. There’s nothing like unwinding with a little Jeeves and Wooster after a four hour elder meeting to get the old egg cracking again, what?

Reading Wodehouse spin tall tales about foppish socialites and an unflappable butler is reminiscent of the best (and cleanest) episodes of Seinfeld. The stories are about nothing, but the characters are so memorable (e.g., the newt loving Gussie Fink-Nottle), the dialogue so perfectly ridiculous (“Hello ugly, what brings you here?”), and the put-downs so ingenious (“It was as if nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment”) that you can’t help grin, chuckle, and even occasionally cackle.

One reason to read Wodehouse is to admire his use of the Bible. I don’t think he had much of a faith commitment, but his biblical literacy is astounding. For example, take this from the opening pages of The Code of the Woosters, where Bertie is complaining about his rough sleep the night before: “I had been dreaming that some bounder was driving spikes through my head–not just ordinary spikes, as used by Jael the wife of Heber, but red-hot ones.” When’s the last time you’ve hear Jael referenced in a sermon, let alone a novel?

Wodehouse, the product of a more biblically-versed era and, admittedly, a brilliant writer, was constantly making biblical allusions.

Since leaving school he had not devoted much time to the study of the Scriptures, and the stories of the Old Testament had to a great extent passed from his mind. Had this not been so, he would now have been thinking how close was the parallel between his own predicament and that of Moses on the summit of Mount Pisgah. Moses had looked wistfully at a promised land which he was never to reach. He in his mind’s eye was gazing with equal wistfulness at a promised millionaire with whom there seemed no chance of ever talking business.

Here’s a clergyman wondering to Bertie, who is secretly engaged in a gambling ring betting on the length of sermons, if his message might be too long:

You do not think it would be a good thing to cut, to prune? I might, for example, delete the rather exhaustive excursus into the family life of the early Assyrians?

And then there’s this allusion to Job 39:25 (which I had to look up):

He sat up with a jerk. The Biblical horse that said “Ha, ha” among the trumpets could not have displayed more animation.

For good measure, here are few more of my favorites strung together:

There was a death-where-is-thy-sting-fulness about her manner which I found distasteful.

For the first time since the bushes began to pour forth Glossops, Bertram Wooster could be said to have breathed freely. I don’t say that I actually came out from behind the bench, but I did let go of it, and with something of the relief which those three chaps in the Old Testament must have experienced after sliding out of the burning fiery furnace, I even groped tentatively from my cigarette case.

Bertie Wooster won the Scripture-knowledge prize at a kids’ school we were at together, and you know what he’s like. But, of course, Bertie frankly cheated. He succeeded in scrounging that Scripture-knowledge trophy over the heads of better men by means of some of the rawest and most brazen swindling methods ever witnessed even at a school where such things were common. If that man’s pockets, as he entered the examination-room, were not stuffed to bursting point with lists of the kings of Judah–

And last but not least:

He fingered his moustache unhappily. He was feeling now as Elijah would have felt in the wilderness if the ravens had suddenly developed cut-throat business methods.

So what’s the point of all this? Nothing profound, just two things: read Wodehouse and read the Bible–in reverse order of course.

Kevin DeYoung has been the Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan since 2004. Kevin blogs at the Gospel Coalition; this article is used with his permission.