Quotations from P G Wodehouse are copyright of, and reprinted by permission of, the Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate © 2019 The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)

The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)

Savoy Tup, 23rd November 2016

AGM 2016 Report

He is ashamed to admit it, but this was your correspondent’s first visit to the Savoy Tup since it became the venue for the Society’s meetings. Which would explain why upon arriving he stood at the unmanned upstairs bar counter for ten minutes before the penny dropped that you had to get your drinks downstairs. I’m sure no one noticed.

This small embarrassment having been overcome, he indulged in a spot of the obligatory b & s before the illustrious Hilary Bruce called the assembled multitude of 30-odd to order. This was done by using an Entertainments Impresario, a glass tumbler, and an ice shovel (which sounds like a scene from a Plum plot, or even a game of Cluedo – I accuse Professor Kent, in the upstairs bar, with the ice shovel). Anyway …

Hilary’s first duty, done with the heaviest of hearts, was to remind those present of the huge debt of gratitude the Society owed to Norman Murphy, who had passed away last month. He had set the style and tone of the way the Society was run, and he really ought to be there. Everyone’s condolences went out to Elin. Hilary then moved on to the business of the meeting.

Hilary reported that the ship was still afloat, still solvent, and still stable. She thanked the committee members, the Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate, and the backstage team (website manager, database manager, etc) for their ongoing commitment and time.

She then handed over to Ian Walton, who had taken over as Treasurer from Jeremy Neville. He thanked Jeremy for the handover of “a bewildering variety of numbers” but had come to the conclusion very quickly that the Society was “reasonably healthy” and conformed to the basic principle that more came in than went out. He also commended the Committee for bringing the Jeeves Centenary event in within budget.

The Society’s officers were then duly proposed and seconded, as were the two retiring-by-rotation-but-standing-again committee members. There being no AOB Hilary left the floor to respectful applause. It would have been more rapturous had she broken her PB of seven minutes, but it had taken almost twelve. It being his debut, the blame for this was naturally thrust upon the Treasurer!

A ten-minute break to replenish drinking receptacles was duly granted, before the afore-mentioned Entertainments Impresario Paul Kent took ice shovel in hand once more to start the evening’s entertainment.

We were then treated to a fascinating half hour in the company of Gabriella Valentino (pictured left with Paul), talking about the ups and downs of translating Wodehouse into Italian. As Hilary said in her vote of thanks afterwards, although she had expected it to be entertaining, Gabriella had far exceeded those expectations.

Gabriella is currently studying for a PhD at Swansea University in translating Wodehouse into her native language. She told us how she read her first PGW at the age of 12 (in Italian), given to her by her father. She believes it was Heavy Weather, and immediately liked its detached, funny style, although initially she didn’t care for the narration in the first person.

Her first task had been to establish a definitive list of PGW’s novels, which had not been as easy as expected. She had looked at the question of how the humour travelled and the vital question of ‘Why is it funny?’ Previous analysis had just focussed on jokes, but of course PGW is so much more. She had identified things like stylistic devices, idioms, jargon, which didn’t have direct equivalents, just the same sense.

She gave us a quick history of fashions in translation in Italy, including under Fascism in the 20’s and 30’s when many things had to be changed to beat the censor, including sometimes even the plot!

The talk ‘s finale was a spoken translation of a passage, initially read out in English by Paul, then by Gabriella and her husband in two different versions in Italian. (Your correspondent did wonder at this point quite what people passing outside the door on their way to the Gents loo would have thought was going on!)

In the end the difficulty of translating Wodehouse into any other language was encapsulated by a question from the floor – what to do with a phrase like ‘old bean’. Of course the literal equivalent in Italian would mean nothing.

In the middle of it all she came out with an intriguing fact about Plum, which may partially explain the longevity of his oeuvre. It is generally accepted that after 70 people tend to use fewer words, be more economical in their expression – but there is no evidence of this with Wodehouse right up till his death. So there you are (possibly).

The final item in the evening’s proceedings was the Parish Notices from our Chairman. These were:

And so the meeting finished as it had started, with memories of the man who founded the Society. With him in his mind your correspondent wandered back up onto The Strand – and bumped straight into Sir Tom Jones walking home! It had been one of those evenings.

Mike Swaddling