Mr Mulliner flitted into our ken with that wondrous tapestry of humour and wordplay titled ‘The Truth about George’. And after that he remained one of the most sparkling members of Plumsville. Well, it is extremely difficult to pick a favourite with PG Wodehouse characters, but with Mr Mulliner one can hardly ever go wrong.
Perhaps what lends a different sheen of class to these tales is that by the time when Wodehouse turned his furiously working fingers to the fisherman-storyteller, he had already found his niche, his pen had found a flow, and the minutest jarring note of his formative years had long disappeared amidst the increasing guffaws of laughter that his writing brought forth.
In ‘The Truth About George’, the protagonist, George Mulliner stammers … and when he falls helplessly in love with fellow crossword enthusiast Susan Blake, he decides to consult a specialist for a possible cure to his ailment. The arrows of amore, after all, make the most effortless orators stammer in confusion when face to face with the beloved. A man naturally afflicted with this impediment, George found it frustratingly difficult to demonstrate his emotions.
The specialist, who came to know of the problem only after astutely advising George to sing him the details, came up with an ingenious prescription. George was asked to seek out three perfect strangers each day and speak to them.
The rest of the story needs to be read in order to savour the genius. However, the wisdom of Wodehouse is palpable even in this light hearted tale bordering on farce.
After the meeting with the specialist, George goes out in the world and thinks:
“The more George thought about the advice he had been given, the less he liked it. He shivered in the cab that took him to the station to catch the train back to East Wobsley. Like all shy young men, he had never hitherto looked upon himself as shy — preferring to attribute his distaste for the society of his fellows to some subtle rareness of soul. But now that the thing had been put squarely up to him, he was compelled to realise that in all essentials he was a perfect rabbit. The thought of accosting perfect strangers and forcing his conversation upon them sickened him.”
There. In a small paragraph, Wodehouse lays bare the deepest secret of millions of shy men and women around the world, with the light touch of humour laced with honesty.
I need not elaborate on this. Every shy individual who has walked the planet has gone through this absolute alarm of society and conversation, while almost every one of this tribe has, sometime or the other, rationalised his or her terror as ‘subtle rareness of soul’.
This was experience crystallised into wisdom. Wodehouse would have known, for he was one of the shyest of them all. And he had the phenomenal gift of not taking himself too seriously. Hence, he could slice through the abstract layer of ‘subtle rareness of soul’ and lay bare the perfect rabbit. Wondrous insight into human nature.
Of course, Wodehouse does not hold back while speaking of the other end of the spectrum. When George cures himself of the condition: “Since that day George, believe it or not, has not had the slightest trace of an impediment in his speech. He is now the chosen orator at all political rallies for miles around; and so offensively self-confident has his manner become that only last Friday he had his eye blackened by a hay-corn-and-feed mechant of the name of Stubbs.”
Well, there is a bit of delightful political satire thrown in … One has to look for it, but the works are full of such glittering gems.