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Spring Symposium on UR and Community Engagement has ended
Tuesday, April 24 • 1:00pm - 1:20pm
Criticizing P.G. Wodehouse: A Reconsideration Of The "Performing Flea”

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During the 20th century, British novelist and humorist Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (P.G. Wodehouse) attained tremendous popularity both in Great Britain and America. Even today, his characters Psmith, Jeeves, and Bertie Wooster are recognizable and oft-quoted. Wodehouse’s work, however, is rarely a popular topic of discussion in critical circles. His contemporaries, specifically, afford Wodehouse very little serious critical attention. And while noted authors and critics such as George Orwell are lavish in their praise of Wodehouse’s technical abilities as a writer, most fail to acknowledge Wodehouse as socially or culturally relevant. What was it about Wodehouse’s work that so bothered the earliest critics? My essay contextualizes this antagonistic posture within the 20th-century academic discourse on the “culture industry,” a body of criticism which discusses the detrimental effects of mass-produced (and implicitly popular) media on the society which consumes it. Many participants in the culture industry discussion espouse a notion that the purpose of popular media is to perpetuate and further solidify the influence of the wealthy elite over the masses. These critics argue that the output of the culture industry serves to protect a “status quo.” Using the Wooster novels—Wodehouse’s most popular series—I counter that popular authors, like their highbrow counterparts, challenge societal values and institutions effectively, if not overtly. Specifically, my essay looks at Wodehouse’s commentary on feminism and class toward an understanding of how popular authors appease their readers while simultaneously challenging their deepest beliefs.

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Tuesday April 24, 2018 1:00pm - 1:20pm
232 Karpen Hall