Fan Puts Humorists Novels on Net
by Kevin O'Flynn,
To his fellow lecturers in the Mechanics and Mathematics
Department of Moscow State University, he is known as plain old
Mikhail Kuzmenko. But in his free time Kuzmenko transforms into
Sir Watkyn Bassett, the stuffy English aristocrat created by
novelist P.G. Wodehouse.
Wodehouse's comic novels, depicting the foppish, feather-brained
aristocrats of 1920s England, were outlawed by Soviet censors who
thought his characters might corrupt readers' minds. Now, though,
Kuzmenko is leading a high-tech comeback through his online P.G.
Kuzmenko fell in love with P.G. Wodehouse's writing three years
ago after seeing a television series based on the author's best-known
characters, Jeeves and Wooster.
"I bought a couple of books," said Kuzmenko "And I began to
communicate [on the web] with people from around the world and
found out about societies, admirers, web pages .,. and decided to
create my own page devoted to Wodehouse in Russia."
Since it was set up in 1996, Kuzmenko's web site
(mech.math.msu.su/~gmk/pgw.htm) has registered 36,000 hits. It
features the covers of most of Wodehouse's books translated
into Russian, information on where to buy books and videos in
Russia and even a picture of Wodehouse's gravestone.
Kuzmenko's society is not quite ready to compete with others
around the world. There have been no Russian meetings like the
Chicago convention last year where members dressed up as their
favorite characters, emulating the aristocratic featherbrains
of Wodehouse's Drones club by throwing cards into top hats and
betting enormous sums on egg and spoon races.
"It's not a formal society, it's a virtual one. Those who want to
consider themselves a member can," said Kuzmenko. "We haven't got
that many ... because [people] didn't know about him. He wasn't
translated because he didn't write about the life of
the poor, the hard life of the workers, like Dickens. He wrote
Ranked by many as one of the century's greatest humorists,
Wodehouse, who died in 1975, wrote more than 90 books and more
than 20 film scripts. His most famous creations are the
indefatigable manservant Jeeves and his rather dim but lovable
master Bertie Wooster.
Wodehouse was published in the Soviet Union for a brief lime in
the 1920s because his humorous stories of upper class frivolity
were considered satirical, present day translator Natalya
Trauberg remembers her father being a fan. "My father and his
friends worked in the cinema. In those days, they were considered
eccentric, which was very un-Soviet. Then they became very
unhappy, which was very Soviet, they loved Wodehouse very much,"
she said. "They loved him not because he was very satirical, but
because they passionately wanted to be like the people from
Drones. They dreamed about that kind of life."
Translations dried up, though, after an article in a newspaper
appeared denouncing Wodehouse as decadent.
It is not known for certain why the authorities changed their
minds about Wodehouse, but perhaps a golfing short story
published in 1922 had something to do with it.
"The Clicking of Cuthbert" tells of Vladimir Brusiloff, a
Russian novelist who "specialized in gray studies of hopeless
misery where nothing happened till page 380, when the mujik
decided to commit suicide."
In the story, Brusiloff regales Cuthbert, a golfing fanatic, with
tales of his foursome match against Lenin and Trotsky:
"Someone in the crowd he tries to assassinate Lenin with
rewolwers - you know that is our great national sport, trying to
assassinate Lenin with rewolwers - and the bang puts Trotsky off
his stroke, ... and we win the hole, and I clean up 396,000
rubles, or 15 shillings in your money. Some gameovitch!"
Even though copies of Wodehouse's books were hard to find,
Trauberg, who has also translated G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis,
became a fan after she was given a Wodehouse book in English
more than 50 years ago.
"I fell in love with him in 1946 when I was a student" she
said. "I think he's the best writer you can find for our country.
He gives you freedom and comfort ... exactly what Russians are