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Wodehouse Fans Gather in Philadelphia
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The New York Times 15 October 2001

Wodehouse Fans Gather in Philadelphia


PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Name tags were vital accessories at the international P.G. Wodehouse convention, although most used fictional names.

For an escapist weekend, passionate readers became the scary aunts, flamboyant playboys and fluffy women who inhabit the writer's lighthearted British novels.

It was a brief retreat from increasingly scary real life into a timeless, idyllic place.

However, one major character was missing.

Jeeves, the all-knowing manservant who looks after dimwitted Bertie Wooster in Wodehouse's most famous books, was nowhere in sight.

"Personally I think the name Jeeves is sacrosanct and no one should pick it," said Susan Cohen, president of the society's Philadelphia chapter.

About 150 fans from around the world attended the 11th Wodehouse convention, which was held in Philadelphia.

And in true Wodehouse style they had a ripping good time. They played cricket, badly, and gave out prizes to the best dressed players. They dressed up as their characters for an elegant banquet. They also attended a series of lectures, from fans and academics, on various aspects of Wodehouse's life and work.

"They share our love, our interest which the rest of the cold cruel world doesn't understand," Cohen said of her fellow Wodehousians.

Born in England in 1881, Wodehouse worked as a journalist and storywriter in London before moving to the United States in 1909. He then worked in musical theater, writing lyrics for composers Jerome Kern and George Gershwin, and published over 90 books before his death in 1975.

With his playful, inventive style, he is widely regarded as one of the great comic writers of the 20th century.

Wodehouse created a farcical land of lavish parties and country manors where the greatest evils were rough hangovers and demonic aunts.

In the Jeeves and Wooster books, Jeeves spends all his time rescuing Bertie from mind-boggling mix-ups with friends, women and family.

Aficionados said that Wodehouse was a welcome escape, now more than ever.

The men wearing suits and bowler hats, the women in flowing dresses and shawls drank cocktails, ate tea sandwiches and discussed Wodehouse all weekend. They are experts on obscure references and minor characters and never tire of quoting his work.

"People are loyal, they're devoted, they're dedicated and they're nuts," said Daniel Cohen, 65, who is Susan Cohen's husband.

The president of the Netherlands chapter, the first society organized in 1972, was there, as were about a dozen members of the United Kingdom society.

There are 12 societies in the United States (the first one was formed in Philadelphia in the 1970s), and others throughout the world. There are more than 800 members worldwide.

Many members say they've been with the books since childhood.

Elin Murphy, 47, who is president of the Wodehouse Society in the United States, said, "I think I was reading them in the womb."


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