Russia falls for Jeeves and Wooster on web
by Mark Inglefield and Molly Watson
MODERN Russians, horrified by the rapid and violent
changes in their country, are seeking reassurance in
the novels of P G Wodehouse - which were branded
"decadent" and banned by Lenin more than 70 years
The books, now available throughout Russia, have
become required reading among the intelligentsia,
some of whom have taken to aping the mannerisms of
Wodehouse's foppish English aristocrats. Mikhail
Kuzmenko, a lecturer in mechanics and mathematics at
Moscow University, has set up a Wodehouse website,
the first of its kind in any former communist
It features translations of all of the books, and
details of shops stocking videos. It has registered
over 36,000 "hits" since it was started a year ago.
Interest in Wodehouse's comic masterpieces, which
feature Gussie Finknottle, the bespectacled newt
fancier, and tales of Blandings Castle and Lord
Emsworth's prize pig The Empress of Blandings, was
first ignited by the screening of the ITV series
Jeeves and Wooster in Russia a few years ago.
Unlike most Western authors, Wodehouse continued to
be published in Russia after the communists seized
power in 1917. The Soviet authorities believed his
books would show how decadent the West had become
under capitalism. With that endorsement, Wodehouse
built up a large following. But in the early Twenties
his works were outlawed on the grounds that they
would corrupt readers' minds.
The catalyst for the ban was a short story, The
Clicking of Cuthbert. Published in 1922, it tells the
story of Vladimir Brusiloff, a Russian novelist who
"specialised in grey studies of hopeless misery where
nothing happened till page 380, when the muzhik
[peasant] decided to commit suicide".
In the story Brusiloff regales Cuthbert, a typical
Wodehouse golfing fanatic, with tales of his foursome
round the links with Lenin and Trotsky. "Someone in
the crowd tries to assassinate Lenin with revolvers -
you know that is our great national sport, trying to
assassinate people with revolvers - and the bang puts
Trotsky off his stroke. We win the hole and I clean
up 396,000 roubles or 15 shillings in your money;
some game of golf."
That proved too much, and the books were removed from
the libraries and bookshops, although the Soviet
elite continued to read them. Mikhail Kuzmenko, who
writes his web page under the name of Sir Watkyn
Bassett, one of Wodehouse's delightfully stuffy
baronets, says he was initially concerned that normal
Russians would have no appetite for Wodehouse's brand
of frivolous, upper-class satire.
"Wodehouse didn't write about the life of the poor,
the hard life of the workers, like Dickens," he said.
"He wrote about aristocrats." But despite their
renewed enthusiasm for Wodehouse, Russian fans still
lag behind their counterparts around the world.
American and Italian Wodehouse Appreciation Societies
hold annual conventions at which the delegates dress
up as their favourite characters. Activities include
re-enacting the antics of the Drones, throwing cards
into top hats and betting vast sums on egg-and-spoon