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.O. 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. Wodehouse Society.
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 about aristocrats."
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 said.
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 O.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 completely lacking."