I’m re-reading P.G. Wodehouse’s Something Fresh. Wodehouse is best known for the Wooster and Jeeves stories, somewhat madcap comedies of manners and excellent writing to boot, but he has created other characters and places that readers love to visit and revisit. Something Fresh was his first novel in what became a multi-volume series of the adventures and misadventures of bunglers, imposters and aristocrats at Blandings Castle.
Wodehouse can make me laugh out loud more often per chapter than any other writer I’ve read. He’s also a master at constructing outstanding prose and every time I read him I find something – a sentence, some dialog, a chapter – that catches my breath, even if it’s in a book I’ve read before.
This time it was a paragraph in Something Fresh, a description of the protagonist when she answers her door to a man of questionable character:
Joan Valentine was a tall girl with wheat-gold hair and eyes as brightly blue as a November sky when the sun is shining on a frosty world. There was in them a little of November’s cold glitter, too, for Joan had been through much in the last few years; and experience, even though it does not harden, erects a defensive barrier between its children and the world. Her eyes were eyes that looked straight and challenged. They could thaw to the satin blue of the Mediterranean Sea, where it purrs about the little villages of Southern France; but they did not thaw for everybody.
I read this paragraph and it just about floored me in its power of description. Later I thought back on it and realized it could as easily have been placed in a mystery, a thriller, a romantic drama, or any other type of story; it’s that good.
So if you came to this blog post hoping to learn how to write the perfect paragraph, I have to break it to you that I have no such advice. All I have is the example from Wodehouse of what a perfect paragraph looks like.
It looks like Joan Valentine.