PG Wodehouse

Required reading for February’s Book Chat meeting was anything by PG Wodehouse. Here, courtesy of Wikipedia, is a little about the man:

Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE (15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975) (pronounced /ˈwʊdhaʊs/) was an English writer of humour whose body of work includes novels, collections of short stories, and musical theatre. Wodehouse enjoyed enormous popular success during a career of more than seventy years and his many writings continue to be widely read. Despite the political and social upheavals that occurred during his life, much of which was spent in France and the United States, Wodehouse’s main canvas remained that of pre-war English upper-class society, reflecting his birth, education, and youthful writing career.

An acknowledged master of English prose, Wodehouse has been admired both by contemporaries such as Hilaire Belloc, Evelyn Waugh and Rudyard Kipling and by modern writers such as Stephen Fry, Douglas Adams, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith and Terry Pratchett. Journalist and writer Christopher Hitchens commented, “there is not, and never will be, anything to touch him.”[1]

Best known today for the Jeeves and Blandings Castle novels and short stories, Wodehouse was also a playwright and lyricist.

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  1. It has been shown by several Wodehouse biographers and other commentators that Wodehouse was innocent of any collaboration with the Nazis, and he was never a sympathiser. He was guilty of no more than an error of judgement, when he broadcast a series of amusing radio talks. There was nothing untoward in the content of the broadcasts, but the amusing content was ‘out of step’ with the mood in the Britain at the time (he wasn’t to know – he’d been interned by the Germans up as an enemy alien). Wodehouse was just doing what he did best – turning to levity.

    Unfortunately, the broadcasts were used by a number of people in Britain who were looking to stir up public opinion. There were plenty of REAL Nazi sympathisers they could have picked on, but Wodehouse was an easier – less powerful – target.

    This has all been dragged up and discussed over and over and over again – so many times. It’s such a great shame people persist in believing something that has been clearly shown as a terribly damaging untruth.

    • belperbookchat

       /  July 30, 2012

      Thank’s for your comment. I tend to agree. History is so open to interpretation and manipulation that I’d hesitate to let it stop me reading a particular novelist. And in cases where something is beyond doubt is it not better to have a greater understanding of the person in question?

  2. moirabbc

     /  March 16, 2011

    On Michele’s point, I wouldn’t advocate burning his books, despite the strong allegations of his collaboration with a political ideology that resulted in the burning of human beings. However, when reading energy is low, I choose not to sample his prose and prefer to console myself with the dazzling words of more civilised writers.

  3. michelebbc

     /  March 16, 2011

    I listened to audio versions of Right Ho Jeeves, Love Among the Chickens and The Indescretions of Archie and thoroughly enjoyed all of them, particularly Archie. I agree with Richard about the quality of the writing. It often wasn’t just the joke the amused but the way the thing was constructed and the language used.
    One point that came up in the meeting that I’ve thought over since is whether a knowledge of an authors political leanings should influence a reader, or even stop books from being read altogether. (A discussion resulting from the allegations of Wodehouses collaboration with the Nazis.) To not read a book for these reason seems dangerously close to falling into the same camp as the book burners.

    • I agree with you in principle, Michele, that I do not wish my reading to be influenced by the personal history of an author. But once the cat is out of the bag I find it hard to proceed. For this reason I avoid biographies like the plague!

  4. richardbbc

     /  February 16, 2011

    Money For Nothing (1928).

    I thought I knew what Wodehouse’s books were like – lots of jokes, no plot and no interesting characterization, all set in an upper-middle class rural England untouched by anything significant that happened in the twentieth century.

    Whenever I looked up from the pages of Money For Nothing it took me a moment to readjust to the real world but I have to confess I was won over by the sheer quality of Wodehouse’s writing – his ability to construct a complex plot out of almost nothing, the wonderfully ironic way he exposes his character’s pretensions and illusions and the way he writes against the conventions. In this novel it is the hero not the heroine who has to escape from a locked room at the top of a tower. And it has lots of jokes – good ones.

    From what was said at group on Tuesday evening about other novels of his I am still convinced that many of his books must be practically indistinguishable from one another. The plot here turns on boy getting girl but only after misunderstandings have abounded, well-planned schemes have all gone wrong and a whole parade of unsavoury people have got their comeuppance.

    Wodehouse though seems to float inimitably above it all yet I was left wondering whether, in a novel which echoes with Shakespearean references, whether there was not a more serious purpose at work behind all the fun.

  5. A PG Wodehouse has languished, unread, on my shelves for many years. (And when I say shelves, not our standard book shelves, but the ignominious shelves in the downstairs toilet. Where we keep the biographies and, um, Chaucer…) So when PG Wodehouse came up at book group my copy enjoyed a brief respite. From shelf to floor, with a bit of a dust en route. Alas. From there it was floor to shelf, still unread.

    If anyone would like to tell me why I am wrong to eschew Wodehouse, please do.

    Failing that, I have a copy of Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, slightly dusty, unread (did I mention that part?), free to a good home…


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