Today’s author is, to put it in his own words, – a dashed good fellow, although much of Britain didn’t think so for quite some time. It’s PG Wodehouse today and you need to read on to find out why he decided to make his home in the US despite being born in Britain.
To put it in his own words, “I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don’t know what I did before that. Just loafed, I suppose.”
So, British humourist, PG Wodehouse, Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse or simply Plum, started writing pretty young. He was born in a family with a long respectable lineage. He spent his childhood being looked after by a nanny. Till he turned 15 his parents barely spent 6 months with him. He also lived with a varied bunch of aunts and was very close to his older brother.
… and then he became a writer
Although he was expected to go to Oxford like his brother, a turn in the family fortunes made him take up a position at the HSBC bank. Banking was hardly his cup of tea. He kept up his writings and finally took up position as a journalist. H progressed to writing for a number of publications. Later his stories were compiled for his first books. He also wrote lyrics for muscial comedies and some plays too. Oh he was very very prolific! He was knighted a few years before his death.
Brush with the Nazis
When WW 2 broke out Wodehouse was in France. In a typically ‘Wodehousian’ manner he was completely uninterested in world affairs. He didn’t return to Britain and stayed on in France apparently because ‘his wife couldn’t bear to leave their dog’. When the German’s occupied France they interned Wodehouse. After they released him he did some radio broadcasts for them that showed him being civil to the German military. He anticipated he would be appreciated for having kept up the British stiff upper lip. However, that didn’t happen. People, in a wartime mood, accused him of treason, of having struck a deal with the Germans for his early release.
Author’s like AA Milne (of Winnie the Pooh
) criticised him heavily. Others like George Orwell wrote in his favour. He quotes Wodehouse in his essay ‘In Defence of PG Wodehouse’…
“I never was interested in politics. I’m, quite unable to work up any kind of belligerent feeling. Just as I’m about to feel belligerent about some country I meet a decent sort of chap. We go out together and lose any fighting thoughts or feelings.”
Doesn’t that sound just like Wodehouse?
You can read the full text here. http://www.drones.com/orwell.html.
An investigation, later on absolved him of all blame, calling him merely naive. However the truth never came out clearly in his lifetime. For some time his books were banned in Britain and he never went back taking up an American citizenship and staying there till the end of his days.
He writes about…
… the vagaries of upper class British society. That was a smart thing to do since it was a world he was familiar and comfortable with being born and bred there. He writes with humour and weaves in scores of loveable laughable characters.
First, his very English humour
He has a wonderfully underplayed, dry sense of humour. It is almost always delivered with a British straight face, with a high handed dignity that you cannot simply smile at, you have to roll with it. At other times it catches you unexpectedly out if the blue. My favourite times, however, are when I see it coming… And I wait for it till it is upon me. Then there’s that physical aspect too with the characaters literally ‘falling’ into traps. Oh it’s tough deconstructing the Wodehouse humour.
has to go first. He became a benchmark for the perfect butler, even though he was more valet than butler (yeah I know the difference from watching Downton Abbey
episodes back to back over the last few days). He is perhaps the only fictional character who has a search engine named after him askjeeves.com
. Wodehouse based the character on a real life butler Eugene Robinson. The name Jeeves came from a cricket player Percy Jeeves. Though Jeeves is obviously way smarter than his master his proper English upbringing will not let him quite say so.
Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, Bertie Wooster is Jeeves’ woozy master. ‘Mentally negligible’, regularly falling in and out of love, always ready to help a friend or to take on the craziest wager – yeah that would be him. He got his middle name from a horse who won his father money the day before Bertie was born. He struck a kind of lottery when he fired his butler for stealing and Jeeves came to him from the agency. Jeeves stuck on from them, extricating him from scrapes and improper romantic engagements (which he probably considers the same thing).
And the aunts
. I cannot wrap up without mentioning them considering PGW did a book called ‘Aunts aren’t gentlemen’
. I doubt his books would have been the same without the gaggle of daunting aunts lead by Aunt Dahlia and Aunt Agatha. “It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof,”
And there are scores of others – Psmith, Lord Emsworth, Galahad Threepwood,The Oldest Member, Gussie Fink Nottle and so many many more. So who’s your favourite?
Once again give yourselves a rest. No guessing for Monday. But do drop by… another ‘special’ post coming up.
This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.