Read our first featured Legend of Literature - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Quick Facts

PG Wodehouse :

  • In addition to his prodigious output as a novelist, Wodehouse was one of the powers behind the development of the American musical comedy, writing the lyrics to Jerome Kern’s music for a number of hit Broadway musicals for about 10 years.  A later generation of Broadway lyricists like Oscar Hammerstein and Cole Porter acknowledged the debt they owed to Wodehouse.
  • The library at Dulwich College is named after him.
  • He was working on another novel right up to the end (the unfinished book was published as Sunset at Blandings).

Biographies

Meet the writers behind the books

Welcome to the second in our new series of features called Legends of Literature. Our second featured iconic author is none other than the wry, witty and always funny PG Wodehouse.

PG Wodehouse - Featured Author

PG Wodehouse

PG Wodehouse
(October 15, 1881 - February 14, 1975)

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, or Plum to his friends, was an enormously popular comic novelist with a career spanning more than 70 years. His tales of Jeeves and Wooster still captivate readers today and he remains one of the 10 most searched for authors on AbeBooks year after year. Wodehouse not only wrote over 90 books, but penned plays and also lyrics for musicals like Anything Goes and Show Boat. 

His father was a judge in Hong Kong and at the age of three Wodehouse was placed into the care of a nanny and then various boarding schools where he spent much of his time writing. His elder brother attended Oxford University and Pelham was expected to do the same until his father’s pension collapsed in value as it was administered in Indian rupees.  His father found his son a position at the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank (now HSBC) and he continued to write in his spare time and eventually found a work writing for a series of newspapers and magazines.

By 1915 he began to find financial success and split his time between England and the US until 1934 when he took up residence in France to avoid double taxation on his earnings.  When World War II broke out he remained in France, apparently unaware of the seriousness of the conflict due to his supreme disinterest in world politics. He was eventually imprisoned by the Nazis. After his release, he foolishly made a series of radio broadcasts from Berlin in the belief they would show his ‘stiff upper lip’ but the British were in no mood for banter and he was widely criticised. An MI5 investigation concluded the author had simply been naïve rather than a Nazi collaborator. However, the affair soured Wodehouse’s relationship with Britain and he moved to the US for good after the war. In 1975 at the age of 93, he was knighted just before his death although he did not travel to London for the ceremony.

Must Read PG Wodehouse Books:

   
PG Wodehouse - Right Ho, Jeeves

Right Ho, Jeeves
PG Wodehouse

When Jeeves suggest dreamy, soulful Gussie Fink-Nottle don scarlet tights and a false beard in his bid to capture the affections of soppy Madeline Basset, Wooster decides matters have definitely got out of hand.

Find copies of Right Ho, Jeeves

Wodehouse - The Luck of the Bodkins

The Luck of the Bodkins
PG Wodehouse

To the majority of the passengers aboard the RMS Atlantic the voyage to America was just a pleasant interlude in life’s hectic rush. But not so to Monty Bodkin.

Find copies of The Luck of the Bodkins

Summer Lightning by PG Wodehouse

Summer Lightning
PG Wodehouse

The Honourable Galahad Threepwood has decided to write his memoirs, and England's aristocrats are all diving for cover, not least Galahad's formidable sister Lady Constance Keeble who fears her brother will ruin the family reputation with saucy stories of the 1890s.

Find copies of Summer Lightning

Carry On, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse

Carry On, Jeeves
PG Wodehouse

These marvellous stories introduce us to Jeeves, whose first ever duty is to cure Bertie’s raging hangover (‘If you would drink this, sir… it is a little preparation of my own invention...")

Find copies of Carry On, Jeeves

 
Q & A with Ian Michaud and Kris Fowler of the P.G. Wodehouse Society

Abe - What influence did boarding schools have on PG Wodehouse and his writing?

Ian Michaud: “Wodehouse always claimed that his school days at Dulwich College were the happiest of his life and they gave him a great start to his writing career.”

Kris Fowler: “They provided idyllic existence for Wodehouse, who had essentially no family home while his parents were posted in India.  The classical education he received gave him a thorough grounding in grammar and all points of composition, while he developed his humourous style writing for the student magazine.  Boarding school also supplied the material for starting his professional writing career:  he wrote many ‘school stories’ for publication in magazines like ‘The Captain’ that catered to boarding-school readers.”

Ian Michaud: “For the first 10 or 15 years of his career his output almost exclusively consisted of ‘school stories’ in which he used his experiences at Dulwich to write stories that were enormously popular with public schoolboys.  One of his schoolboy characters, Psmith, would eventually graduate and become one of Wodehouse's first great adult characters, and the London suburb of ‘Valley Fields’ (“that fragrant backwater”), which appears in at least a dozen Wodehouse novels, is the town of Dulwich in disguise.”
  
Kris Fowler: “The social rules learned at school - what is done and what is not done - pervade much of his writing throughout his career; Bertie Wooster’s ‘code’ is a schoolboy one, of never letting a pal down.”

 Abe - Why are Wodehouse’s stories still enduring when they are about a bygone age?

Kris Fowler: “The bygone age strikes many readers as an attractive one to escape into.  But even more attractive are the delightfully intricate plots and brilliant verbal style, which are timeless - his absurd situations and hilarious language still make people laugh.  And of course some of the inspired lunacy, such as holding a prize pig for ransom, doesn't belong to any period, so it can't really be said to be outdated.”

Abe - Wodehouse had a modest opinion of his own talents as a humourist, but where do you see him ranking alongside other great humourists? 

Ian Michaud: “I would certainly rank him as the greatest English language humourist of the 20th century.”

Kris Fowler: “His stories don’t go out of date because they didn’t rely on topical material, and his technique was perfect - he worked extremely hard at his craft to achieve an expertly light result.  Other excellent humourous writers were and are fans of his (Evelyn Waugh and Terry Pratchett, to name but two).”

Abe - Which of his characters is your favourite and why?

Ian Michaud: “I would usually answer this question by saying, ‘the star of the last book I re-read.’  But, assuming that answer won't pass muster, I'll say Lord Uffenham, the central character of Money in the Bank and Something Fishy (US title The Butler Did It).  His eccentric personal mannerisms make him completely unique in Wodehouse’s galaxy of characters.  He was modelled after a man named Max Enke, one of PGW's fellow internees at the civilian internment camp at Tost in World War II. And, as Max was a Canadian from Gabriola Island in my home province of British Columbia, I take particular pleasure in reading about Lord Uffenham’s exploits.”

Kris Fowler: “Psmith is my favourite character - that elegant and dignified manner while doing the most outrageous things, like stealing an umbrella to save a pretty girl from the rain and then explaining it to the umbrella's owner as ‘practical socialism.’  And who else would add a silent P to add distinction to the commonplace name of Smith?”

Abe - What is Wodehouse's most underrated work?

Kris Fowler: “I'd say most of Wodehouse’s work is underrated - only the Bertie and Jeeves books are really famous, and there's so much more excellent fun to be had with the Blandings saga, Mr. Mulliner’s tall tales, the golf stories (hilarious even to a non-golfer like me), and the misadventures of all the pearl-necklace thieves and young men in spats.  Probably the school stories, like The Pothunters get the shortest shrift; they don't meet Wodehouse’s later goal of a laugh in every line, but the humour is definitely there to spice the compelling mix of student dilemmas and sports contests; even a hundred years later, they pull the reader in.”

Ian Michaud: “French Leave is a book I personally enjoy very much, but Wodehouse’s American agent in the 1950s didn't like it.  In fact, it wasn’t published in the US until 1959, three years after its British and Canadian publication.”

To learn more about the PG Wodehouse Society, visit:  http://www.wodehouse.org/

In 1975, The Paris Review interviewed PG Wodehouse – check out this excerpt.