P.G. Wodehouse

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Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (October 15, 1881, Guildford, England – February 14, 1975, Remsenburg, Long Island, New York), generally known as P.G. Wodehouse, pronounced "Woodhouse",[1] and called Plum by his friends, was an enormously popular writer of humorous fiction whose improbably long artistic career stretched from the latter years of the reign of Queen Victoria into the age of the Concorde supersonic jetliner. Although most of Wodehouse's works, whether novels or short stories, are set in the upper-class society of a somewhat unlikely innocent and golden era of pre-World War II England, and he is considered by most readers to be a quintessentially British writer, he spent most of his adult life in France and the United States. A jealous British writer, Sean O'Casey, once famously derided him as being "English literature's performing flea", a description that the supremely serene Wodehouse came to relish, later using Performing Flea as the title of a collection of his letters.

Wodehouse today is best known for his two separate series of stories about Jeeves, the incomparably capable "gentleman's gentleman" to Bertie Wooster, and about Blandings Castle, the stately home to the befogged backwoods peer Lord Emsworth and his prize pig, the Empress of Blandings. He was, however, also a prolific playwright and lyricist who, particularly in his younger days, was part-author and/or writer of 15 plays and of 250 lyrics for some 30 musical comedies. And, in addition to the Jeeves and Blandings Castle books, he had several other series about repeating characters.

Light-hearted and almost totally divorced from reality, most of Wodehouse's works, particularly his novels, are of a breathtaking complexity and multiplicity of subplots, as besotted young lovers meet, are thwarted in their amours by tyrannical aunts, and are finally happily united by the machinations of some worldly and competent elder such as Uncle Fred, the eccentric Earl of Ickenham, the protagonist of one of Wodehouse's many series, or the Hon. Galahad Threepwood, Lord Emsworth's unmarried younger brother.

Wodehouse's general writing style might be termed straight-faced tongue-in-cheek in which he made frequent use of goofy or improbable similes and metaphors such as:

  • "Big chap with a small moustache and the sort of eye that can open an oyster at sixty paces." [2]
  • "Like so many substantial Americans, he had married young and kept on marrying, springing from blonde to blonde like the chamois of the Alps leaping from crag to crag." [3]
  • "It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine." [4]

References

  1. In Bring on the Girls, The Improbable Story of Our Life in Musical Comedy, a joint autobiography by Wodehouse and his longtime collaborator Guy Bolton, we have the following:

    On the opening night Jerry Kern came over to where Bolton stood leaning on the back-rail, his face pale, his lips moving as if in prayer.

    'How do you think it's going?' he asked.

    Guy came out of his trance.

    'I'm too numb to tell. There's a man in large spectacles over there who seems to be enjoying it.

    Jerry glanced in the direction indicated.

    'Wodehouse,' he said.'

    I suppose it is,' said Guy, 'but that's only to be expected on an opening night. The question is, what's it going to be like tomorrow?'

    'What on earth are you talking about?'

    'You said it's a good house.

    'I didn't. I said Woodhouse.'

    (For the benefit of the uninitiated, that is the way it is pronounced.)

    Bring on the Girls, The Improbable Story of Our Life in Musical Comedy, by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, collected with two other autobiographical works by Wodehouse in Wodehouse on Wodehouse, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1981, page 16

  2. The Code of the Woosters, Chapter 2
  3. Wodehouse at Work, Chapter 2
  4. Ibid., chapter 8—all three quotations from The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations, by J.M and M.J. Cohen, Penguin Books, Harmonsworth, Middlesex, England, 1978, page 245