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P.G. Wodehouse

April 23, 2021

Thanks to Jack and Anna for introducing me to the works of Mister Wodehouse. Great humor — reminds me of Mark Twain with his ability to ”turn a phrase.”

His biography: Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse 15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975) was an English author and one of the most widely read humorists of the 20th century. Born in Guildford, the third son of a British magistrate based in Hong Kong, Wodehouse spent happy teenage years at Dulwich College, to which he remained devoted all his life. After leaving school he was employed by a bank but disliked the work and turned to writing in his spare time. His early novels were mostly school stories, but he later switched to comic fiction, creating several regular characters who became familiar to the public over the years. They include the feather-brained Bertie Wooster and his sagacious valet, Jeeves; the immaculate and loquacious Psmith; Lord Emsworth and the Blandings Castle set; the Oldest Member, with stories about golf; and Mr Mulliner, with tall tales on subjects ranging from bibulous bishops to megalomaniac movie moguls.

Most of Wodehouse's fiction is set in his native United Kingdom, although he spent much of his life in the US and used New York and Hollywood as settings for some of his novels and short stories. He wrote a series of Broadway musical comedies during and after the First World War, together with Guy Boltonand Jerome Kern, that played an important part in the development of the American musical. He began the 1930s writing for MGM in Hollywood. In a 1931 interview, his naive revelations of incompetence and extravagance in the studios caused a furore. In the same decade, his literary career reached a new peak.

In 1934 Wodehouse moved to France for tax reasons; in 1940 he was taken prisoner at Le Touquet by the invading Germans and interned for nearly a year. After his release he made six broadcasts from German radio in Berlin to the US, which had not yet entered the war. The talks were comic and apolitical, but his broadcasting over enemy radio prompted anger and strident controversy in Britain, and a threat of prosecution. Wodehouse never returned to England. From 1947 until his death he lived in the US, taking dual British-American citizenship in 1955. He died in 1975, at the age of 93, in Southampton, New York.

Wodehouse was a prolific writer throughout his life, publishing more than ninety books, forty plays, two hundred short stories and other writings between 1902 and 1974. He worked extensively on his books, sometimes having two or more in preparation simultaneously. He would take up to two years to build a plot and write a scenario of about thirty thousand words. After the scenario was complete he would write the story. Early in his career Wodehouse would produce a novel in about three months, but he slowed in old age to around six months. He used a mixture of Edwardian slang, quotations from and allusions to numerous poets, and several literary techniques to produce a prose style that has been compared to comic poetry and musical comedy. Some critics of Wodehouse have considered his work flippant, but among his fans are former British prime ministers and many of his fellow writers.

“Jeeves and Wooster”

The BBC had a show called “Jeeves and Wooster” based on Wodehouse’s characters. You can find find many of the episodes on YouTube. Here is a review of the show I found on Amazon:

A fun and lively comedy with a cast of unusual but very likeable characters

Reviewed in the United States on July 22, 2020

"Jeeves & Wooster" is a lively comedy about a British aristocrat, Bertie Wooster, and his valet, Jeeves. The setting is 1920s London and south England, very upbeat, and filled with the optimistic careers and diversions of men and women in their 20s. While class structure is the basis for society then, individuality and eccentricity within each class is also present, and is a key to the comedy. What is also interesting is that the author's just didn't imagine a lot of the scenes but is supposed to have drawn from real relationships and manners of speech for his portrayal of the upper class. This TV show was a hit when it was released in the 1990s. The comedy in the original series is accentuated by the generation gap that became very clear by our time. In the 1920s the cast of characters was accepted as normal: wealthy but uneducated rural landowners, pushy aunts, exclusive men's clubs, and head over heels romance among men and women who are in college or at in their first job, a woman's search for marriage, and Wooster's desire to maintain his freedom as a single gentleman (apparently also an element of the comedy, since single men were the exception, not the rule, during the 1920s). The way Wooster reacts to various demands from people is a recurring source of entertainment. His wealth and friendliness, and no small amount of Jeeves ingenuity and clear thinking, ultimately carry the day. One would think Wooster learns over time but, as far as I can remember, he has the same attitudes through pretty the whole show, perhaps again a demonstration of the self-perpetuating nature of class, wealth, and connections. Jeeves and Wooster form a classic friendship though Jeeves always maintains respect due to Wooster, his family, and his friends. Having also read some of the books one can say this production is quite close to the original dialogue and scenes. The idea of a mentor is explored in a light and fun way because Wooster gets into complicated social situations that require sorting out, or some kind of personal sacrifice along the way. While this show is only a comedy it is yet one more contribution to world culture from the BBC and Great Britain.

Examples of his wit

I found these gems on the website Goodreads.

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Apr 25, 2021

I am stunned that the review of the 1990s BBC show "Jeeves & Wooster" didn't even mention its two stars -- Hugh Laurie (before House) and Stephen Fry (a face known to all Brits). They were a comedy team in the 1980s and '90s. They were awesome together! Parenthetically, I was stunned to find out that I am six-and-a-half years older than Hugh Laurie.....

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