P. G. Wodehouse, 1881- 1975
Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was an English-born humorous novelist, short-story writer, lyricist and playwright, best known as the creator of his hero , Bertie Wooster’s valet , Jeeves, the ultimate “gentleman’s gentleman’’ He wrote more than 90 books and more than 20 film scripts and collaborated on more than 30 plays and musical comedies
Wodehouse began by writing public-school stories and then light romances, but he soon turned to farce which became his special genre. He had a scholar’s command of the English sentence and he delighted in vivid, far-fetched imagery, confusion in the meaning of words and in upper class slang. His plots are always complicated starting with seemingly impossible to solve situations which are then resolved by luck and resource at the end. All of his novels are placed in the happy era of England in the late Edwardian period, regardless of when they were written.
He was born October 15, 1881, in Guildford, Surrey, England, the third son of Henry Eleanor and Wodehouse. His father was a magistrate resident in the British colony of Hong Kong, where for his first two years Wodehouse was raised alongside his elder brothers Peveril and Armine by a Chinese nurse. His difficulty in pronouncing his name as a child led to his nickname “Plum”, by which Wodehouse became known to family and friends. When he was two, the brothers were brought to England, where they were placed under the care of an English nanny in a house adjoining that of his grandparents. The boys’ parents returned to Hong Kong and became virtual strangers to their sons. Throughout their school years the brothers were sent to stay during the holidays variously with fifteen uncles and twenty aunts who played an important part not only in Wodehouse’s early life, but as thinly disguised material in his novels, In 1894, after different preparatory schools at the age of twelve, to his great joy, Wodehouse was able to follow his brother Armine to Dulwich College. It gave him continuity and a stable and ordered life. He loved the camaraderie, distinguished himself at cricket, rugby and boxing, and was a good, if not consistently diligent, student. The headmaster at the time was A.H. Gilkes, a respected classicist, who was a strong influence on Wodehouse. He expected to follow Armine to the University of Oxford, but the family’s finances took a turn for the worse and in September 1900, Wodehouse was engaged in a junior position in the London office of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank where he found the work horrible and boring. He later wrote a humorous account of his experiences at the bank. However, his natural flair for writing had inspired him to contribute eighty pieces published in a total of nine magazines during his two years at the bank.
In 1902 Wodehouse secured an appointment writing for ‘The Globe’s’ popular “By the Way” column. He held the post until 1909. At around the same time his first novel was published—a school story called ‘The Pothunters’, first serialised and then issued in full in hardback in September1902. He resigned from the bank that month to devote himself to writing full-time for ‘The Globe’ and freelance for many other publications.
From his boyhood Wodehouse had been fascinated by America and in April 1904 he sailed to New York, which he found greatly to his liking. He published a number of humorous novels including the Psmith character in 1908 and becoming well established in the theatrical writing societyof New York, he collaborated in theatrical music productions with Jerome Kern and many other musical writers of the time. He is included in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Wodehouse returned to England in late 1910, re-joining ‘The Globe’ and also contributing regularly to ‘The Strand Magazine’. Between then and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he revisited America frequently. He remained in the US throughout the 1914/18 war, detached from the conflict in Europe and absorbed in his theatrical and literary concerns.
In September 1914 he married Ethel Wayman, an English widow ,who complemented Wodehouse’s shyness with her own organising and sociable style There were no children but. Wodehouse loved Ethel’s daughter Leonora and legally adopted her.
Towards the end of 1915: his old song writing partner Jerome Kern introduced Wodehouse to the writer Guy Bolton, who became Wodehouse’s closest friend and a regular collaborator. Together they produced four major musical productions and collaborated in many others.
In the years after the war, Wodehouse steadily increased his sales, developing his existing characters and introduced new ones such as Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, Lord Emsworth and his circle, and Ukridge, all appearing in his novels and short stories.
There had been films of Wodehouse stories since 1915,such as A Gentleman of Leisure but it was not until 1929 that Wodehouse went to Hollywood to join Guy Bolton at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). He started in May 1930, but the studio found little for Wodehouse to do, and he had spare time to write a novel and nine short stories. His contract ended after a year and was not renewed.
During the 1930s Wodehouse’s theatrical work tailed off so he concentrated on writing novels and short stories, averaging two books each year, worth an annual £100,000 income.
In 1934, Wodehouse moved to France for tax reasons. He was captured in Le Touquet, France by the Germans in 1940 and spent much of the war interned in Berlin. In 1941 he made five radio broadcasts from there to the United States, which had not yet entered the war, in which he humorously described his experiences as a prisoner and subtly ridiculed his captors. However, his contributing to enemy broadcasting provoked substantial resentment and even a threat of prosecution in Britain, which was then under siege by Germany. Confused and embarrassed by accusations of treason, Wodehouse settled back in the United States after the war, but his reputation was tarnished in Britain and he never returned to his native country. Wodehouse become a US citizen in 1955, but his works remained as popular and distinctive as ever on both sides of the Atlantic and eventually he was knighted in 1975 shortly before his death.
Wodehouse died when he suffered a heart attack on February 14, 1975, in Southampton, New York, U.S.A