P.G. Wodehouse is best known for his contribution to literature, as a novelist and short story writer, but for much of his long career, Wodehouse spread his writing efforts widely, in fields as diverse as journalism, musical theatre, and Hollywood screen writing.
One of Wodehouse’s early associations (circa 1901 -1910) was as a contributor, and later editor, of The Globe‘s By The Way column. Apart from a By The Way Book (1908), his work on that column has never before been collected – until earlier this year, when group of Wodehouse experts formed the P. G. Wodehouse Globe Reclamation Project. This massive undertaking is an exciting new development of great interest to Wodehouse readers who wish to delve deeper into the seemingly endless output of this prolific writer.
Such an undertaking may have been difficult during Wodehouse’s lifetime (1881-1975). As Frances Donaldson observed (in P.G.Wodehouse: The Authorized Biography), Wodehouse was critical of his own early work and had little interest in seeing it revived. In a 1955 letter to Richard Usborne (included in Sophie Ratcliffe’s P. G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters), Wodehouse discussed the book in which he used to record the payments he received for his early writing:
‘…I find it slightly depressing as it shows the depths I used to descend to in order to get an occasional ten-and-six. Gosh, what a lot of slush I wrote!’
‘But I hope you aren’t planning to republish any of the stuff I wrote then. What a curse one’s early work is.’
Frances Donaldson gives this example (which I rather like) from the By The Way Book (which Wodehouse called an ‘awful production’) in her biography.
‘Sea-sickness is a universal scourge. We read in Keats that ‘Stout Cortez stared with eagle eyes at the Pacific.’ In those days they leaned over the side. – Sir Thomas Lipton *
*Lipton, who founded Lipton tea, was also famous as a yachtsman in his day.
While Wodehouse’s work for the Globe may not have been the best writing of his career, Wodehouse fans eagerly await to see what will be unearthed by theP. G. Wodehouse Globe Reclamation Project –and any new insights they might provide into the work we are already familiar with.
It is a terrific undertaking, and Wodehouse fans are indebted to the members of this group who have devoted hours of their time to unearthing new nuggets of Wodehousian delight for our enjoyment. You can follow their exploits via the excellent Madame Eulalie website, which has been another much appreciated resource for Wodehouse lovers for some years.
How wonderful it is to be a Wodehouse fan.
6 thoughts on “Wodehouse By the Way”
Thanks for the lovely article, Jen! P.G. was always modest or self-deprecating about his work when speaking for publication (Against the code to brag). Re: the the Usborne quote, remember he was writing to a writer who was interviewing him for a book and I’m sure he intended for that line to be quoted. It was part of the benign image he wanted to project to fans. I do think he did write some slosh – the limericks in Books of To-day, the boilerplate “turnovers” for the Globe, and a few other dashed things, but overwhelmingly the early newspaper and magazine material is remarkably up to snuff and bursting with his inimitable style and wit. A more telling remark was one he made to Jasen: “The curious thing about those early days is that in spite of the blizzard of rejection slips, I had the most complete confidence in myself. I knew I was good.” I think that’s a more accurate description about how he really felt about those days than quotes he manufactured for other writers to use.
It is very kind of you to comment on my piece John. I agree (and ought to have mentioned) that we can’t take Wodehouse at his own modest word, especially when it comes to evaluating his own work.
It is easy to understand the view of the older Wodehouse, who by the 1950s was a widely acknowledged master of his craft. He would naturally be inclined to cast a critical eye over his earlier work. I can relate to that feeling. I recently unearthed some of my own early writing, which I thought was genius at the time, but makes for painfully bad reading now.
The difference is of course that even the young Wodehouse was a gifted and amusing writer, and that whatever his own assessment of this period might be, it remains of great interest to us – his fans and readers. Your project is such an exciting one and I am greatly honoured that you have taken the time to comment.
It is good the know that efforts are being maid to unearth some of his earlier works. One looks forward to such buried gems with a keen sense of anticipation.
Absolutely. I am frothing with excitement.