The Great Wodehouse Romances: The true romance of PG & Ethel Wodehouse

Each February at Plumtopia I take a break from my usual pontifications to celebrate some of the ‘Great Romances’ from P.G. Wodehouse’s work, to mark the anniversary of his death on St Valentine’s Day, 1975. This year, I’d like to break with the formula a little by touching on the great romance of Wodehouse’s own life – his wife Ethel.

Wodehouse biographer Frances Donaldson wraps up their courtship in a sentence: ‘They met on 3 August 1914 and on 30 September they were married.’ They met on one of Wodehouse’s frequent visits to New York, and were married at The Little Church Round The Corner. Ethel Wayman (nee Newton) was a young widow, also visiting New York from England. Like so many of his fictional heroines, she was a woman of spirit, energy and determination. An extrovert and unlike her husband in character, Ethel nonetheless understood his needs and protected him from the practical demands of life, so that Wodehouse was free to write, walk and engage with the world as it suited him.

They seem to have lived in perfect sympathy with one another. Wodehouse said, in an interview with Gerald Clarke ( P. G. Wodehouse, The Art of Fiction No. 60 in the PARIS REVIEW ):

‘I think a writer’s life is the ideal life’.

It was Ethel who made this life possible, and Wodehouse depended on her. It’s tempting to see their relationship reflected, in typically self-depreciating style, throughout Wodehouse’s writing.

“… she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”

 The Adventures of Sally (1922)

Wodehouse’s love for Ethel was genuine and life-long. Writing to her on the occasion of their 59th wedding anniversary, Wodehouse pays tribute to the Great Romance of his own life.

My precious angel Bunny whom I love so dear.

Another anniversary! Isn’t it wonderful to think that we have been married for 59 years and still love each other as much as ever except when I spill my tobacco on the floor, which I’ll never do again!

It was a miracle finding one another. I know I could never have been happy with anybody else. What a lucky day for me when you agreed with me when I said ‘Let’s get married’!

The only thing that makes me sad is your health. How I wish there was something I could do. What is so extraordinary is that you come to me in pain and not having slept and you look just as beautiful as you did fifty-nine years ago. But how I wish that you could get a good sleep.

I wish I could say all the things I would like to say, but really they can all be said in one sentence – I LOVE YOU.

Bless you
Your Plummie

(P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters edited by Sophie Ratcliffe)

Wishing you all very Happy Ever Afters of your own.

HP

Image credit: Little Church Around the Corner New York City. Photo postcard by Detriot Photographic Company, copyright 1900. Copyright expired., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons via Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.

18 thoughts on “The Great Wodehouse Romances: The true romance of PG & Ethel Wodehouse

  1. A fine tribute to Lady Ethel, Plum, and love. He dedicated two books to her and I think that says a lot also. Mind you, Leonora got five but several probably qualify as nifties.

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    1. Thanks so much Ken. I like to think his feelings for her come across in the way he writes about married couples. There is often tension of a kind, but love and respect are always evident.

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    1. So glad to hear it, ‘Saxo’. I’ve never thought of myself as romantic, but the Wodehouse formula for comedy romance is so appealing. I admit I’d dismissed it as pure fiction, but this letter raises doubts. Perhaps his art imitates life more than I suspected.

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    1. Thanks so much Susan. I was following your blog already, or so I thought — so I was surprised to see your name earlier today with a button prompting me to follow. I must have inadvertently unfollowed or mis-clicked at some stage recently. All corrected and glad to be following you again now.

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  2. I seem to remember his giving his marriage a great deal of credit for his success as a writer. It may have been in that Clarke interview. When he was asked, whoever it was, what was the secret of a happy marriage, he replied something along the lines of, marry someone who can be your pal.

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  3. ”Ethel nonetheless understood his needs and protected him from the practical demands of life, so that Wodehouse was free to write, walk and engage with the world as it suited him.”

    I think that one statement sums it up most effectively. If, for instance, Plum had to worry about groceries or getting stuff for the house, his total concentration in his art would have definitely got diluted. I wonder how many sacrifices Ethel had to make in order to keep Plum free to write – granted that she may have done so quite willingly! Obviously Plum would’ve realized that and hence the unmistakable gratitude in that letter.

    Thanks for the heartwarming post, Honoria! Happy Valentine’s Day!

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  4. I have never ever believed in what people have written about Plum, namely that he was asexual; that Ethel was the passionate one and that he was sort of uninterested in love and women. I have felt that ridiculous in the extreme given the wonderful way he has written about his heroines in all his books. The way he has written about them, the way he has portrayed them leaves me at least in no doubt that he was far from being asexual. I have seldom come across an author who has written more interestingly and pleasingly about women than Wodehouse. In fact, his best heroines are ones who I would give anything to meet and fall in love with. No asexual man would have portrayed them as Plum has.

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